Ecolokay in a few words

This is all but an article on the ecological habitat, but rather, the steps of an adventure, when building our house.

It relates the different constraints that we met, explains our thinking and our choices. By deduction and common sense, remembering the know-how of our elders, we gradually made the decision to build an ecological house. But what is an ecological house?

A house is ecological when in its design, it is thoughtful and built in connection with its environment. The choice of materials during its construction and the race against the overconsumption of energy are also part of this concept.

1. The construction of the house in its environment: an important step

When we acquired our land, our first thought was where and how we would build our home.

This land has the advantage of having an exceptional view between land and sea, with a sunset on the Mount Pelee volcano. It promised romantic aperitifs … Unfortunately, by its exposure, it could be very hot! The sun is present from 10am onwards, and the Alizées blow on the other side of the Morne …

We therefore had 3 major factors to consider:

  • A steep terrain
  • Exposure to the setting sun
  • A leeward exposure.

We really love the Creole-type houses, a wooden one-storey house, surrounded by a beautiful terrace where you enjoy your Ti’punch in the evening. With this sloping terrain, implanting this type of housing was well compromised and given the major cyclonic and seismic risks, we did not want a house on stilts. Thinking about it  together, we found a compromise: a L-shaped plan.

It has the advantage of marrying the shape of the ground and giving the illusion of a house on the ground floor. The habitable parts are planted on the firm ground and overflows on each side on a part of the garden, the terraces, they are above ground. The main terrace rests on a concrete half-basement (the current Ecolokay apartment) which serves as a true high-pressure shelter (during the season from May to November).

Helped by a friend architect, we finalized our project, before presenting it to the architects of the buildings of France, because of local laws, as located near the Regional Park, aesthetic constraints must be respected.

As most of the old people in Europe turned their house towards the south and the east to have a maximum of sun, as much here, they fled it, and for good reason … Very hot and blinding, it can become a true enemy! This is why in Martinique’s habitat, there is little window but louvers that allow to protect the sun while diffusing light by letting the air circulate. In addition, houses are more generally facing west, turning their backs to the setting sun!

Keeping that in mind, we did not have much choice! To fight against this setting sun we set the roof overflow all around the house, but especially on the North East face, creating a veranda (narrow terrace, skirting the house). This helps to keep the walls in the shade longer and thus promote freshness inside.

Note that the main living room is not fully open to the beautiful view (our friends have often blamed us when visiting us!), Certainly we would have been dazzled, but I do not think it would have been by sight. ..and what heat stored throughout the day, it promised us very hot evenings …. More seriously, it was essential to create a wall of shade and thus protect this living room. Generous openings have been made but can be regulated at leisure with our wooden shutters.

Finally, to make up for the lack of air circulation, we have opted for openings on all the facades of the house. Again unlike in north hemisphere, we are fighting to create a draft to increase the freshness of the house. Who says more air, also says less moisture and less mosquitoes!

All these devices did not make disappear the 3 major disadvantages of this ground, but thanks to our reflection and our choices, we minimized their effects and favored to save energy but also increase our comfort. (See below in this article).

2. The choice of materials

We love wood.

For us, it is a noble and living material. Warm to see, soft to the touch, it cracks, expands and breathes … It was obvious that our house would be wooden! It is made of a frame and a wooden cladding.

The wood is flexible and deforms, undeniable advantage for a construction undergoing frequent seismic movements. It is insulating and is lightweight, another advantage when living in a tropical and cyclonic region!

On the other hand, in contact with stagnant water, even treated, it is difficult to age and the cladding may not be completely waterproof … that is why the old ones, in Martinique built walls of 50cm height which served as a base for the wood wall and protected them from wet soil and frequent flooding during heavy rains seasons. We were inspired by this idea to build our house. Above our concrete screed, we built this famous concrete wall and then we mounted our wooden walls.

Our house is built of pine! “In pine !!!”Will you say,”what is ecological? Are there pines in Martinique?” No !! Of course, there is no pine! But, think again: it is an ecological way of thinking! On our island, there is not enough forest to exploit its wood. We are therefore obliged to import it. Red woods are tropical woods. They come from Guyana or Indonesia. Pine, on the other hand, comes mainly from Canada.

