The Future Is Cave Living
When the oil runs out, I think our houses will become much more like those of our low-tech, pre-industrial ancestors.
The first point is that the age of specialised rooms is over. Now, legislation governing the design of new houses contains echoes of the past: it insists that once again rooms should multi-task. The living room, for instance, must have space for a bed in case the occupant becomes incapacitated; medieval people, for instance, lived, ate and slept in one room .
Next, architectural features from the past will start to reappear. The chimney disappeared in the 20th century, but it's coming back, as solid fuel-burning stoves make a return. In terms of fuel conservation the sun is becoming important again too: once upon a time people selected sites with good "air"; now well thought-out houses are situated to minimise solar gain in summer and maximise it in winter. Most future houses will need to face south, a challenge to conventional street layout.
The return of the chimney also serves to allow natural ventilation – even where there aren't fireplaces – lifting stale air out of the house. Mechanical air conditioning uses valuable energy, and will soon be simply unaffordable.
Walls are getting thicker too, again like those in the medieval era. Windows will grow smaller again and houses will contain much less glass – not only because of the high energy costs of glass but because it's thermally inefficient.
The return of the shutter is also likely: it's the best way of keeping heat out of a house. And with a hotter climate we'll probably experience water shortages. Our daily water consumption is about 160 litres; the government expects us to get down to 80 – the equivalent of a deep bath – by the end of this decade. We'll eventually need to grow as water-thrifty as the Victorians, with an average use of 20 litres a day. The Victorian cook was also a terrific recycler of food; the earth or "midden" toilet has already been revived in the form of the ecologically sound composting loo.
We lived in a hole in the ground when I were a lad and considered ourselves lucky....