With the world looking forward to a greener future, it has become the responsibility of the individual to make changes where they can to implement it.
As individuals, the homes that we live in and the way we operate our daily lives is where we’ll make the biggest impact, and people are starting to show that with the choices they make.
A more environmentally friendly living environment is key for these people, and it’s a way to ensure that every part of your life is planned, designed, and lived with a focus on reducing your impact on the planet.
The sustainable housing movement fits in perfectly with this, as a way to live in a home that’s both practicable but sustainable for future generations, all the while leaving as little trace as possible.
What is sustainable housing all about?
Sustainable housing is the concept of building a home that is environmentally, socially, and economically sustainable, from the initial design phase right through to construction and living.
With goals like reducing water and energy waste, building and designing with renewable and reusable materials, and having good thermal management, these houses are built with the future of the planet in mind.
The trend of sustainable housing only continues to grow, and whether you plan on updating just one part of your abode with more sustainable measures, or want to start from scratch with a home that does it all, there’s no better time to start.
We’re going to dive deep into the concept of the modern sustainable home, what it entails, and the promises that it holds for the future.
What Is Sustainable Housing?
Sustainable housing is a broad term used to describe the way a home is designed, constructed, and lived in, with a primary goal of being environmentally sustainable, but covering other types of sustainability as well.
In a sustainable building, you might notice considerations like:
- Environmental sustainability: reducing water and energy use, cutting back on waste, reducing the number of pollutants and chemicals, increased vegetation
- Economic sustainability: costs surrounding the home’s design and construction, ongoing maintenance, improvements and renovations in the future, rebates, and potential resale value
- Social sustainability: the general safety and security of the home, its goal for future generations, functionality, practicality, aesthetics, and design.
The concept of sustainable housing was first introduced during ancient times when members of society were required to make use of everything that nature had to offer when building their homes and going about their daily lives.
With the growing concern over energy use and the future of the planet, this concept has developed into a comprehensive design style that makes sure every phase including planning, construction, materials, and usability is completed with sustainability in mind.
Benefits of Building a Sustainable House
Building a green home comes with many benefits, and not just for the owner, but the surrounding environment as well.
Before you take the plunge in designing or upgrading to this type of home, you can get excited about just what is possible when you make a switch to sustainable living.
Happier and healthier household
Your family members will benefit most from a sustainable house as they’ve been designed to create a healthier living space, which means happier people.
These homes are well ventilated, make use of natural materials, and don’t have many of the contaminants that older properties were built with.
Increase property value
Green homes are hot property, and whether you plan on living in it yourself or selling it on, it’s a smart investment to make your home more sustainable.
Having a home that’s energy-efficient and good for the planet makes it worth a lot more, so there are monetary incentives available too.
Low ongoing costs
The cost to run a sustainable house is low compared to a regular house.
With a reduced energy output, low water usage, and reliance on natural processes and materials for things like heating and cooling, you’ll spend a lot less in the future when you make these changes now.
Your energy and water efficiency will increase dramatically with a sustainable house, and this is the primary goal of these buildings.
This means less money spent, renewable sources of energy being used, and less of a negative impact on the environment.
Reduce carbon footprint
The average household can make a huge difference to ozone levels and climate change by building a sustainable home.
With the amount your carbon footprint will be reduced, you’ll sleep well knowing you’re doing everything you can to keep the planet healthy for future generations.
Common Types of Sustainable Housing
Sustainable housing is a broad term that can be used to describe any building made with sustainability in mind.
However, there are some popular design and construction processes and styles that have already made names for themselves in this category. These are some of the most common sustainability housing types you might have heard of and how they differ from the rest.
A passive house is one that achieves thermal comfort for its inhabitants by using just fresh air. This is done with special designs and construction processes that make use of naturally occurring heat and cold and try to limit spaces where these might escape or become too much.
To build a passive house, you must meet a set of guidelines, the most important being how much energy is used and the amount of air that leaks out.
An eco-house is one designed to reduce its carbon footprint and provide a low-impact living space for its inhabitants.
It’s a more general term for a home that is eco-friendly and sustainable, with no specific guidelines to go by to be classified as such but many ways you can develop your house into one.
