Building a sustainable home doesn’t just mean ensuring that the building itself has a small environmental footprint. Many people are unaware of the fact that sustainable construction brings a wealth of ongoing benefits which will help your buildings work with you to minimise your own environmental impact in your everyday life.
It’s not only a question of what you build your house with, but also where and how!
So here are some simple considerations that will help ensure you build not just a home, but a sustainable home; one that will not only bring you pleasure, but save you money.
We’ve all seen spectacular eco-hideaways in idyllic locations, built only from naturally felled, recycled timbers, living off the grid with heat traps, wind turbines and organic vegetable patch…
Sure, they make for enviable centrefolds in design magazines, but they’re hardly going to make for a sustainable home for us mortals. Why? Because, most of us need to travel to work, shop for groceries and generally rely on being able to readily get things to and from said home. If you’re answer to that problem is to just “take a car” then you’re instantly magnifying your footprint.
But what if you lived in a Walkable Community?
Easy, walkable access to all your regular services, like grocery stores, restaurants, community centres, and public transport links for longer journeys will reduce your footprint not only in the home you’ve built, but in the life you live. (And be sure to ignore these big-oil apologists who would try to justify car-driving as an environmentally responsible choice. Read this rebuttal piece – written 5 years earlier!! – if common sense and our word isn’t enough for you.)
As a bonus, maximising walking will keep you active in your day-to-day life too!
That’s all great, you say, but it costs money to get those sweet digs closer into town, right? And you’ll never get as much space…
All true: but don’t dismiss the long-term net savings of owning that smaller (more efficient?) house closer into town.
Will you really ever need that amazing walk-in pantry and cellar when you can duck out to the nearby shops for things you need when you need them? A private garden and pool seem great, but maintenance is an immense overhead; what if you relied on public parks, leisure centres and local stores instead?
Less waste. More space. Better living.
Low Maintenance Landscaping
But let’s say your sustainable home does have a garden to care about. Even a modest-sized plot takes time and nurturing and we all have that friend who has some plant dying on them?
Are you that friend?
Everywhere you go, you see people planting vegetation that’s unsuited to their climate or land type; then these poor, would-be green-thumbs struggle to get the water, soil PH and sunlight right for the plant to merely survive, let alone thrive.
Save yourself the hassle! Save your plants the pain!
Green living doesn’t just mean planting “plants”; it means planting the right types of plants in the right locations.
Simply by using plant species that are native or known to thrive in your area and climate will minimise maintenance and water usage. Ask the assistants at your local garden centre. A little homework will ensure a verdant little paradise rather than pouring your love and time into an orchid cemetery.
Insulation! Insulation! Insulation!
Okay, so this is one of the less surprising items on the list, but it’s impossible to understate the importance of insulation in building a sustainable home.
INSULATION IS ESSENTIAL FOR A SUSTAINABLE HOME.
Insulation is as much about keeping your home cool in summer as it is about getting it warm in winter. Heating and air conditioning make up the largest proportion of energy used in most homes, while a correctly insulated home can reduce your footprint by at least 18.75%!!
That’s not just good for the sustainability of your design; that’s real and immediate savings!
OK, you get it! You’ll fill your walls and attic space with fire-retardant, recycled fibres.
But that’s not all!
Often ignored in this are the roles played by your windows and doors. They are just as important as what you might put between your walls and in your attic space, if not more so.
The openings in your home are inherently the weakest points when trying to create an effective seal against the environment. They are literally holes that you have asked to have puncture your home! And worse: high quality doors and windows are among the most expensive single items your contractors are going to quote you.
It’s oh-so-very tempting to skimp on them when it comes time to trim your budget, but beware of false economies.
A good seal on your windows and external doors will save you a fortune. Double or triple-glazed glass will multiply the effect.
And don’t stop there! The internal doors are most first-time home-builders will short-change themselves worst of all. Cheap fibreboard with a great big gap all round.. but who cares, right? It’s not like it’s to the outside!
Wrong! You care!
Having a good seal on your internal doors allows you to effectively isolate your internal spaces, ensuring you’re able to compartmentalise your heating and cooling, saving you from burning energy making empty rooms comfortable.
Don’t be cheap! Seal your openings!
Combine Natural & LED Lighting
Natural light is a beautiful thing. It lifts the spirits, increases the sense of overall space and reduces your electricity bill!
