Reducing your carbon footprint and saving energy is a smart way to contribute to a cleaner, greener world. Not to mention, it can help you save on your monthly bills.

For those interested in environmentally friendly, sustainable living, the greenhouse home movement is the ultimate project. Swedish architect Bengt Warne developed the first greenhouse home prototype in 1974. The goal was to use the greenhouse as a way to source heat during Sweden’s extremely cold winters. Instead of converting an existing structure and moving into it, he designed a smaller summer home encased glass. This prototype is called a Nature House, or “Naturhus.”

Today, living inside a greenhouse is becoming much more popular among the modern population. Read on to learn more about the history of greenhouse living, how it works, the benefits, and how you can get started designing and living in a greenhouse of your own.


Living inside a greenhouse: how it works


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The green living and the greenhouse home movement is based on four core principles set forth by Bengt Warne to live more pleasurably, healthily, and economically. These four rules include:

  1. Finding ways to meet your real, actual needs and not the artificial ones. Technology should be second to biology. To practice sustainable living, all aspects of construction, lifestyle, and housing should be modeled after nature and not the modern world.
  2. Build in cooperation with nature rather than against it. Living things follow flows, such as the sun, wind, rain, soil, and plant life. All human homes can and should be designed based on these principles.
  3. Allow people living inside a greenhouse to control its flows and cycles. All actions and lifestyle behaviors should be cultivated and changed according to each individual’s wants, likes, and needs.
  4. Incorporate sophisticated but environmentally friendly technology whenever nature’s energies are insufficient.


What it means to live in a greenhouse

Living inside a greenhouse allows you to grow and harvest your own fruits and vegetables. You can open the greenhouse during the day to allow pollinators like bees and butterflies to enter, creating your very own enclosed ecological system. Growing your on food is incredibly environmentally friendly. It reduces our reliance on fossil fuels to transport food and avoids harmful chemicals used in commercial farming.

Greenhouse life also provides a more sustainable way to heat and cool your home. Harvest the warmth from the sun to keep your greenhouse home warm during the winter without having to use fossil fuels and other energy sources. Homeowners open the windows regularly to allow for proper airflow and prevent too much humidity and condensation.

The glass is UV protected to prevent residents from getting burnt and harmful exposure to ultraviolet rays. Many consider adding a flat roof to enjoy a rooftop garden using plants that thrive based on geographical location and climate.


How to get started

Think the greenhouse life is for you? These homes are constructed with a sturdy timber frame surrounded by a greenhouse built with glass or glazed panels. Make sure your greenhouse home has plenty of windows that are easy to open and close as needed.

Most of these types of homes start out as new construction so the whole home is designed with nature in mind. Consult with a local builder or a handyman near you that has experience with greenhouses. You will likely need to check with your local jurisdiction to find out what types of permits are required before you begin construction.

Make sure each panel or section of your new greenhouse home is securely attached to the other and that all seams are properly insulated to prevent leaks when it rains. With the right plans and construction, you can become part of the greenhouse home movement.

Can I convert my current home into a greenhouse?

For most traditional residential properties, it will be difficult to convert your current property into a greenhouse home without tearing down existing construction. That doesn’t mean you can’t use this movement as inspiration.

You may also want to talk to a contractor about encapsulating one room or a patio in a greenhouse to benefit from natural heating. This way you can live the greenhouse lifestyle in a way that can be easier to permit in a residential setting.


Growing your own food in a greenhouse home

Greenhouses create the perfect environment for a variety of plants, but you’ll still need to give them care and attention for them to flourish. Look for veggies that grow in your local region and choose winter-hardy plants to grow when the temperatures drop. Some good examples of edible winter plants include squash, kale, carrots, and spinach. A variety of herbs also do quite well in a greenhouse environment, including basil, thyme, and sage.

Make sure you research each plant’s soil and watering needs before planting them. Determine which direction your greenhouse home is facing so you’ll know which areas get the most sun during the day in all four seasons. When you harvest your food, try to eat all of it and store any extra food so it can be eaten later to prevent waste.


Saving energy and water

Living inside a greenhouse offers an opportunity to help you save on both energy and water. Harvest rainwater using rain barrels or a system that moves the rainwater from your roof into large containers. Use this water to tend to your plants, but remember to sanitize it properly if you plan to use it for drinking or bathing.

The heat that comes into your greenhouse home should be sufficient to keep your home warm during the day. This is known as passive heating and can be quite effective all year round. However, you may still need to use electrical heaters at night to keep your plants (and yourself) warm. Consider going solar; harvest the sun streaming into your greenhouse home to provide you with constant, sustainable energy. Use ceiling fans and open the windows often to allow for proper airflow and keep the area cool during warmer days.


