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In this group assessment, you are required to write a report which critically analyses the conceptual design phase of a systems engineering project. Projects might include designing a bridge, a dam, an environmentally-conscious building or a mechatronic system. You might not have been involved in the project personally, but some connection with the project would make the analysis more meaningful. Choose your project carefully because in assignment 2, your group will need to analyse the preliminary design and detailed design phases of the project. If you are unsure as to whether your chosen project has sufficient depth/detail, consult with your tutor. You will also have the opportunity to work on the assignment in the tutorials for the unit. Every group must do a different project. Also, projects from previous years can not be reused.
The report is to  analyse the following phases of the project:
Needs definition
Conceptual system design
To demonstrate your research skills and understanding, the report must draw upon relevant sources like journals, books or reputable trade publications in analysing the project. You must also present the case study in terms of the above two lifecycle phases and evaluate the proposed conceptual design against the identified needs / requirements. 

History of the Autonomous House

Buildings account for 40% of energy consumed globally and at the same time emit a third of greenhouse gas emissions (Adekunle, 2015). With the continuous advancement in technology on house are built, it’s evident that the built environment could reduce our impact on the environment. This study aims in analyzing the autonomous building system concept emphasizing the use of green technology to save the environment, achieve energy autonomy and intelligently use energy sparingly in order to create a sustainable environment. The house attributes are autonomous energy control and a self-sufficient energy cycle that helps maintains a comfort environment (Chen, et al., 2009)

The first autonomous house that has various debates among the professionals in the built environment was designed and constructed in 1993 by the autonomous house pioneers Brenda and Robert Vale. This paper will give analysis of the autonomous house and how it applied the autonomous principles.

The autonomous house achieves its autonomy operation in the areas of water supply, energy supply, sewage and wastewater treatment, and at the same time also producing power for city consumption (Vale & Vale, 1975). It evident that the building structures that have adopted the principle of autonomy has survived by co-existing well in the natural ecological systems.

The term “autonomous house” was first suggested by Alexander Pike, whose investigation aim was to improve a house facility system that possibly would moderate the depletion of local resources. Vale in 1975 described an autonomous house as a house that could possibly function autonomously and needed no inputs from immediate public service amenities (Chen, et al., 2009). This kind of house did not require to be linked with such services as gas, water, power, or sewers; it used alternate energy, such as solar power or wind power and could treat its own waste-water and sewage. It thus generated no contamination and did not misuse any energy.

The building literarily functions on its own, its principle was meant to be make the house to be separated from the rest of the world in order for it to co-exist in its own conservatory way. The most amazing thing is that the house generates its own energy despite being located near power lines services. It’s made maximum use of the solar heater. The solar heat is conserved in large quantity in order for it to be utilized during the English winter to keep the house warm. The windows also play a role in this since they are triple glazed, they ensure that no heat is lost or escapes.

Autonomy in Water Supply and Energy Control

The house has been installed with 2.2KW photovoltaic arrays which harness the electricity needed in the functionality of the house with the surplus being fed to the national grid (Vale & Vale, 1975). The water consumed in the house is harvested from the roof, with its large surface area, enough water is collected to be used all year round. Even during the summer season, the autonomous house occupants have never lacked water for consumption. In addition, the house has a sewage that is treated in a waterless and odourless composting toilet (Vale & Vale, 1975).

The site covers an area of about 600m2. Therefore, the house could be constructed at an area of over 16 per hectare (Sartori, 2007). The house is designed to be environment friendly and self-contained in terms of energy and water requirements, provide aesthetic interior spaces for the occupants and treat its own waste on site. The house consist of a 2.5 storey separate residence overhead an unheated basement. The entire floor area of the different spaces is near.

The Autonomous House has no heating that means no electrical appliances are used- no dishwasher, no freezer - and if it does have, then they are used in unconventional ways; For instance, the washing machine uses only cold water for washing purposes.

