As the world reaches a basic understanding of the environmental costs of daily living, many people are making more sustainable choices to reduce their carbon footprint. And while travel mugs are still a great way to reduce your impact, new and innovative approaches such as sustainable home design are growing in popularity.
We've spoken to two businesses that specialise in eco-friendly home design to bring you these tips for making more sustainable choices in your home. Whether you're building from the ground up or renovating, Plant Prefab and Aeroseal provide energy-efficient and eco-friendly ways to improve your most precious investment — and our planet.
Sustainable homes: Why 'go green'?
It may not always be obvious, but there are many reasons to design an eco-friendly house. When it comes down to it, sustainable homes have two key benefits: environmental preservation and energy efficiency.
Eco-Friendly Home Design For Sustainability
As climate change accelerates, so does the demand for sustainability as a conventional element of home design. What does this mean? It means that homes are designed with a minimised disturbance of the environment. Sustainable building materials, ethical construction processes, and water conservation are all considered to reduce a home builder's carbon footprint.
By becoming more mainstream, it's also a financially viable option for more people, at least according to the air sealing technology professionals at Aeroseal.
"The demand for eco-friendly homes increases every year, evolving from being an option for more expensive, custom homes to becoming a standard part of mainstream home design," they say. "Now more than ever, homeowners realise the need for greater comfort and cleaner air indoors. And you can realise these benefits easily and affordably with an eco-friendly home."
The eco-house experts at Plant Prefab also see the push for sustainability increasing.
"There seems to be an increasing awareness about the dangers of climate change and the huge impact the built environment has in exacerbating the problems concerning carbon emissions," they say.
"As a result, we see more demand for sustainable and healthy construction in our homes. Many cities and states are mandating that homes and buildings be constructed to be more energy and water efficient."
Eco-Friendly Home Design For Energy Efficiency
The second perk, and perhaps the one you'll notice the most, is energy efficiency — and more specifically, lower utility bills. By cutting down or, in some cases, eliminating your reliance on the grid, you'll see energy bill savings.
As explained by the folks at Aeroseal, electricity, gas, and water bill savings are seen through three main areas of action: "Tapping into a renewable energy source like solar to power the home, making sure the home is constructed to be airtight and well insulated, and using more efficient mechanical systems in the home to use less energy."
Through energy efficiency, the financial benefits can also be twofold. First, by putting less strain on your cooling and heating systems, they're more likely to last longer, meaning you'll be spending less frequently on costly maintenance and replacements.
How To Design An Eco-Friendly Home
Work With — Not Against — Your Surroundings
If you plan on building your home from the ground up, it pays to consider the site's landscape you'll be building on. By working with your surroundings, you can minimise the disturbance to the landscape and reduce construction costs in the short term and temperature control costs in the long term.
We'd all choose a perfectly even plot of land if we could, but many people choose more difficult sites to stay within budget. A sloping site, for example, is often levelled before a house goes up, even though it isn't always necessary. In some cases, uneven land can lend itself to a home with great under-house ventilation, reducing the need for expensive heaters come wintertime.
Also, keep this rule in mind when it comes to landscaping. Native plants look great, but they often require less energy-intensive maintenance like watering and mowing.
Make Your Home Airtight, Starting With Insulation.
Given that heating and cooling make up almost half of your home's energy consumption, you must be making every effort to minimise warm or cool air loss.
Proper insulation is one of the most energy-efficient tools in the kit, as it'll help prevent you from running your thermostat too high or low to compensate for air leaks. Recycled insulation, such as cellulose and glass mineral wool, which uses a minimum of 50% recycled glass, is a common option for making insulation even more eco-friendly. Plant Prefab also recommends selecting GREENGUARD Gold certified products. They have met rigorous third-party chemical emissions standards to avoid the off-gassing from formaldehyde, a material used in traditional fibreglass products.
To make the insulation even more effective, consider duct and air sealing technology, such as Aeroseal. According to the experts at Aeroseal, even new homes encounter leak issues.
"Whether a home is new or old, its ductwork and building envelope contains many small leaks. Small leaks are a big problem, wasting as much as 30% of a home's energy," they say.