To achieve an eco-home, there are several practices you might employ, but there’s no need to have them all. These could include solar energy, rainwater harvesting, composting toilets, natural sunlight, smart windows, insulation, and airtightness.
A LEED-certified home is a sustainable type of house, standing for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. These houses must meet a specific set of standards to be certified as a LEED house, with the overall goal being a greener, healthier, and lower impact way of living.
To have your house certified requires a specific set of requirements, but it can add great value and give you something to work towards if sustainable housing is your goal.
A LEED home aims to be energy and water efficient, comfortable, and cost-effective, making this type of home achievable for more people.
Net Zero Houses
A net-zero house is one that aims to be zero net carbon, meaning that it makes enough of its own renewable energy to off-set the emissions that the household creates through energy, waste, and other things.
These homes can be more detailed than other green houses because their goal is so specific, but it’s achieved with a range of methods and processes.
A net-zero house uses solar energy predominantly to reduce their running costs and energy use but will employ other green methods as well. With households being a key contributor to greenhouse gases, these types of homes hope to reverse that and use as little energy as possible.
The tiny home trend has been booming in recent years, offering a compact way to live sustainably. Tiny homes are those small in size, usually between 100 and 400 square feet, that give inhabitants all of the usual comforts and practicalities of the home but with less space.
What makes these homes sustainable as they are used to utilize the area they have, are made with renewable and reusable materials, and rely on things like dry composting to reduce their impact and reliance on the land.
The Pillars of Sustainable Housing
Although there are many types of sustainable houses, most of them have the same pillars in their foundation.
To ensure that the home you’re planning can fall under the green or sustainable category, it should be able to check off most of these boxes.
Good Thermal Management
These homes are built to reduce their reliance on manual and electronic heating and cooling systems.
A sustainable house shouldn’t have to use as much air conditioning or heating as a standard house but instead relies on things like insulation, passive heating and cooling, solar, ventilation, natural sunlight, geothermal heat pumps, and thermo walls to provide it with everything it needs.
A sustainable home should use as little waste as possible, and this includes during construction and planning right through to everyday living.
Ways to achieve minimal waste are with installations like composting toilets, low flow water fixtures, and smart tech that can monitor energy use. In the building stage, using recycled materials and low waste construction methods is key.
A sustainable house should have a huge reusability factor going for it, and this includes how it sources its energy to how it was built.
Reusing old materials to make something new, composting to provide fertilizer for fruits and vegetables, and harvesting rainwater, are just a few ways your home could make the most of it.
Long Term Sustainability
A sustainable house needs to be relevant in present times and the future, and must be designed with the long term in mind.
Homes should be designed with materials and technology that will still be relevant in the future, and those that are easy to upgrade as needed, without having to waste anything or output too much energy to do so.
Modern Technology in the Sustainable House
Technology has played a major role in the modern sustainable house, and the further we go, the more innovation is developed to help us achieve low impact living.
When it comes to the modern sustainable house, there’s a wide range of technologies being implemented that make it easy to attain, with many more on the horizon.
Solar energy is one of the most common ways that people are living sustainably today, whether it’s panels on your roof or with a solar-powered gadget used in their everyday lives.
Solar power works by converting the light that the sun gives off into electricity, which can then be fed back into the home and used as needed.
Although there are other methods of renewable energy being explored, solar power remains one of the simplest, most affordable, and beneficial ways to reduce your home’s electricity usage.
This sustainable source of energy will never die off, as long as we have access to the sun, and each day we’re developing new and improved ways to harness it and reduce our carbon footprint.
Advanced Heating and Cooling
The EPA estimated that around 10% of the country’s energy usage was spent just on air conditioning last year, and that doesn’t even include the phenomenal heating costs used the rest of the time.
Choosing a green heating and cooling alternative is key to sustainable living and cuts back on one of the biggest energy wasters in the average household.
Heating and cooling options in sustainable homes include geothermal heat pumps that harness the natural temperatures underneath our houses, thermal walls that absorb heat to spread through the home naturally, and biomass that creates heat from the energy burned from living things rather than relying on gas and oil.
A cool roof is one designed to reduce temperatures inside of the home naturally. As the roof is prone to absorbing a lot of heat which then transfers to the home below it, a cold roof is one way to prevent this and reduce your reliance on traditional heating and cooling systems.
