What are Sustainable Homes? We Break it Down for You
July 13, 2018
Building sustainable homes have come a long way from mud huts with thatched roofs.
Still today, those homes offer lessons for building sustainable homes – using materials that reduce environmental impact and offer high insulating properties.
From saving on monthly utilities, improved indoor air quality and reduced construction waste to increased equity and resale value, sustainable building is much less a fad and much more conventional practice.
Design and construction go hand in hand when building a sustainable home. In the end, the home should improve the lifestyle and overall health of the occupants while reducing the environmental impact.
What are the benefits of sustainable building?
- Reduces energy consumption
- Uses renewable energy sources
- Reduces water consumption
- Maximizes savings on heating, cooling, and lighting
- Lowers carbon footprint
- Uses or reuses recyclable or biodegradable building materials
- Eliminating or reducing construction waste products and environmental pollution
- Increases equity and resale value
Sustainable Building Materials
Strict advocates of sustainable building argue for using low-tech mud brick, straw, bamboo and timber from sustainably managed forests. Recycled materials, such as repurposed steel and sustainable concrete infused with recycled plastic offer green alternatives that reduce waste going to landfills.
On the other end of the spectrum, techies turn to materials such as solar roof tiles, which provide higher insulation than traditional roofing and produce clean energy, both leaving a smaller carbon footprint.
Buildings constructed with structurally insulated panels (SIPs) provide higher insulative values and a stronger, more energy-efficient structure than a conventional stick-built dwelling. The prefab home-kit panels also reduce outside noise, block outside pollutants and produce less wasted material.
It’s not all or nothing. Each sustainable material used reduces the environmental impact, and often utility costs.
Energy Efficiency and Heating and Cooling
The importance of insulation cannot be overlooked when planning and building a sustainable house. A properly sealed and insulated building increases energy efficiency. Builders are turning to materials such as recycled paper and even straw bales as alternatives to traditional fiberglass and Rockwool® insulation. SIPs must part of any sustainability plan, delivering 48 percent more energy efficient than conventional stick built and insulated homes.
SIPs are high-performance building panels made of a rigid foam insulation core, sandwiched between two structural panels of oriented strand board (OSB). Aside from the high R-value of prefabricated SIPs, their use as exterior walls, roofing, and flooring seals the building more efficiently than traditional building methods. The result is a home that is inherently stronger, more energy-efficient and quieter than conventional construction.
A sustainable home can’t ignore windows. The cost of quality triple-pane, argon gas-filled windows is offset by energy savings.
Likewise, efficient heating and cooling systems must be a priority. Older furnaces, manufactured before 1992, may waste 30 percent of the fuel need to heat or cool a home.
That’s money down the drain.
The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) recommends using a condensing furnace which wastes very little fuel, which delivers a lower monthly utility bill. Geothermal heating and cooling, which uses the ground’s constant temperature, offers another alternative if the lot is large enough for that type of system.
Also, installing a programmable thermostat delivers further savings on your monthly utility bill.
Anyone suffering from allergies, asthma or other breathing problems, know how pollution and pollen make their lives miserable – and even life-threatening.
A well-insulated and sealed home keeps pollutants and pollen where they belong – outdoors.
So, not only does the better-insulated home seal out drafts and hot air, breathing is improved.
Waste not, want not
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, construction and demolition generated over 534 million tons of waste in 2014. This includes concrete, lumber, bricks, glass, metals, and plastics.
There are several ways to combat this. A good deal of leftover building materials can be recycled and reused.
What are some uses for scrap building materials?
- Sections of “scrap” lumber can be reused for other projects.
- Concrete and masonry waste can be used as site filler.
- Left-over insulation may be used as sound baffling for interior walls.
- Excess plastics and metals can be donated or sold to recycling centers
- Cardboard packaging materials can be recycled or used as a weed barrier beneath decorative mulch.
Home construction with SIPS reduces job-site waste 30 percent and reduces construction time compared to conventional stick-built homes.
Increased property values
Investing in green and sustainable features when building a home returns savings on utilities, among other things. Moreover, these features may benefit the equity and subsequent resale value of the home.
In a National Association of Realtors survey of its members on sustainability, the group found increased attention in the real estate market to energy efficiency and sustainability.
The report, released in February 2018, highlighted these key findings:
- 71% of survey respondents said energy efficiency promotion in listings was very or somewhat valuable.
- 62% of realtors found clients were at least somewhat interested in sustainability.
- 40% of realtor respondents reported their MLS has green data fields, and they typically used the green data fields to promote those features and energy information.
- 40% of homes with green certifications spent neither more or less time on the market.
- 80% of respondents said properties with solar panels were available in their market and 39% said properties with solar panels increased the perceived property value.
Looking for ideas? Get inspired!
Don’t forget the fixtures
From light bulbs to toilets, home fixtures significantly impact sustainability.
It’s no secret that compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) and LED bulbs consume less energy compared to incandescent bulbs, but many people avoid buying energy-saving bulbs because of the initial cost.
While they may be expensive initially than an incandescent bulb, these alternatives last many times longer and operate more efficiently, using a fraction of the energy.
The replacement cost and energy consumption of a traditional bulb over 20 years top out at over $200. Compare that to one CFL at $54 over the same time. The energy-sipping LED comes in at just $34.
Of course, choosing the proper location and orientation of your home can make the most of natural light. Studies over the years show how the use of natural light has a positive impact on emotional health and productivity.
Your home’s orientation also helps reduce heating and cooling costs.
Water-saving toilets are now the norm, using 60 percent less water than older johns.
Some green builders advocate the use of composting toilets that use drying agents such as sawdust to help decompose the waste, which can later be used for fertilizer.
Mother Nature thanks you
The green building movement came about from the need to create more energy-efficient and environmentally-friendly structures for residential and commercial use. Incorporating high tech and low tech materials reduces our carbon footprint and the negative impact on the environment.
Mighty Small Homes deliver savings for the homeowner and are kind to Mother Nature. It all comes together in a small home kit.