"Duct sealing and air sealing technology from Aeroseal seals these leaks – guaranteed. And homeowners will feel the difference with more even temperatures throughout the home, cleaner healthier air, and lower utility bills."
Consider Solar Panels For Your Roof.
Solar panels work by turning the sun's energy into electricity for your household through photovoltaic technologies. While they're sometimes a significant upfront spend, some reports suggest you'll see a return on your investment in fewer than ten years, or even less if you opt for a bigger system.
As explained by Plant Prefab, solar power systems are growing in popularity, and all new homes in California must be solar-ready. Solar power can signiﬁcantly reduce your electricity bills or eliminate them if the system is sized to produce all the electricity needed to power your home.
"Consumers want their homes to be more energy-efficient and, increasingly, are selecting photovoltaics as a way to generate the power they need," they say. "Solar panels generate power from the sun and act to lower or mostly eliminate your energy bills."
The one downside is that this renewable energy resource isn't available to all households as its efficiency relies on exposure to the sun and roof position. Therefore, new home builders would benefit from considering these factors early on to get the most bang for their buck.
Get Smart With Smart Technologies.
While smart appliances have long received kudos for their easy route to energy efficiency, smart homes are still relatively new territory. However, by integrating self-managed eco-technologies into your home's design, you'll be one step closer to carbon neutrality in your home.
Smart thermostats are the universal adoption of smart technologies (also known as WiFi thermostats). With a smart thermostat, you'll be able to go further than simply programming your heating and cooling to work at certain times of the day. Instead, you'll have remote control of your home's temperature, meaning you'll never have to worry about whether you've remembered to turn off your air conditioning.
Most smart thermostats will also allow you to track your energy usage and provide you with suggestions for reducing your usage even more.
Choose Sustainable Building Materials.
Whether you're renovating or building your home, there comes the point where you'll have to make decisions about the materials you'll need for your flooring, walls, and even structural features such as your roof.
Nowadays, you'll find many environmentally friendly options, such as sustainably certified timber, reclaimed wood, recycled insulation, and eco-wood finishes. The good news is that contrary to popular belief, these options don't necessarily have to be more expensive than their non-eco counterparts. For example, recyclable linoleum flooring is much cheaper than wood and has come a long way in terms of appearance since the 80s.
The eco specialists at Aeroseal reinforce the way building materials, rather than simply appliances, can be essential to constructing an eco-friendly home.
"While a home's finishes, appliances, and lighting are key to saving energy and not contributing to carbon emissions, building materials and construction processes are also critical to creating an environmentally-friendly home," they say.
Install Water-Saving Systems
Eco-friendly households recognise water as a precious resource even when their supply isn't at risk. So rain barrels aren't just for drought-prone areas - they're a great water-saving system that you can incorporate into your home design to help reduce your water bill and ease the strain on this precious resource.
Rainwater harvesting systems collect water that falls from your roof when it rains and storms, storing it in a tank until you're ready to use it. While, in some cases, this water is reserved for plumbing or garden maintenance, you can also use it in some domestic applications if it's well maintained.
Another water-eﬃcient system is low-ﬂow plumbing ﬁxtures. Plant Prefab says: "Low-flow plumbing fixtures, including toilets, faucets, and showers, are required in many states. By using up to 60% less water than standard fixtures, efficient fixtures help you save money on your water bill."
Given that up to 26.7% of your home's water consumption comes from your toilet, it'll pay to speak to a plumber about installing this.
Budgets And Limitations To Eco-Friendly Design
Ultimately, it all comes down to your personal design choices and budget. Your unique project budget will depend on the scope of work required, the design choices you make, and the cost of land, skilled labour, and building materials in your area.
With careful planning, eco-friendly houses can be extremely cost-eﬀective – both upfront and in the long run. For example, a smaller, more efficiently-designed home will cost less to build and operate than a larger one.
And while some sustainable and energy-efficient materials have a slightly higher price tag, they can provide significant savings over time through reduced energy costs and better durability. In addition, higher-quality fixtures, finishes, and appliances won't need to be replaced as frequently as their budget counterparts.
