Imagine a house that generates its own electricity, collects rainwater to irrigate a courtyard garden, and uses kitchen garbage to produce gas for heating water and cooking.
It may sound like a dream, but Niu Jian, 52, from Beijing, has turned it into reality.
The “sustainable lab”, as its creator calls it, occupies an area of 150 square meters in the capital’s suburban Shunyi district and has six rooms.
“I built the house to show people what a sustainable life could really be like,” Niu said.
Niu Jian from Beijing relaxes at his “sustainable lab”, which has a system that recycles toilet and kitchen waste, in the city’s suburban Shunyi district. He is planning to build a similar project that can accommodate 20 households.
The house, which was completed in June, has a system that recycles toilet and kitchen waste, including fruit and vegetable leftovers, and converts it into methane for cooking and heating. The system includes a trash shredder and several large tanks for storing waste.
Another system collects rainwater and sewage and filters it to provide clean water for the toilet and to irrigate the gardens behind the house and on its roof.
The walls are made of sandwich-like steel panels that can be dismantled and reused to build new houses.
The one-story building has solar panels with a capacity of 600 watts and a wind power generation system.
“Most of the energy we use in the house still comes from the city grid,” Niu said. “The house is primarily intended to display the science and the concept, and the operation of the recycling systems needs improving.”
Niu has received hundreds of visitors since the house was opened in August, including some businessmen who have shown an interest in the project.
“It looks smart,” said Li Xia, a visitor who runs a hotel in Beijing. “I came to visit because I want to learn how to renovate my hotel rooms so they are more environmentally friendly.”
Niu decided to build the house in February.
“I wanted to show people a life that they have always dreamed of, a life with both natural and modern elements,” he said.
He started to look for a plot of land, but this proved difficult because of the capital’s strict land policies.
“I utilized a lot of my social contacts, and finally one of my friends agreed to rent the plot to me for free,” he said.
It took Niu and his family and friends two months to build the house at a cost of 300,000 yuan ($48,000).
Flowers are everywhere. They grow in the small courtyard at the back, on the roof and on shelves attached to the walls inside.
This aspect of the house grew out of Niu’s fascination with flowers.
“I was able to play all day in the small garden behind my house when I was 5 or 6 years old,” he said. “After I moved to a new high-rise building I never had a garden.”
Niu’s love of flowers drove him to quit his managerial job at a textile factory when he was 37 and open a flower market in Beijing.
“I wanted to pursue my childhood dream and make our homes like gardens,” he said.
He hopes the house will let him share his vision of a sustainable life with others.
“People in big cities consume so many resources and create so much waste, and such a way of living is unsustainable,” he said. “Why can we not start to change our way of living to solve these problems?
“I hope real things, such as the house, are more convincing than concepts.”
He is working with others who share his ideas on sustainability with a view to expanding the project.
“We are planning to build a similar project that can accommodate 20 households in May,” he said.
“I believe such a model will be popular with the public and will set a good example for sustainable living.”
Name: Niu Jian
Hobby: Growing flowers
Job: Flower market manager