The difference between these two types of wood (apart from their color, their smell, their density, their preciousness and their notoriety) is the time that the tree takes to become an adult: a hundred years for the red woods, Twenty for the pine! … Moreover, in Martinique, habitat and pine have a long history in common. Indeed, for the historical quote, it was with the load pine boxes that we found on the port, that the first Creole houses were built. More flexible than the treated red wood, it resists very well to the tropical weather conditions. As an evidence, visit the Habitation Clément in “Le François” and appreciate this architecture that has not changed since the 18th century.

Most rooftops in Martinique today are made of galvanized steel sheet.

But here metal roofs are truly putted to their maximum constrains with humidity and heat. In addition, the proximity of the sea brings salt spray and wind, a little appreciated cocktail that promotes rust and a quick end of life. That’s why we chose an aluminum roof, an alloy that increases the longevity of our roof. (thus a gain on the overconsumption of energy).

We did not want a home of natural wood color. This choice is only personal, for the sake of the respect of the Martinican tradition which favors the houses painted in white or in color but also to favor the entrance of the light in the habitat and consequently, the fight against mosquitoes.

Except on some highly exposed shutters, where we were forced to promote a vinyl paint, we painted ourselves our house with acrylic paint with water (inside and outside). In thin layer, spray gun for large surfaces, roller and brush for hard-to-reach areas and beams, water-based paint is “cleaner”. It allows the wood to breathe better and protects it just like any other paint against bad weather and insects.

“You have given yourself a good conscience! »Would you say« a painting even with polluted water! “… certainly but less, and we did not pollute using solvent for cleaning … as for vinyl paint!

3. The hunt for overconsumption of energy

Hunting for overconsumption of energy means trying to consume less or smarter.

A first step was made during the choices during the construction of the house.

By the choice of materials (wood), the shape of the architecture (the high ceilings), the numerous openings, the roof overflowing on a veranda, the insulation of the roof … we favored the circulation of air , shading and freshness of the interior. We therefore save on the constant use of fans, or air conditioners, energy consumers.

The exposure of the house and the choice of the white color inside the house favors the light and we turn on our lamps at the last moment.

But not only !

Without wanting to go on campaign, after having built “smart”, I mean, with this in mind, it was necessary to convince the occupants of this house (that is to say the whole family) to consume less! An entire program!!! But before consuming less, it had to make people realize what energy was consuming by which device!

This was our second phase: we produced our energy.

We installed 6 photovoltaic panels on our roof to create our own electricity of 1080 Wc. Simply said, solar panels transform the energy produced by the sun’s rays into electricity. This energy is stored in batteries placed behind the house. An inverter transforms the current contained in the batteries into 220V and thus makes it possible to have electricity. The limit being that we can consume only the energy available in the batteries, like a water tank. With this parameter, we must be vigilant about our consumption.

It is this experience we have lived for a year and a half! We were energetically independent!

Home equipment of appliances with reduced consumption:

It was not about depriving ourselves of our comfort. Like everybody, we wanted to have TV, listen to music and eat ice cream or do all that at the same time. It’s possible ! Just choose your class A electrical appliances that consume less … same for low energy bulbs … (if you prefer reading!). But beware of appliances that still consume a lot of energy such as toasters, irons, hair dryers … well, all those which have a resistance! Either you ban them, or you use them, only in a very limited time during a day… very… very… limited ! Impossible for a brushing … I throwed away the hairdryer!

How can you help Ecolokay?

You too, hunt for over-consumption of energy: Check that all the lights are off when you go to bed or when you go out for a walk ; close the metal curtain and shutters when you turn on the air conditioner and turn it off when you leave; do not leave the kettle or coffeemaker lit all day long … in short all these little things of nothing at all but that count so much!

The installation of a solar water heater … Of Course my Dear !

But, not only for the shower! After installing a temperature controller at the outlet of the water heater, we connected the hot water inlet of our clothes washing machine to it. Thus, after setting the temperature of our machine to the minimum so that its resistance does not engage and put the desired temperature on the regulator, it is the solar hot water which washes our linen, and here we go!! (Same plugging for the dishwasher … Yes, Yes, Yes, it’s possible!). If our explanation seems abstract, come and look at our installation! It will be a pleasure!).

Note that our water heater is judiciously and strategically installed on the roof above the kitchen, (unlike what is usually done, where it is rather installed above the rooms as closer to the bathrooms!). Here, it is more precisely above all our electrical panels; thus, if, unfortunately, a fire of electrical origin were declared and spread, it would burn first the beams supporting the water heater which would then play the role of fire extinguisher. Finally, that’s in theory … not tested yet !

