Creating Sustainable Homes in 2023: Complete Guide
Sustainability is at the forefront of many people’s minds nowadays due to the state of the environment. Climate change remains a genuine threat. The world’s natural resources are rapidly dwindling, and pollution of all kinds has reached alarming proportions. Thus, we need to revamp how we live to create the most negligible impact on nature.
That’s what sustainable housing design aims to do, to minimize a home’s detrimental effects on the environment. This means that every step of the building process takes sustainability into account. The materials used, the incorporation of renewable energy as power sources, and the efforts to create a structure that blends with the environment are what go into the process of building a sustainable home.
However, it takes some effort to create a sustainable house, and it can be challenging to address all the considerations that come with a housing design that produces little or no impact on nature. We hope that this article will help ease the process.
How to Create a Sustainable Housing Design?
A sustainable home shouldn’t just be environment-friendly but instead should also be a comfortable place to live. As such, whether you’re building or buying one, you’ll need to consider several factors to ensure that you get the benefits this type of home offers.
Your home’s sustainability depends not just on how it’s built but also on its location. You wouldn’t want to live in a floodplain zone or in a region that gets life-threatening heat waves or droughts, would you? Nor would it be a good idea to stay in an area with no existing infrastructure for transportation and utilities.
Here are some important considerations when you plan for your sustainable home.
If you can build on a property that’s within walking distance of your job or your kids’ schools, so much better. This will minimize the need to use your car for driving to the office or dropping the kids at school. In turn, this lessens your environmental impact related to the use of gasoline.
However, finding a building site near your workplace may not be an option. Alternatively, find a place close to public transportation to reduce your carbon footprint.
Another factor that goes into building sustainable homes is the existing infrastructure in the area. Look for a site that’s already hooked up or can easily be connected to water, electricity, communication, wastewater, and transportation infrastructure. This helps reduce the resource waste and cost of building new infrastructure. Using existing facilities will boost your efforts in creating a sustainable home.
On the other hand, you may want to live off-grid or in an area without on-site power. If you plan to live entirely off-grid, check if the locality has a good source of clean water and access to solar power or other renewable energy suppliers for your energy needs.
Avoid Hazardous Areas
Areas close to identified earthquake faults, flood-prone areas, coastal land that’s near sea level, slopes with a grade of 15 percent or more and high-wildfire-risk regions are examples of hazardous areas. Constructing an energy-efficient home in such locations can’t be considered green living at all if you have to build your house twice after being destroyed by the elements.
If you can’t avoid building in a hazardous area, make provisions to mitigate the hazards in the planning and construction phase of your home.
Size plays a significant role in the construction of sustainable homes. You’ll naturally consume fewer resources and energy in building a smaller home than a large one. A big house will require more materials. Its energy consumption will likely be higher, too, as it will need more energy to heat and cool.
Studies show that a surface area of 2,000 to 2,500 square feet may be enough for a single-family home with three bedrooms. An area of around 120 square feet for bedrooms is quite sufficient since most of the time, the place is reserved for sleeping. If you want a larger area, try not to go overboard and keep in mind that smaller houses are generally more energy-efficient.
House Orientation [Natural Light & Heat]
One characteristic of sustainable homes is their lower energy consumption. So you’ll need to keep your heating, cooling, and lighting needs in mind when building a sustainable living area. For example, if you live in a region with a cold climate, you can take advantage of the sun by having more south-facing windows. Doing so will maximize the sunlight your home receives during the winter months. South-facing windows will bring in natural light and provide heat.
Meanwhile, planting a deciduous tree in front of your windows that face south will help make your home more energy efficient during summer. Deciduous trees shed their leaves and let sunlight in during winter but will block the sun’s rays in summer, thus reducing your heating costs.
Taking advantage of natural light and heat gives you a leg up in creating a sustainable home. So keep your home’s orientation in mind when planning a sustainable design.
Home Layout [Energy Use]
Their small size and shape make igloos the epitome of energy-efficient homes. The reduced floor area and spherical shape lower interior heat loss, making it easier to keep the inside temperature at a comfortable level.