Cool roofs come in many shapes and sizes and could be made with a sheet covering or using reflective paint. A sustainable home is made tougher with a durable cool roof and they reduce their energy output because their need for fans and air conditioners decreases, and it’s an essential part of a green home.
Smart technologies have changed the way we live for the better, but it’s not all about making life more convenient. Many of these smart technologies were designed with the environment in mind, and they’re being put to use in sustainable houses with great results.
Smart home systems that utilize thermometers with their heating and cooling systems ensure that no energy is wasted again. By keeping track of your home and having specified zones that require their own temperature control, you can reduce your reliance on air conditioners and heaters which will lower your energy waste.
Smart windows are those made with smart glass, and they aim to reduce the number of UV rays that come inside and absorb some of the heat. Smart glass can switch between translucent and transparent states as needed, while still ensuring your house gets the natural light it requires.
Smart lighting allows you to monitor your home’s light fixtures from anywhere so that you reduce their energy output. Whether you want the ability to turn lights off when you’re not home or find out which lights are left on in an unused room, this smart tech can help you achieve it.
Popular Sustainable Materials
Just as important as the way you live inside your sustainable house is how it was built in the first place.
Choosing sustainable building materials for the interior and exterior of your home is crucial to creating this type of eco-friendly living space, and some are more commonly used than others.
Bamboo is an affordable and sustainable building material that has many uses in the average home.
With a high self-generation rate, it’s a low impact choice for building, and it also has a high strength to weight ratio that makes it incredibly durable and strong for all types of purposes.
Choose your timber wisely when building a home, and opt for reclaimed or recycled wood where you can.
This more sustainable type of timber can be used on the decking, structural framing, cabinetry, flooring, and siding of your home, so there’s no end to how you can enjoy it.
Most homes have some form of metal used in their construction, but a sustainable house makes use of recycled and reusable types of metal instead.
As you’re not extracting raw aluminum in the process of building your home, you’re making a hugely positive impact on the environment, without losing any of the durability that the material is known for.
Cork comes from a living tree that can keep producing more bark, and it can be used for several applications inside of a home.
Cork floorboards are a popular choice for flooring especially as it absorbs noise and shock, won’t retain water, and is just as durable as hardwood.
There are loads of natural insulation options that do just as good of a job and can help reduce your energy costs on heating and cooling.
Sheep’s wool, earth wool, cellulose, and fiberglass are all eco-friendly options that would be right at home in a sustainable house.
Rather than choosing paints that emit harmful gases and volatile organic compounds, use non-toxic varieties instead. This ensures a healthier indoor living space and more sustainable ways to cover your walls that won’t cause problems in the future.
The True Cost of A Sustainable House
The dream of a sustainable house is something most eco-friendly individuals has, but the biggest deterrent is the potential cost of it all.
Although there are proven financial benefits when it comes to future energy savings, the initial outlay to build one of these homes or even to renovate an existing structure is enough to put people off.
According to Building Sustainable Homes, the average cost of building a green home with a zero-carbon energy standard cost around 12.9 percent more than a regular home.
Although this might seem excessive, there are ways to spend less than that and still make a difference, so that green living is still within your reach.
The same research also found that some basic measures like installing photovoltaic panels and choosing greener materials only cost around four percent more to build, but had major ecological benefits.
For a renovation alone, you could focus on just one or two areas of the house or existing systems and upgrade them, making gradual changes that will still have a huge impact on your carbon footprint.
The savings possible with these types of homes is where the payoff lays, and the average sustainable home is capable of reducing energy costs dramatically.
In some cases, these homeowners had energy bills that were negative due to a feed-in tariff, which meant they could be paid for the power they were delivering back to the grid.
Possible Downsides of Sustainable Housing
Although it seems like mostly good news, there is a lot to consider before you dive into building a sustainable home.
This type of structure might not be ideal for everyone to build when you think about the potential downsides, so make sure you do your research on both sides.
As discussed earlier, you’ll spend more money in the initial stages of building and construction when creating a sustainable house.
Be prepared to spend at least 10 percent more than you would a standard home, and sometimes much more, with the financial rewards not to come until later.