The benefits of living inside a greenhouse

There are many pros to living inside a greenhouse, such as:

  • You’ll get more exposure to the sun, which may help to increase vitamin D levels and combat seasonal depression.
  • Greenhouse living allows you to grow your own fruits and vegetables, saving you money while also providing you with a safe, sustainable food source.
  • If you harvest rainwater and use solar energy, you can save money on your water and energy bills.
  • Growing plants inside a greenhouse can reduce or even eliminate the need for things like harmful pesticides and weed-killing products.
  • Your plants will be safe from animals and other pests since they’ll be grown entirely indoors.
  • A greenhouse home is a unique structure that could increase the resale value of your home if you ever plan to sell it.


How Naturshusvillan designs sustainable, practical homes

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Naturhusvillan is a Swedish architectural design firm that promotes a goal for people to live fully while creating a minimal environmental footprint. The concept of Naturhusvillian is to design homes that allow people to be in harmony with plants and the natural world. Each of these uniquely designed homes combines a climate shell or greenhouse with functional housing to create a beautiful, versatile blend of spaces in harmony with nature.

You may have heard of Naturhusvillan in the media because of Anders Solvarm.

Solvarm built his impressive home using ecological materials, including automatic irrigation and eco cycle systems that return nutrients from wastewater back to the plants living inside. The home consists of a traditional log house completely surrounded by a greenhouse on all sides. Although it’s located in Sweden, the surrounding greenhouse creates a warm, Mediterranean-like climate. Solvarm got his inspiration in 2000 when he built his own log house and looked for ways to protect it from harsh weather during construction. He took a break at the library and found a book written by Bengt Warne, falling in love with the concept.

Anders Solvarm’s home is featured in Apple TV’s “Home” series. Solvarm gives a tour and discusses the construction process and how it impacts his lifestyle. He discusses how the home has benefitted his family and their lives. He considers the home a terrarium for humans, where people and plants can live and thrive in harmony while minimizing our carbon footprint.


Interview Q&A with Anders Solvarm

We were fortunate enough to get an interview with Solvarm and ask him our burning questions about his home and lifestyle.


Q: How long did it take to build your dream home?

A: My Naturhause that you see in Apple’s “Home” series took me 8 – 10 years. The new house we built, called “Atri,” only took us three years during the COVID chaos.


Q: How did you and your family stay motivated and mentally well through such a challenging project?

A: I once said that you need to be crazy enough to start and stubborn enough to finish. We followed the advice that I give others. Start where you are. Do the easy things first. Find the direction, the path, and find happiness in the good you’re doing for the environment. 


Q: Do you have any advice for those who want to build more sustainable homes but are not capable of engineering/building an entire natural house?

A: That question is not easily answered in a few words. We define nature houses on materials, energy, and the eco-cycle of water and nutrients, combined with sustainable architecture. Big projects often mean increased footprint impact, so don’t think you have to build a whole new greenhouse. Instead, start with small changes in your current home. 

This can include:

  • Natural materials. Preferably plant-based materials that store carbon. Decrease your footprint by avoiding concrete, steel, aluminum, and plastic.
  • Build structures that can be repaired. We have a bigger footprint when we buy new and build big projects.
  • Improve energy efficiency. Good insulation reduces your energy needs. Use solar panels on home surfaces for natural energy.
  • Eco-cycle. If you can not use black-water or even grey-water in a local loop, then try to harvest rainwater from the roof to a tank. Use this to water on the garden plants during dry periods. You can also pee in a watering can to reuse the nutrients in your garden. Be sure to use that liquid close to the roots, not the leaves.


Q: What do you think is the most important way that typical people can lead more sustainable lives?

A: Start where you are and do the easy things first. Be happy about the good you’re doing for the earth, even if it’s small.

  • Consider what you buy and how that product or food was produced. How can that be recycled to new products, food or nature?
  • Remember that atoms do not vanish, they just relocate. Sometimes they relocate to the mountains of waste in our landfills, so keep that in mind when you throw things away. Try to reduce your need for fossil fuels and products (including plastic which has a short life).
  • Use your money and your power. Support ecological products and environmental organizations. Vote.
  • Celebrate when you can afford to buy local farmed ecological food and materials.


Q: Are there any other lifestyle changes you and your family have made to be more sustainable and eco-friendly?

A: Living close and interacting with nature have had a profound impact on our family. We do not want to disturb our garden or the extended garden (our only planet). It’s not always easy but can maybe be explained as a kind of personal stronger background tuning for our inner compass. We also drive biogas cars that use methane from local farmers. We try to buy eco-friendly food and clothes as well.


Q: What has been the most important lesson you learned through the creation of your own natural house?

A: Three things: It is quite hard to walk in a different direction in the Swedish society and system. Innovation within the area of buildings and human lifestyle/organization takes lots of time and money. The benefits of the eco cycle system are surprisingly vast.


If you’re interested in living inside a greenhouse, then this movement is something to consider. Remember the many benefits that this lifestyle provides, including saving money on water and energy, keeping in flow with nature, and the ability to grow and harvest your own food at home. With the right design plan and some ingenuity, you can practice the art of sustainable living yourself.