When building a sustainable house, a key factor to remember is that a sprawling or spread-out design will experience more heat loss and, thus, will be less energy-efficient than a compact one. This means taller is better. So a compact two-story house will outrank a single-story one with a spread-out design when it comes to energy efficiency. Thus, if you want to build a house with 2,000 feet of floor space, consider constructing two stories with 1,000 square feet per story to lower your energy requirements.
Using local materials will go a long way in making a sustainable house. That’s because buying from local sources will eliminate the need for shipping, which requires gasoline for transportation. For example, it’s greener to opt for locally milled wood than to order from a seller across the country. You can also use stone from a local quarry for your patio.
Limiting yourself to locally-sourced materials can be challenging because you may not have many options in your area. In this case, buying from nearby areas is an excellent alternative. The idea is to reduce the distance the materials travel to make transporting them eco-friendly.
Recycling is a vital component of sustainability. Using recycled materials helps reduce the amount of waste that eventually ends up in landfills. So it’s fitting that a sustainable house should be made up of such materials. You’ll need to balance this recommendation with availability. But if you intend to build a sustainable home, you can check what recycled materials are readily accessible and plan your house’s design accordingly.
These are examples of reusable materials that can be used to construct sustainable homes.
- Reclaimed wood from demolished old buildings or homes (look for lumber yards that specialize in purchasing and selling this kind of wood)
- Drywall materials
- Bricks, stones, and other masonry
- Soil from the excavation of your home’s foundation (you can use it for landscaping)
- Recycled glass
- Plastic products
- Roof shingles
The good news is that by reusing materials for your home, you save money, too.
Insulation is a significant factor to consider in building sustainable homes. That’s because a properly insulated house is more energy-efficient than one that lets cool or heated air leak out. Insulation keeps the warm air in the winter and the hot air out during the summer. Remember that heating and air conditioning use the most energy in a typical home. Thus, your heating and cooling devices create the greatest environmental impact among all your household appliances.
Various insulation techniques and types, such as siding materials, exist on the market. Choose the most energy-efficient ones. They may be costly upfront, but you’ll save money in the long run due to their energy-saving properties. If your area has code insulation standards for green homes, ensure you meet the minimum requirements. Surpassing the standards would be a better idea.
Air sealing, or draft stopping, goes with the insulation process and is a lesser-known component of building sustainable homes. As we mentioned, your heating and cooling devices consume the most electricity among your appliances. So you need to make sure that conditioned air doesn’t leak out of your living space.
Pay attention to the openings and penetrations through your house’s roof and walls. These include vents, doors, windows, and electrical conduits. Provide sufficient sealing to these areas through caulking or other tested methods. Also, work with good construction contractors, who are essential partners in building sustainable homes.
Window & Door Selection
Efficient doors and windows are requisite components of sustainable homes. They should have proper weather stripping to keep the elements out and a tight seal to prevent conditioned air from escaping into the outdoor environment.
Energy-efficient doors and windows may come with higher costs, but having a sustainable home will save you money over time. This will help you recoup the amount you shelled out initially. Doors and windows are prime leakage points, so provide proper air sealing around them. Double-pane windows are the minimum when it comes to energy efficiency, but triple-paned ones are better.
Use Sustainable House Materials
One way to achieve your goal of having a sustainable home is by using sustainable house materials. Avoid materials containing Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs). Taking advantage of reused materials is another means of fulfilling your sustainability objectives.
A good example is using wood from old structures that have been torn down. Just make sure you get durable materials that will still stand the test of time. Renovating or rebuilding your home every few years defeats the purpose of constructing a sustainable house.
Energy Star Appliances
Using energy-efficient appliances is one of the easiest ways to have a sustainable home, and when it comes to efficiency, those with an Energy Star seal are your best choice. Energy Star-rated devices and electronics are certified to use less energy compared to traditional models without compromising performance.
By swapping your old appliances with Energy Star ones, you can save approximately $450 on your energy bills and still enjoy the performance you expect. With over 3,800 models available in the market, you won’t run out of options.
LED lighting solutions save you money in two ways. First, they help lower your energy costs because LED bulbs consume less power compared to, say, incandescent and compact fluorescent bulbs. Second, LED lights are more durable than other types, saving you money on replacement costs.
Opting for LED lighting will be a step in the right direction if you plan to have a sustainable home. That’s even if the bulbs may be more costly because you can quickly get back the money you spent through the savings on your energy bills and replacement expenses.