Availability of resources
Although there are some great options out there for building materials, getting your hands on them is another story.
With a limited amount of green resources available and an overwhelming supply of traditional building materials, it’s easy to see why some people opt for the latter.
Because these types of homes are made with unique designs, materials, and processes, you can expect to wait a lot longer for a job to be done.
This is true for a simple renovation or upgrades as well as building a home from scratch, so it’s not an option if you’re in a rush to get to your new home.
Lack of specialists
As the green home revolution has only just begun, it can be hard to find builders and contractors that are experienced with these types of homes.
When you do find someone, they may have a lengthy waiting list or might be more expensive than you hoped for, so it pays to do your research for contractors during the early planning stages of your build.
Ensuring Your Home Stays Relevant
A sustainable home is one that is practical today while having less of an impact on the environment and society in the future. Although this sounds good in practice, one problem people have with this type of home is knowing whether or not it’s going to stand the test of time.
As these homes rely on the latest and greatest smart technology and innovations in materials and design practices, there is some concern that they won’t always be so practical nor sustainable.
However, a well-designed eco-home shouldn’t only be centered on the environment, but being sustainable economically as well as socially.
A smart sustainable home will be built with the future in mind, and just like other houses, should be designed and constructed to last many generations of occupants.
To ensure this is how your sustainable home is built, you should rely on experienced tradespeople and contractors who have experience in green homes, and avoid using the cheapest options when it comes to sourcing materials.
Any home requires ongoing maintenance, as very few materials will last more than 100 years without some sort of issue, and the sustainable house is no different.
Therefore, you must make choices with quality and durability in mind, so that even if the technology becomes outdated and not as efficient as it once was, your home is still left standing with no upgrades needed.
Making Your Home Sustainable
Owning a fully sustainable home is a dream of many, but without an endless budget and access to professionals and contractors who can make it a reality, it may need to be put on the backburner for a while.
However, there are some simple changes you can implement in your home that will make it more sustainable, without breaking the bank.
Design for your climate
Think about where you live and ensure your home utilizes its unique surroundings.
The climate-responsive design allows you to think about the current climate and weather predictions to come up with a home that has the right features to make the most of it, rather than fighting against it.
Choose light colors
Where possible, paint the exterior of your home with a lighter color so it doesn’t absorb as much heat, and look at installing a cool roof or having the existing roof coated with a reflective layer.
There are loads of simple ways to make your home more sustainable with simple adjustments.
Have a composting toilet installed to reduce water waste, compost all of your fruit and vegetable scraps to use as fertilizer, and switch to some solar-powered devices.
Ventilation and insulation
Check your home to make sure it’s correctly insulated and ventilated where it needs to be.
Look for cracks to be sealed, utilize natural ventilated areas, and find spaces that don’t have adequate insulation for some simple upgrades that will make a lot of difference.
Shade where necessary
Just adding a few simple UV blocking window treatments or installing eaves and awnings around the home can reduce the amount of heat that reaches inside your home, which saves you from spending more on cooling costs.
Choose renewable materials
Whether you’re doing a DIY weekend job or renovating an entire bedroom, look for renewable and recyclable materials where you can.
Even just one piece of furniture or fitting that wasn’t made from scratch will make a huge difference.
Whether you’re building a sustainable house from scratch or making upgrades to your existing abode to help it achieve green status, there’s a lot to learn.
We’ve answered some commonly asked questions about these types of homes to give you a better understanding of what they’re all about.
How Do I Build a Cheap Eco-Friendly House?
If you’re building on a budget but still want a sustainable house, there are a few cost-cutting measures you can take.
Consider building a tiny home that uses less space, source second hand and recycled materials, opt for simple design features and invest in a few efficient energy sources like solar power.
What Are Green Home Certifications?
To build your home to a specific green home standard, there are several certifications available to aim for, each with unique requirements of how they should be designed and constructed.
What Are the Components of Green Building?
There are seven components of green building, according to the Environmental Protection Agency’s guidelines.
Water efficiency, energy efficiency and renewable energy, indoor air quality, waste reduction, toxic reduction, environmentally preferable building materials and specifications, and smart growth and sustainable development are the seven components to adhere to.