Dutch family of four living in experimental urban greenhouse home

Helly Scholten
© Helly Scholten

People living in northern climes don't have the year-round greenery that people living in the tropics can enjoy. Unless they live in a greenhouse, that is. While taking up residence in a structure meant for plants may initially sound like a wacky idea, some are experimenting with it as a sustainable and energy-efficient option. In the port city of Rotterdam, this Dutch family is taking part in a three-year test pilot project that has them living full-time in a greenhouse home, created by design students at the Rotterdam University.

The Scholtens embarked on their adventure when mother Helly, who is a botanical stylist and decorator, was researching for ways to live a sustainable and less energy-intensive lifestyle, within Rotterdam. By chance, she heard that Rotterdam University was looking for candidate families to live in experimental housing. They went for an interview with a professor at the school, and applied on the spot.

Helly Scholten© Helly Scholten
Helly Scholten© Helly Scholten

Seen over at My Modern Met, the 1,291-square-foot three-bedroom Concept House is built near Rotterdam's docks. It features glass windows on the roof that are tilted toward the sun to maximize solar gain, and to increase natural ventilation. Air also comes in through a pipe that's located three feet below ground, which brings in cool air during the summer, and warm air during winter -- thus naturally lowering heating and cooling costs.

Helly Scholten© Helly Scholten

Most importantly, there is a large rooftop garden, that produces an array of vegetables and fruits year round for the family of four and their dog -- tomatoes, watermelon, peppers, beets, zucchini and cauliflower. There is also a rainwater collection system, which stores water in rooftop tanks, to be used for irrigation, washing and flushing toilets.

Helly Scholten© Helly Scholten
Helly Scholten© Helly Scholten

Another interesting characteristic is the innovative loam stucco coating the interior walls, used to regulate the temperature inside. Says Arjan Karssenberg, who led the Concept House project:

We coated loam stucco on all the interior walls to a depth of 45 millimeters, about 1.7 inches, so there is a lot of mass on the wood-frame structure. Because loam absorbs heat, it lowers the temperature during hot summer days from 2 p.m. onwards, moving the house’s peak temperature to midnight.

Helly Scholten© Helly Scholten
Helly Scholten© Helly Scholten

One downside is that the loam stucco can wash off in heavy rain, requiring occasional re-application. The house does need careful maintenance -- especially with the rooftop garden. The family found this out the hard way, says Helly: “We went away on vacation for a week in the summer and when we got back most of our plants had died. That was a lesson for us. In a home that’s covered by a greenhouse it can get hot. Plants need to be watered twice a day, and you have to be careful to open enough windows to cool the place down.”

Helly Scholten© Helly Scholten

Despite these small extra efforts, the family loves living in the verdant and open spaces of this greenhouse home, and the lowered maintenance costs that come with it. "After this experience, I could never go back to a conventional house,” says an enthusiastic Helly. “This is a house that works for you, rather than you working for it.” The family is slated to reside here until 2018, when the house will eventually be sold (price tag of USD $554,000) to a permanent buyer and possibly dismantled to be re-erected on another site. See more over at the the family's Instagram and Helly Scholten's website.

Tags: Energy Efficiency | Gardening | Green Building | Green Roofs | Netherlands

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