“If we avoid challenges, the result will be an ordinary house.”
Creative Sustainability alumnus, architect Byungmin Youn is building his own home, and in the project his aim is to follow principles of a sustainable lifestyle. We sat down with him to chat about this building project. Here you can read his main thoughts about the project and tips for anyone interested in the topic or building a house like his in the future.
The sustainability-focused home building project in short:
“Last summer, we bought a 54 sqm cottage built between 1987-1992 in a 4200 sqm land. We will build a new house and it will have as independent supply system as is possible. With the independent supply system, we mean elements such as building material, food and water.
Also, already in the beginning, a private car was not considered as our option. Many architects know, that a car is a comfortable evil in urban environment. Personally, I wanted to try a happy life without a car. So, we will mostly use bicycles and walk. That is already in the building plan.
Lastly, but most importantly, our goal is to become a good neighbour in the village. It means we share as many things as is possible with our neighbours. I believe it brings us big happiness in the end.”
What were the main drivers for the project to you?
“Firstly, we thought that our current living environment and apartment is not suitable for family life. When we got the news that we will have a second child, we decided to live in a house. For example, small children cannot go outside through the two locked doors in our current home in an apartment building. I wished my children to have more freedom and learn independence in everyday life.”
What are the biggest opportunities or advantages of the project?
“There are an uncountable number of new trials. And also unexpected joy is found there.
Needless to say, one of the advantages is the chance to design my own house as an architect.
At the same time, we have our own forest. From 4200 square meters around 70 % of our property is 50 years old dense forest. That is something I could not expect at the time we looked for a house. Those are very personal things, but now I can say it is very precious. Even though our neighbours expected that we might cut down many trees, in on our plan, we only cut down the trees when it is needed. Not for getting more building space or something.
I theoretically know that walking and cycling brings more interaction in a neighbourhood. We quite often bump into our neighbours and it brings a beautiful connection to others. Already many of my neighbours come over to our cottage without any pre-notice. Just to help us or to give us some surplus like mushrooms and cookies. The richness of the human relationship in the neighbourhood is hard to imagine in our current residential area.”
What are the biggest possible challenges?
“It is surely a good question. That’s why this project will have some value. If we avoid the challenges, the result will be an ordinary house. There are challenges but actually we enjoy it, and aim at having fun with it.
It is a big temptation for us to just connect to the municipal water network, because in Finland it is abundant and of exceptionally high quality. Giving up this merit was more challenging than the actual planning of a rain water collecting system. We now have quite a concrete plan how to collect and store the water. The technical challenges were: (1) water storage in freezing winter and (2) a huge volume of 5-10 cubic meters.
We gave up on the idea of making our own electricity, but we save it. Especially, in Finnish inland climate like Järvenpää neither solar or wind power generation is reliable for a year-round use. Also, the installation of those systems costs a fortune. That means it is complicated. Sometimes, borrowing and sharing is much wiser than owning something. The solution is, that we minimize our electricity consumption. For example, we will not install a refrigerator or a heat pump system. A ground cold cellar keeps the food cool and does not freeze. Alternatively, during the cold season we can use a cool cabinet which might be installed in the outer wall.
Renovation (recycling the current house)
Actually, improving, or let’s say recycling, takes more energy in design and construction phases. Many old buildings are demolished due to this reason in the current world. In our case, we might have to change most of the windows to satisfy current building energy efficiency standards. This kind of renovation requires understanding the whole building system from foundation to the electric circuit. Furthermore, all the new parts have to fit to the old one. However, we decided to keep the existing building as much as possible. Keeping the existing building is feasible for us because the current cottage is in good shape and simple. Also, we liked to minimize the waste.
In my case…
The Finnish language. I didn’t imagine, I would be building my first house in Finland, when I came here.”
What advice would you like to give for others planning or wishing to execute a project like this?
“This kind of a project does not happen, if you are alone.”