With increasing consumer interest in healthy, high-performance, eco-friendly materials, sustainable options are more widely available and often priced competitively with less healthy, less sustainable materials.
Solar system installation prices are also trending downward in costs, thanks mostly to their popularity. As the market booms, the industry has more capital to develop more cost-effective and efficient solar panels and inverters.
The other consideration is that paying more at the build stage will save you more down the track. Good insulation, rain barrels, and solar panels break even in cost in a few years when the utility bill savings are added. After that period, your savings will be money in the bank.
Smaller Is Better
A small home built with eco-friendly techniques will have a smaller environmental impact against a large home. A too-large house is likely to cost more to heat and cool. Try to keep the place manageable and cost-effective. If you plan to extend your family and bring in a few relatives, you need to put proper resources and accommodation.
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
Reduce your need for buying new products that are not environmentally friendly. Instead, reuse your next home's old material such as wood floors, doors, and windows. You can use recycled materials such as recycled glass, aluminium, recycled tile, reclaimed lumber, recycled plastic in green homebuilding.
Use Sustainable Building Materials
If building a green home is your goal, then using environmentally or eco-friendly products should be on your list, reducing the impact of construction on the environment. Every part of your house, such as roofing material, building material, cabinets, counters and insulation to your flooring, should be environmentally friendly.
Use products such as reclaimed lumber, recycled plastic, recycled glass, or natural products such as bamboo, cork, and linoleum made of natural, renewable materials. Even organic paints aid to limit the negative impacts on the environment as they easily breakdown without the release of toxins.
Install Solar Panels
Solar energy is a clean and renewable source of energy. Solar panels are an emerging and hot technology for people who want to utilise the sun's natural power all around us. Solar panels may be expensive at first, but the long-term savings you can put into your pocket is a stunning example of the benefits of turning your life from black to green.
The location of your house and the way you have constructed solar panels can determine how much power you can collect. By taking advantage of solar power, you can reduce your energy consumption and supply excess energy to your utility company. Also, government grants, incentives and tax breaks are a huge bonus to those who want to use solar power in their home.
Energy Star Windows
Energy-efficient windows labelled as ENERGY STAR windows are a new player in the window market and are much more energy-efficient than normal windows. The ratings for these windows determine how energy efficient they will be. The lower the rating, the more energy-efficient your windows are. The energy savings provided by these windows are enough to cover the added cost per window.
Rainwater Harvesting Systems And Tankless Water Heaters
Install a rainwater harvesting system while building your green home to collect rainwater from roofs and then store it in a tank. You can then use the collected water for other purposes, such as toilets and sprinkler systems. Rain barrels are one of the most common methods of rainwater harvesting being used today.
With tankless water heaters, you need not wait for the water to get heated. Tankless water heaters heat only that much water needed as it is passed through the electric coil. Therefore, it gives you twin benefits. Firstly, it eliminates excess energy costs as it heats only that amount of water needed. Secondly, you can get a great storage place by eliminating the hot water tank.
So, whether you're looking to build a new eco-home from scratch or want to renovate your current one, these energy-efficient design tips will help you make your home more environmentally friendly and save you money on your energy bills in the long run. Have any of your tips to share? Let us know in the comments below!
FAQs About Home Builders
Dome-shaped homes are the most energy-efficient since they have fewer corners. In addition, it allows wind to travel over the home easily without air pressure changes, which reduces air penetration and thus maintains a more even temperature. Cube-shaped homes are another good option.
There are several reasons a dome house is the most energy-efficient and the strongest design. First, the amount of heat a house loses during winter (or gains during summer) is directly related to the amount of surface area of the walls and roof.
A sustainable house is a home that has the least possible negative impact on our environment. It means energy efficiency, avoiding environmental toxins, and responsibly using materials and resources while having a positive physical and psychological impact on its inhabitants.
But there are structures in the world that can stand up to the strongest winds and the most devastating earthquakes. The most indestructible homes and other buildings range from floating houses that turn into emergency rafts to Japan's flexible quake-resistant skyscrapers.
You can reduce electricity through improved LED lighting or increased natural lighting and energy-efficient appliances. Integrated building design and modifying building shapes, orientation and materials can also reduce energy use.