Let it in wherever you can. Through windows, skylights or even light-tubes.
And when there is no sunlight, you can’t go past LED lighting.
Red spectrum Light Emitting Diodes were first developed in the US as early as the 1960s, however, they didn’t give much illumination or suggestion of the technology’s potential. It wasn’t until 1994 that Shuji Nakamura developed the first, high-luminance, blue LEDs, which led directly to the development of the white LEDs we’re talking about.
Side note: In 2014, Nakamura (along with Isamu Akasaki and Hiroshi Amano) received the Nobel Prize for Physics! That’s how important LEDs are! You can have Nobel Prize-winning lights in your own home!
For our readers in the EU, tightening regulations are about to make LEDs your default choice as lighting stockists from September 2018 will no longer be able to replace their dwindling halogen bulb reserves.
Naturally, naysayers have bridled at the speed with which this transition to the “new” technology is being advanced, but don’t be conned by their whinging clickbait headlines; the concerns hold no water and the benefits are so significant that the great energy efficiency of LED bulbs are almost the least of what’s going for them.
- The bulbs last longer, meaning fewer replacements and less wastage. If you did read James Delingpole’s article above, you’ll have seen his only real concern is that the bulbs are expensive, and as a one-off cost, that’s true! But where a £1 halogen bulb will last 1 year under regular conditions, an £8 LED bulb will last 10-20 years. So, looking beyond the single bulb cost, you’re 20-40% better off already, and you’re creating less waste packaging and fewer dead bulbs.
- LED lights can generate more light per bulb, meaning you’ll need fewer fittings to light your space! (and yet, on a dimmer, you don’t need to feel like you’re living in a hospital operating theatre). So fewer lights in total, each lasting 10-20 times longer and drawing 90% less power. It’s hard to believe there’s a need for another reason to switch to LEDs, and yet, there is one!..
- Traditional halogen bulbs release up to 90% of the energy they draw in non-visible spectrums! OK, even with an exclamation mark that sounds more boring than saving money, but LEDs don’t go around wasting energy and it’s a huge advantage for 2 big reasons outside of your pocketbook that you’ve probably not even considered:
- By giving off less infrared light, it means they’re giving off less heat so your lights won’t be wasting energy heating your spaces in summer when all you want to do is light them.
- By giving off next-to no UV light they won’t damage any of the materials in your home. No fading wallpapers, fabrics or paints. It’s why museums love LED lights and just one of the reasons that you should too.
So be smart: light up!
And while we’re on the topic of electronic appliances, always check the energy and water ratings of all the appliances you install. Using water-saving strategies and energy efficient appliances in your kitchen, laundry and bathrooms will significantly improve your water and energy consumption.
Consider this surprising reality:
Replacing your typical 10 year-old washing machine with a new, efficient model will pay for itself in savings over just the first two years in energy and water alone! Let alone the mounting maintenance costs of keeping an older appliance running. (And, by making sure your old unit is collected by a recycling service, you can be confident that you’re not merely adding your old unit to landfill.)
Build to Last
This is the number one tip!
Durability is essential for a sustainable home.
It is not sustainable if your house is in constant need of repair.
It is not sustainable to replace your roof, repaint or resurface your exterior walls every few years.
Your sustainable home must be built to last!
Choose materials that are hard-wearing and require little maintenance.
Choose methods and structures that suit your area. If you’re building in a region prone to flooding or fires or high winds: build accordingly. Don’t use a material just because you like it; make sure it’s the right material. And don’t avoid a suitable material just because you think it’s ugly.
Use materials that can be recycled later and especially those that have already been recycled.
Use local materials to reduce the impacts of transportation.
Seek out materials and finishes with low or no-VOCs to ensure good indoor air quality.
VOCs – or Volatile Organic Compounds are chemicals such as formaldehyde and quartz which, though seemingly stable solids, will sublimate at room temperature, releasing noxious gases into the air, and yet they are still used in all sorts of common household items like paints, plastics and glues! Low VOC options are all available and will contribute to a healthier, more sustainable home.
Like a few of the tips here, it might seem to cost more to build sustainably – using bespoke solutions, non-mainstream products and craftsmanship all come with a premium – but the savings are enormous and will only increase over the years as you enjoy a happier, healthier home that is cheaper to maintain and better for the whole community.
What are your sustainable home building tips?
Let us know in the comments below.