Like the “Middle Way in technology”, the holistic and organic worldview is also reflected in the autonomous house through the balanced and holistic approach to technology. The alternative technology used in the house is technology between modern advanced technology such as mass-produced, prefabricated construction with automated controls, and the decayed technology of the past (Ponsaers, 2001). Only sufficient technology to do the task in hand is used. This kind of holistic and balanced thinking, exemplified by the Vales’ choice of power linkage between solar energy and the National Grid, pervaded every other issue they confronted as they built, from windows to thermal mass

The entire flush-free sewerage system uses very minimal water as a saving strategy. Water used for drinking and any other house chores is collected in roof large tanks. The water is directed down through pipes that are hidden from view until it reach the cellar. Reaching their its stored in vats, 20 of them and each hold 1500 litres of water. However, the drinking water go through a double – filtration system (Ponsaers, 2001).

The Autonomous House is traditional in form and shape with a heaped roof, but thermally heavy (721 kg of functional mass per m2 of floor area, while an old-fashioned U.K. brick house will have 200 kg/m2 of its mass) and highly insulated (the roof padding is 500 mm thick, for example) to preserve heat in the constructing fabric and to make use of occasional heat gains from the sun (Vale & Vale, 1975).

Construction and Design

Figure 10: The autonomous house illustrated by Victor Leung Retrieved from

A small 4.6 kW wood burning oven is provided in the ground floor room as a source of back-up heating, and to offer a focal point at the entrance (Vale & Vale, 1975). Living rooms are located upstairs to achieve better daylight beyond the thick planting on the site perimeter, with bedrooms and bathrooms on the ground floor.

The house is planned to have a life of at least 500 years so it is exhaustive to minimize repairs, with no visible external carpentry apart from the window frames and site services.

The security of the house is guaranteed since the concrete blocks used have high strength to withstand any forces or impact. Most of the materials used are heavy hence making the house to be strong and durable.

One of the most useful techniques employed in this house design process is digital. The technique gives accurate overlaying of maps used to locate the site. All this is prepared using a program Computer Aided Design (CAD) such as sketch up, AutoCAD, arch cad etc. Importing the site from google earth and mapping the information into the architectural program that is Computer Aided Design was one of the most efficient  and reliable system for analyzing the proposed design constituting its environmental impact.

Notwithstanding to reduce the ecological impact of its set-up, the Autonomous House is considered to avoid the utilization of natural resources with a high energy content, to eliminate the use of materials that are far away from achieving net zero energy, and to utilize waste or reused materials where conceivable. For instance:

  • Lime whitewash was utilized in the interior spaces and German natural paint on the exterior instead of standard paints;
  • The pits were back-filled with divided block from destroyed site; rather than the recently burrowed stone;
  • The solid concrete slabs for the vault were made of waste powder from nearby power station;
  • The driveway was built using the mining waste;
  • The gateway was secured with utilized slates and the blocks for the external walls were fired up with landfill gas from decaying refuse.
  • All heavy materials were sourced as close as conceivable to the site to limit transportation energy loads..

The indoor temperature of the house during winter at times fall below 18 degrees making the house to feel cold but still bearable and safe to live in. This shows that the house is completely dependents on the sun. However, during summer, the house thermal comfort is easily achieved due to the material envelop that is locally made with net zero energy. Vale and Brenda intention was to achieve sustainable development by meeting the ever increasing demands for implicit services of the western lifestyle. The autonomous house is a masterpiece that intends to spearhead sustainability by offering its occupants not much comfort and services but only enough, one that is sustainable.

The customary services are costly to install (truly the expenses of tempest water channels, sewers and water supplies have added up to around 15% of the cost of a house plot in the course of the most recent nine years in new Auckland subdivisions; by correlation the cost of introducing a power supply is just around 2% of the cost of a house plot (Sartori, 2007). These reticulated administrations have high all over stream costs (charges to the householder, water purging, and sewage treatment) notwithstanding the expenses of the funnels. 

Holistic Approach to Technology

It looks likely that the extra expenses per house for self-ruling frameworks could be covered by savings in reticulated administrations, with the added advantage of no running expenses for the householder contrasted and the ordinary circumstance.

The house doesn’t require regular maintenance as such since the materials used are eco-friendly and is estimated to last for over 500 years except the site services can be checked regularly for maintenance in case of any defect.


