Green initiatives are rapidly gaining traction, as it becomes increasingly evident that we need to change the way we do things in order to prevent a massive environmental fallout.

Home construction and demolition is an enormous source of waste, and the building of housing developments often leads to the clearing of trees and important green space at the cost of displacing and harming wildlife.

Buildings also utilize an incredible amount of energy day-to-day, and this produces a lot of carbon emissions. However, taking into account the ever-growing population of the world, we obviously need many dwellings to live in. This begs the question: How can we accommodate our need for housing, while also protecting the environment?

Eco homes may conjure up mental images of solar panels, wind turbines, pioneer-like cabins and lots of gardens and greenery. This can all be true of eco homes, but these homes can also be quite modern!

The main factor that makes a home “green” or “eco-friendly” is a reduced carbon footprint, which can mean that a home is significantly more energy efficient than a traditional home and has a design that produces a low environmental impact.

We are making leaps and bounds with modern technology, and all this new knowledge can be easily implemented into new building designs. But there needs to be a demand for green homes in order for developers to build them.

You may often hear eco homes referred to as “net zero” or “zero carbon” homes, which means that the energy they use from the electrical grid is equal to the energy used or produced by the renewable energy source(s) in the home. Thus, the theory is that these renewable energy sources offset the carbon footprint of the traditional energy sources.

Reduced Energy Consumption

We’ve previously covered ways to reduce energy consumption from the perspective of a more traditional home, but building a home with the goal of making it green or eco-friendly means incorporating energy efficient designs from the get-go.

Often, depending on the geographical location of the home, certain building standards must be met for a home to be considered an eco home. For example, a home in the U.K. must meet certain criteria in order to receive an A-grade Energy Performance Certificate (EPC), which indicates that it’s of the highest energy efficiency level possible.

Eco homes may incorporate any number or combination of the following design criteria that can make them more energy efficient:

  • Better insulation, with thicker walls and/or a thicker layer of insulation
  • Appropriate sealing around windows and doors to prevent drafts
  • Geothermal heating and cooling systems
  • Heat recovery systems and efficient air ventilation systems that utilize the heat generated within a home and allow for efficient heating and cooling
  • A large enough solar energy or wind turbine system to provide adequate amounts of power
  • Appropriately glazed windows, depending on the direction that they face, that help maintain a suitable temperature within the home and also make efficient use of natural light
  • Smart home technology that allows for automated lighting, heating, cooling and such 
  • The incorporation of wood-burning stove(s) to be used as heat sources and for cooking, as opposed to electric or gas stoves and heating systems

Additionally, a south-facing home in the Northern Hemisphere will be more energy efficient than one facing in a different direction, based on the sun exposure it gets.  

Designs With a Low Environmental Impact

Picked strawberries in garden - Reduce that carbon footprint

There are many ways to make building a home more sustainable and to reduce the ecological impact associated with the building process. Before even beginning a build, one key aspect of minimizing the footprint of building a home is called “design for demolition” or DfD.

This means that the end of the building’s life is considered, so when it comes time to demolish it, there are plans in place to reduce the ecological impact. So much material ends up in landfills due to building demolitions, and DfD is an effective way to plan for the recycling of your building materials in order to prevent that from happening.

Other design considerations that decrease the environmental impact of a building include:

  • Options for harvesting rainwater, which can then be used for watering a vegetable garden, washing pets, or cleaning cars and other equipment
  • Greywater collection methods (this water can be used in similar ways to rainwater)
  • Composting toilets
  • Rooftop gardens to help regulate the temperature within a home and provide a source of green space and oxygen, as well as noise dampening
  • Gardens in surrounding yards for added green space and a local food supply, in order to limit the carbon footprint of imported foods
  • The use of sustainable materials such as lime or limestone, bamboo and cobb, and other repurposed building materials such as bricks and lumber
  • The avoidance of plastics such as PVCu (polyvinyl chloride) 
  • The elimination of building materials that contain harmful chemicals, such as treated lumber and petroleum products
  • The minimization of deforestation required for developing land—or the offsetting of it with tree planting to compensate 
  • The accounting for possible changes in family size by minimizing internal weight-bearing walls, so that the reconfiguration of rooms can be accomplished a bit more easily (this will minimize the need for complex construction or demolition, or the need for an entirely new home)

The Higher Upfront Costs May Be Worth It

While eco homes may have a higher upfront cost than traditional homes, the savings on utility bills (and the health of the planet!) associated with them will pay dividends for years to come.

Some of these eco-friendly adaptations may also be possible for a traditionally built home, if you’re planning on renovating anyway or are prepared to make an investment to convert your current home into a greener one. If you go this route, remember to always make conscious decisions about building plans, redirect or recycle any demolition waste and choose sustainable materials and designs!

As consumers who buy or rent homes, we can all encourage eco-friendly development by making greener choices when we renovate, buy or rent our homes.

If you’ve found this article helpful, you may enjoy reading 6 Advantages to Building With Hempcrete»

image 1: Unsplash; image 2: Unsplash