Plumbing Fixtures [Water Conservation]
Energy-saving water fixtures are excellent additions to all sustainable homes as they help conserve water, a precious resource. Plumbing and toilet accessories aren’t the same as those from the olden days. Now, modern ones come with several options. For example, dual-flush toilets let you choose the flush rate (higher or lower) depending on your needs.
All plumbing fixtures, including shower heads and faucets, have low-flow or reduced water usage models. These are designed to use less water to do their tasks, such as flushing the toilet, than conventional types. Using low-flow fixtures can help you save up to 60% on your water consumption.
Heating and cooling contribute the most kilowatt-hours to your energy bills. Thus, a sustainable home needs to address the issue of the HVAC’s high energy consumption. Having an efficient system for keeping the temperature at a comfortable level is critical to a sustainable home design.
Here are some equipment and techniques that may help you achieve a sustainable home.
A smart thermostat automatically adjusts the temperature settings in your home based on your habits and needs. It saves electricity by learning your heating and cooling preferences and setting the temperature accordingly. Wi-fi-enabled smart thermostats let you control your home’s temperature settings wherever you are, which helps save money. For instance, you can lower the heat when you’re away and nudge it up to your preferred setting when you’re on the way home.
Not everyone in your home may prefer the same temperature setting. Some may want it hotter, some cooler. In such cases, breaking your home into zones will benefit your pocket and nature as well. By having separate zones, you can set independent temperatures for each area or room. Moreover, you can turn off the HVAC in rooms that are not often used. Examples are the basement, attic, or laundry area.
Mini-split AC and heating units can help greatly in the creation of a sustainable home as they let you control the temperature in separate rooms or zones of the house. These systems have 2 components: an outdoor condenser and several indoor air handling units that go into each room or zone.
Mini split systems are great solutions for newly constructed homes. They also make good retrofits for homes with non-ducted heating systems or those that use space heaters or radiant panels. Other applications include addressing the heating and cooling needs of room additions that can’t accommodate distribution ductwork and new homes that need only a small space conditioning system.
Energy Recovery Ventilator [ERV]
An Energy Recovery Ventilator, or ERV, is a piece of equipment that recovers some of the energy in the air vented from your home into the outside environment. For example, if you have an exhaust fan in the bathroom, the Energy Recovery Ventilator can use the heat from the exhaust to preheat or pre-cool the air that goes into the house.
Using an ERV can help you save on energy costs during summer and winter by reducing the workload of your heating and cooling system. Don’t worry. You won’t be breathing exhaust air as the unit only uses the heat from the exhaust, not the air it draws from the house.
Rainwater harvesting or collection involves accumulating the run-off water for later use. You can install downspouts and roof gutters that funnel the water into a tank. You can then flush your toilets or water your plants with the collected rainwater to offset the demand for fresh water.
With additional filtration and disinfection, you can even drink rainwater, making rainwater collection a great way to conserve the earth’s water resources.
Powering your home with renewable energy adds to its sustainability because renewable energy sources are self-replenishing. Moreover, these power sources emit almost no greenhouse gasses making them clean and green.
Let’s look at renewable energy sources you can use for your home.
Solar panels, otherwise known as photovoltaic panels, capture the sun’s rays and convert them into electricity you can use to power your appliances and other electronics. Solar panels can generate energy during daylight hours, and any excess power can be stored in batteries to be used after the sun goes down. In some areas, you can export surplus energy to the grid for electricity bill credits.
Windmills, or small wind turbines, are eco-friendly alternatives for powering your home as the generation of wind energy produces lower carbon emissions and less waste than fossil fuels. They work by harnessing the wind’s energy and converting it into electricity.
A windmill that yields 1.5 kW can meet the power demands of a home that requires 300 kilowatt-hours per month in an area with a 14-mile-per-hour average wind speed. Consider installing a small wind turbine on your property if possible.
Heat is contained in the rocks and fluids deep within the earth’s crust. Temperatures at the planet’s core can reach over 4000 degrees Celsius or 7200 Fahrenheit. Digging wells into the underground reservoir of hot water and steam will release the energy you can use to heat your home.
Making geothermal heat a part of your sustainable home design can save you up to 72 percent on energy costs compared to using a traditional air conditioning unit or furnace.
