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Home, sweet home of the future

As the World Expo explores better cities of the future, it also opens the door to future homes with solar panels, little or no carbon emissions and even sofas that check your blood pressure. Zha Minjie and Zhang Qian report.

Houses of the future are expected to be "passive" and self-sustaining in terms of energy, make use of inhabitants' body heat to run appliances, and give off little or no carbon dioxide.

Energy conservation and environmental protection will be at the heart of homes of the future, as demonstrated at the World Expo and its Urban Best Practices Area.

On top of the building are sustainable-energy solar panels, which generate most of the electricity.

A roof garden will not only be pleasant for inhabitants, but it also will serve as insulation.

Natural sunlight will illuminate the house, especially the north side.

In traditional homes, carbon emissions from the building come mainly from consumption of fossil fuels for power and gas. Electrical generation plants are a major source of emissions but these homes will supply their own power.

In the London showcase in the UBPA, people can calculate the emissions of carbon dioxide generated by various activities and modify their habits.

"In the past buildings always produced a lot of wastes," said Chen Shuo, director of the London Pavilion. "But new buildings collect resources on their own."

No air-conditioning is needed, but residents feel comfortable during the summer. The secret: a ground source heat pump, tapping moderate temperatures in the ground.

It lets heat flow in a natural way throughout the house in pipes, keeping it cool in summer and warm in winter.

The temperature remains steady at 25 degrees Celsius throughout the year.

The wind cowls on the roof use wind pressure to provide fresh air to each room and remove polluted indoor air.

Windows can be triple-glazed to keep heat out during the summer and in during the winter.

The exterior is insulated with drywall made of gypsum plaster board.

"One can also use his or her own body heat to produce the energy the homes need," said Professor Bernd Dallmann, from Germany, discussing the Freiburg (Germany) Green City UBPA case.

Visitors put their hands on a heat-transmitting device to make a clock run - and body heat can be used to run other small appliances.

In the living room, the sofa offers more than comfort. It can also check blood pressure and immediately send a report to a physician through the Internet.

In the home of the future, parents needn't worry about their children scribbling on walls. A "doodle wall" in the Shanghai UBPA home is a screen where kids can write with their fingers, using light; to erase they need only rub the screen with their palm.

The kitchen features edible plates and cutlery, made of organic biscuits.

In the bathroom, the toilet does not have a water storage tank, but flushes with pumped in and purified "gray water" previously used for other things, such as bathing. The future bathroom will use much less water than traditional bathrooms.

For the elderly or people with disabilities, the toilet seat and hand basin can be raised or lowered; a seat in the bathtub also can be elevated and lowered to make it easy to get in or out.


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