Vales autonomous house

Wall U


Roof U




Glazing and door U,


1.15 (argon triple glazed)

Thermal bridge

Its designed to be bridge free

Airtightness /Breathability

1.5 ac/h50

Ventilation /Condensation

MVHR 0.2 ac/hN thermal.



Heat >70%

Fans / Pumps





Passive solar

Not optimized for solar gain

Space Heating systems and Controls

Wood stove backup. In centre of house. Temp

allowed to drop to 15.5deg.

Water Heating systems and Controls

Minimize demand. Electric heating w Heat Pump.

Low water use

Rainwater capture and grey water recycle.

100% autonomous

The autonomous house is very productive since it uses its own solar energy for heating purposes, electricity, drinking water production and wastewater recycling. It’s only the phone line that is connected to the network. It’s a building of its kind in the UK since it operates independently of any.

Building autonomous house is easier than most people think. Its cost is not more than the ordinary house. The only differences is that you spend money in different ways during the construction stages. People need to realize the importance of going green and how easy it is to build a house that is sustainable by harnessing the natural environment. Autonomous house is a testimony that things can be done differently. Brenda’s message of living within ones means or self-sufficiency was to advise architects to think of change that will help restore and rejuvenate the natural resources.

Several test have been done on the autonomous house using simulation techniques and softwares such as ecotect, energy plus to evaluate its energy performance visa vi other ordinary houses and the results achieved in autonomous house has been outstanding with almost net zero energy emission. The comfort levels in the autonomous house are impressive due to the choice for low energy design. The outcomes suggested that the autonomous house has more benefits in terms of energy saving and cost compared to the ordinary house.

The autonomous house sets up the imperatives for living, for example, the cutoff points on the indoor temperature and water utilization. These imperatives may not seem attractive for the individuals who have been acquainted with current, prosperous ways of life. They may even contend that these limitations are the infringement of individual flexibility. In fact, these are requirements that can be appeared differently in relation to singular flexibility based on self-enthusiasm, as forced by the mechanical prosperous customer society. Be that as it may, the self-sufficient method for living meets the essential and middle of the road needs surprisingly on the earth. Chen et al. (2009) keep up that a genuinely majority rule and just society will happen if everybody's essential needs including survival and self-sufficiency, and middle of the road needs like wellbeing, sustenance, and lodging are fulfilled. Ponsaers (2009) has contended that genuine opportunity is the acknowledgment of need, and that the most critical part of need that cutting edge men should now perceive is the need of tolerating the requirement for imperative. Opportunity in light of self-intrigue is flexibility for a couple, time requirement implies environmental flexibility for all individuals. It is an arrival to moral codes. At a profoundly genuine level, limitation implies pausing (Sartori, 2007). Present day customers are regularly stunned by waiting for what they need. However without pausing, there is no esteem. The Vales have (1997) expressed "waiting for the sun in the self-governing house is a profitable involvement in our current reality where we are accustomed to getting everything that we need promptly." The self-sufficient house encourages its tenants to understand the benefit of pausing, in this manner backing off the speed of life. It does no damage to others by building up the requirements.

The house was built using recycled materials found on site making it a more decentralized project. The water harvested from the roof is consumed and later recycled for other use. The waste from toilets are recycled by decomposition method to be used as manure in the garden.


Adekunle, T.O., 2015. Autonomous Living: An Eco-social Perspective. International Journal of the Constructed Environment, 6(4).

Chen, S.Y., Chu, C.Y., Cheng, M.J. and Lin, C.Y., 2009. The autonomous house: a bio-hydrogen based energy self-sufficient approach. International journal of environmental research and public health, 6(4), pp.1515-1529.

Ponsaers, P., 2001. Reading about “community (oriented) policing” and police models. Policing: An International Journal of Police Strategies & Management, 24(4), pp.470-497.

Sartori, I. and Hestnes, A.G., 2007. Energy use in the life cycle of conventional and low-energy buildings: A review article. Energy and buildings, 39(3), pp.249-257.

Vale, B. and Vale, R.J.D., 1975. The Autonomous House: design and planning for self-sufficiency. Thames and Hudson.

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