Solar or Tankless Hot Water
Up to 25 percent of an average home’s electricity bill goes to heating water. A solar hot water system can help reduce the cost by two-thirds. The good news is that you don’t need a sunny climate to take advantage of this passive heating mechanism. With the advances in solar collector technology, you can turn to the free energy coming from the sun even if you live in a place where cloudy days are the norm.
However, if solar hot water is not feasible, a tankless hot water system is another option you can incorporate into your sustainable home design. Tankless water heaters or instant hot water systems typically consume less electricity than standard water heaters. They also heat the water quickly, removing the need to run it until it gets hot, thus saving gallons of the precious liquid over time.
Sustainable Landscapes & Planting
Intelligent planting is part of a sustainable home design. The operative word is intelligent, which means planting the right plants at optimal locations. Growing vegetation unsuitable for the climate or land type is not sustainable at all because the plants will often require intensive watering and maintenance.
If you want to practice sustainable planting and landscaping, use indigenous species or plant types known to thrive in your kind of climate. Opt for vegetation that requires minimal watering. You can also plant vegetables. Growing organic food for sustenance is very green, especially if you use rainwater for your plants.
Types of Sustainable Homes
You’ll be glad to know that you have several options for sustainable home design. This means that you’re not tied to one basic type and have a choice as to what will best suit your needs and preferences.
Prefabricated homes, otherwise called prefabs, are constructed off-site and then transported to a building site. They’re extremely easy to make and move than traditional houses.
Benefits of Prefab Homes
This type of sustainable home design is affordable and offers plenty of benefits. These include:
- Durability: Prefab houses need to be transported to the building site. As such, extra materials go into reinforcing the house’s frame. Moreover, this type of sustainable home is precision engineered, contributing to its durability.
- Less waste: Builders of prefab houses can expertly gauge how much materials they need, thus reducing waste.
- Speedy construction: The construction of prefab houses takes place indoors, eliminating delays caused by inclement weather. Moreover, assembling the house can take place simultaneously with the preparation of the building site.
- Works well with remote locations: Prefabricated houses are constructed in one area and then delivered to various sites. This eliminates the challenge of finding contractors willing to work in remote locations.
Cargotecture is a rising sustainable home design trend. It refers to a building made partially or entirely from recycled shipping containers. Employing this type of design offers many benefits, the foremost of which are:
- Incredible structural strength and durability: Shipping containers are like oversized, super-strength Legos.
- Savings in time and money: Steel or aluminum, the materials commonly used for constructing shipping containers, are inexpensive.
- Uses materials that would otherwise become waste or thrash: This helps boost sustainability as it prevents the generation of additional waste.
As its name implies, a tiny house is a structure with a downsized living space. Typically, it has an average area of 186 square feet. Tiny homes are extremely earth-friendly. The energy used to power an average-sized home leads to the emission of 16,000 pounds of carbon dioxide a year. Compare that with a tiny house that disperses only over 1,000 pounds of CO2 over the same period.
Benefits of Tiny House
Aside from being friendlier to nature, other massive benefits come with living in a tiny home. These include the following.
- Affordability: The construction costs of tiny homes are just a fraction of the building expenses of a traditional home. You can have a tiny house for as low as $19,000.
- Mobility: It’s easy to move tiny homes. Just hitch one to a truck, and you’re good to go. So whether you’re moving to a new place or just going on vacation, taking your home with you is a breeze.
- Energy efficiency: The power needs of a small space will naturally be less than those of a larger home. You’ll also be using smaller and, thus, less power-hungry appliances for tiny homes.
- Almost no monthly expenses: Your monthly bills in a tiny home will seem minuscule compared to when you live in a traditional home. The power needs of a house less than 200 square feet are negligible.
- Saves time and money spent on cleaning: How long does it take to keep such a small space neat? You can clean a tiny home with the supplies and time you spend tidying the kitchen of an average-sized house.
Green Certified Homes
Due to the rising interest in green homes, several organizations have developed green building standards and certifications. Homes that receive these certifications offer reduced environmental impact.
The more widely known green building certifications are the following.
