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House Building Design Ideas

Design Your Own Home / April 26, 2023

What we build matters and so does how we build it. Building with sustainability in mind should be standard for the twenty first century home. In this article we will outline 21 tips for a sustainable house design. Building sustainable homes not only saves you money in the long run but also reduces your impact on the environment. Now let’s go over some ideas on how to build a sustainable house.

21 Ideas For Building a Sustainable Home:

  1. Location
  2. Size
  3. Orientation
  4. Layout
  5. Local Materials
  6. Recycled Materials
  7. Insulation
  8. Air Sealing
  9. Windows & Doors Selection
  10. Sustainable Materials
  11. Energy Star Appliances
  12. LED Lighting
  13. Water Conserving Fixtures
  14. Efficient HVAC
  15. Recycle Your Energy
  16. Rain Water Collection
  17. Renewable Energy
  18. Solar Hot Water
  19. Intelligent Planting
  20. Build To Last
  21. Build Something You Love

1. Location For A Sustainable Home Design

Location is the first step in building a sustainable house. These will not always be an option for you but when possible consider the following issues.

Transportation: Where ever possible building a home walking distance from public transportation is going to reduce your impact on our environment. Living in New York City makes this very easy for me, but it will not always be an option for you.

Infrastructure: The availability of utilities and infrastructure will vary. If you can use existing infrastructure you are off to a good start in reducing your impact on the environment.

Sensitive or Hazardous Sites: Try to avoid hazardous areas like flood zones. If you build in a hazardous site make sure the home is designed to withstand the hazard. You know what isn’t green? Building your house twice.

2. Size, Smaller Houses Are More Efficient

Not everyone interested in sustainable house design is going to go down this route but, smaller houses are far more efficient. Building a smaller house is going to reduce your material use and energy needs. Obviously a larger house will use more materials and require more energy for heating and cooling. Think about your needs and try not to over do it on the size of the house. Remember a smaller house will be more affordable than a larger one. This is the one issue people hate to hear. I am not telling you to build a small house but the reality is smaller houses are more efficient and less wasteful.

3. Orientation Of Your House For Natural Light And Heat

Orientation is important for sustainable homes. If you live in a cold climate in the northern hemisphere you can take advantage of the sun. You will want to make your house with more windows facing south. Build a long wall with windows facing south to maximize direct sunlight in the winter. This will help heat your home as well as bring in natural light. You do not want many windows facing West, this will give lots of glare and provide heat in the summer. If you do have west facing windows plant a large tree to block some of that uncomfortable sunlight.

You can plant a deciduous tree in front of your south facing windows for more energy savings. Deciduous means the tree looses its leaves in winter. The tree will block sunlight in the summer but lose its leaves in the winter allowing the sunlight in during the cold months. This will help reduce your heating usage. Another trick is sun shades or a roof overhang. The sun is higher in the summer than in the winter so a roof overhang can block the sun in the summer. In the winter the sun will be at a lower angle and not be blocked by the overhang. These types of passive design features can make a big difference on sustainability at low costs.

4. Layout Affects Energy Use In A Home

Did you know that igloos are very energy efficient? An igloo is built in a cold climate with a shape that minimizes surface area. Why does that matter? The reduced surface area reduces interior heat loss.

Building a house that is very wide and spread out is going to have more heat loss and less efficiency than a house that is compact. Building taller can be more efficient than building wider. A cube or a sphere are very efficient shapes. There will always be trade offs in sustainable house design. Don’t think you need to make your house look like an igloo … unless you want to. The idea here is compact is better than spread out. A compact two story house will tend to be more efficient than a one story spread out house. So for example if you want to build a 2, 000 square foot house, building 2 stories with 1, 000 sf per story is probably going to be more efficient than building 1 story of 2, 000 sf.

5. Use Local Materials

Using local materials in your new sustainable house will reduce the need for shipping. It’s more green to buy wood that is locally milled rather than ordering it from across the country. This is a tough one because you may not have as many options. The availability of materials will vary depending where you choose to build your house.

If there is a local stone quarry why not use their stone for your patio. See what locally made materials and products you have available. If you live in Pennsylvanian I recommend getting local kitchen cabinets rather than importing designer European cabinets. Its more green and you might even find better quality products from local small businesses.

6. Recycled Materials For Sustainable House Construction

Recycling is very important. This will have to be balanced with availability. Depending where you are the materials that are easily available will vary. There are all sorts of materials that are recycled, reclaimed, and reused. Here is a list of some materials that you may choose to by recycled.

  • Countertops made from Recycled Glass
  • Steel made from recycled metals.
  • Reclaimed Wood. These can be beautiful. When a contractor demolishes a building or does a renovation they often can reuse old wood products they salvage. There are lumber yards that specialize in purchasing and selling reclaimed wood.
  • Reclaimed Bricks and other masonry. bricks, stones, and pavers can also be reclaimed and reused.
  • Reuse soils from the excavation for new landscaping.
  • Roof shingles can have recycled content.
  • Plastic Products with recycled content.
  • Drywall materials that were recycled.

Just about any product in your new home could come from recycled materials.

You will also want to reduce job site waste and make sure the contractor recycles all the job site waste materials during construction.

7. Insulation Is Essential for Sustainable Homes

Insulation is a big one. Check out another article we wrote on spray insulation for new homes. First things first, vocabulary. R value is a term we use to rate the insulation value of a material. R value = Resistance the higher the R value the more insulation. You want to make sure that your home has a sufficient R value for your climate. There are lots of different insulation types and techniques. Discuss your options with your design and construction team.