How can you help Ecolokay?

The Ecolokay apartment is not connected to the solar water heater because its cistern is a bit tight for a consumption of more than 6 people. The use of hot water being only occasional, we preferred to install an electric balloon. It’s up to you to manage your consumption with common sense.

Finally, we equipped ourselves with gas in the kitchen (burners and oven).

It is obvious, considering our minimum installation of photovoltaic panel, which would be quite suitable for a survival installation, I mean in this short term, we could not equip us with air conditioners, microwaves, too greedy in energy. Moreover, depending completely on the weather and the vagaries of the weather, we sometimes used a generator to complement it.

However, it has been very beneficial in our approach to ecology and we were very proud to have such an experience! The children and we even learned to consume smart and to dose our consumption. If the kids wanted to have their fan all night in their room … no more than 2 hours of TV in the day … (a major ally for parents!).

Since then, we have connected to the local distributor, but as the decision to try this experience and the desire to have a home survival kit, were established during the construction of the house, we had planned a totally solar network, distributing a constant solar energy by so-called solar jacks (one per room). We plugged in our electronics, fearing the electrical surges produced by micro-cuts.

But we did not stop there. Based on our experience, we have established a system of energy switching (by a specific box), during unannounced cuts of our distributor … the whole house thus receives the solar energy (except the plugs of the air conditioners which are out system). Just take our old habits of controlling our energy consumption, even if we have not totally abandoned!

How can you help Ecolokay?

Thus, you benefit from this system in our Ecolokay apartment. You have nothing to manage, the system automatically starts. Only the air conditioner cuts itself off. We only request you not to heat any food because, for your safety we preferred to equip you entirely with electrical appliances, which are unfortunately big consumers. On request, we will temporarily equip you with gas.

4. The tools to take advantage of nature’s assets

An ecological house is part of its environment. Our is particularly generous in its sunshine but also in its rainfall!

We took advantage of the sun, as you read above, we also decided to take advantage of this abundance of water! We installed a 1250 liter tank to store rainwater for reuse in the garden or pool. By an ingenious distribution game, we can, if necessary, supply our faucets and toilets of the house.

But be careful, although treated at this time, this water is not drinkable!

It was following the important strikes of 2009, that we really became aware of the waste that we rejected. In fact,  city workers did not to empty our garbage cans regularly, thus the waste piled up quickly. Apart from the bad smell it gave off, the domestic animals came to spread them, cockroaches, crabs, rats and all other rodents went there to shop! Moreover, this was an additional risk for the proliferation of mosquitoes! It was therefore necessary to reduce them!

We then sorted our organic waste and made a hole to bury it … it was the beginning of our compost bin. Since then, we have bought one, and sorting continues at home. We have learned to better sort, and garbage cans have been reduced, especially, they are less fragrant!

How can you help Ecolokay?

The city of La Trinité has set up a sorting system and very recently, it has distributed yellow lids for plastics, paper and cardboard; you can contribute to this simple citizen gesture by using them, they are in front of the house. Only the glass is to be deposited in the yellow and green container along the roads.

5. Ecology: Art of living better

We are not green activists wanting to go back to our grandmothers’ days. We love nature but also our comfort. We have worked hard during our life and we think we deserve what we have. We mainly think of our children and their future.

We know, like everyone else, that the planet is going badly and that it will become more and more difficult. We see it well with the increasing rains in our region at inappropriate times and we are listening to what is happening from the meteorological point of view in metropolis and in the world. It’s been 20 years that we are on our island and it allows us to have a little perspective!

So how can we help?

Is it a good idea to sort out the garbage, buy a class A and build a pine tree house, when it costs more? Or is it common sense to turn off a lamp in a room when you are not there, shut the doors when air-conditioning, protect from the sun for less heat and open the partitions to let the air circulate?

Our elders did not have our means but they had good sense and ingenuity, because it is them who invented everything, do not forget it!

Ecology is not to deny our own time, our progress and our technologies, but rather to try to use them to reconcile our lives, our tastes and desires, with good sense and intelligence. Let’s put our knowledge into practice and through our choices and actions, make this world a future for our children.

Ecology is above all an Art of living better