LEED means Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. It’s a third-party green-building certification program that provides a framework for efficient and cost-saving green buildings. Projects who want to qualify for LEED certification will need to earn points by adhering to standards that address sustainability issues. These include water, energy, carbon, transportation, waste, health, materials, and indoor environmental quality.
WELL is a performance-based system for measuring, certifying, and monitoring the features of a built structure or environment that affect human well-being and health. Water, air, light, fitness, nourishment, comfort, and mind are the attributes WELL considers when measuring how a structure impacts occupant health.
Living Building Challenge
This international building certification program sets the ultimate green building standards that can be applied to any building type. The aim is to construct living buildings that incorporate sustainable design solutions that improve the environment instead of simply mitigating its impact. This means producing energy that’s greater than what the building uses, treating wastewater on-site, collecting rainwater, and using the healthiest and most eco-friendly building materials.
A smart home is a dwelling structure that connects all its appliances and devices to a smart home system. Using the internet, you can control the associated electronics from any location using your mobile phone or any networked device. For example, you can set and monitor your home security cameras and program your thermostat even when you’re not home.
Smart homes are energy-efficient. They let you save not just energy but time and money as well.
A Passive House is a sustainable home design that specifies the requirements of a genuinely energy-efficient building. It promotes thermal comfort with limited use of cooling and heating appliances or devices through exceptional airtightness, proper insulation, right door, and window design, and mechanical ventilation with a heat recovery system.
A passive house takes a fabric-first approach. That is, it focuses on the thermal envelope (the layer that separates the inside and outside environment), ensuring it’s optimized for comfort and healthy indoor conditions.
These homes use bales of straw or hay as structural materials for the walls. The straw that takes the place of modern construction materials provides excellent insulation at a much lower cost. Plaster and clay are then placed over the straw to form the house’s exterior and interior walls.
Strawbale homes are cheaper to build than their traditional counterparts. In addition, they use sustainable and low-impact materials for construction.
Zero-carbon homes emit no net carbon dioxide during their operation. But this doesn’t mean that living in one will deprive you of the modern conveniences that run on electricity. A zero-carbon home uses power from renewable sources to supply the occupant’s energy needs. Take note that some of these homes may even generate surplus energy.
Earthships are homes that are designed to operate entirely off the grid. That means they don’t have connections to water and electric utilities. The energy they use comes from renewable sources, such as solar power. Meanwhile, collected rainwater and snowmelt supply the home’s water needs.
These homes are commonly made from rammed earth and adobe bricks. These materials provide excellent insulation year-round without requiring energy.
Shipping Container Homes
These are homes built from recycled shipping containers. They’re perfect examples of sustainability because they use pre-existing materials that would otherwise go to waste and become pollution sources.
Shipping container homes are budget-friendly. Basic container home prices range between $10,000 and $35,000. On top of that, this type of home is highly mobile, so you can take it with you if you need to relocate.
What is the Best Shape to Build a House?
The best shape for a house depends on your goals. Dome-shape works best when it comes to energy efficiency because it has fewer corners. Regarding cost, a square or rectangular house is the most economical. If you’re aiming for durability, the hexagon is the best house shape.
Are Green and Sustainable the Same?
Being green means living in such a way that you create the least environmental impact, such as using environmentally-friendly products and materials. Meanwhile, being sustainable means using the earth’s resources in a way that does not damage or diminish those resources.
When did Sustainable Design Start?
The sustainable design aims to reduce the impact of a structure on the environment as well as on the health and well-being of its occupants. The concept started to gain attention in the 1970s. Since then, it has evolved over time as more people became aware of the need to protect the environment.
What Does a Sustainable Environment Need?
A sustainable environment doesn’t involve only considerations related to nature but instead includes other aspects of living. These include the following.
• Environmental sustainability, which covers the entire global ecosystem.
• Human sustainability, which relates to the improvement of human lives.
• Economic sustainability, which is about the sustained growth of profits while taking into account the social and ecological consequences of economic activity.
Several factors and considerations go into a sustainable home design. While a sustainable home does come with some disadvantages, the benefits it offers more than makeup for those drawbacks.
The biggest winner if more people opt for sustainable homes is nature. Because such homes address issues that affect the environment, they will help in the efforts to save the earth’s natural resources for future generations. Moreover, they can also lower the number of harmful gasses that go into the atmosphere, thus mitigating the impact of global warming.