11 Key Attributes That Represent Sustainable Home Design

A picture of a house with solar panels and the words "Sustainable Home Design" overlain. There is also a wind turbine in the bottom right of the picture.

Sustainable home design implies that a home is built green.

A sustainable home is designed to be durable, environmentally friendly, and energy efficient.

So what separates a sustainable home design from a traditional home design?

The number one attribute that represents sustainable home design is optimizing energy efficiency – providing power from renewable sources. Other key features include wildlife conservation, maximum space-saving, using locally sourced building materials, and choosing energy-efficient appliances.

Read on to learn about these attributes and more. This article will change how you see home design, so let’s start.

1. They Optimize Energy Use

A man holding an energy-saving light bulb and working out his energy savings on a calculator.
You can save a lot of money by using energy-saving light bulbs and other energy-saving appliances. Using solar energy and wind turbines will also save money and reduce carbon emissions.

The number one attribute of sustainable home design is optimizing energy consumption. This can also be combined with energy generation on-site by solar panels or wind turbines.

According to Merriam-Webster, to optimize something is to “make it as perfect or effective as possible” or to “make the most of” something.

Optimization is about getting the most bang for your buck – creating something highly efficient, with minimal costs, and functioning as close to perfection as possible.

How do you optimize energy consumption?

Optimizing energy use has slightly varying definitions depending on the home builder. Still, a few essential qualities are nearly always brought to mind when energy optimization is considered.

  • Minimal energy use: A home optimized for overall energy usage uses as little energy as possible to still get the job done.

  • Energy from less traditional sources: An energy-optimized home takes energy from renewable sources. This includes renewable energy sources such as wind power and solar power.

  • Net zero energy usage: Net Zero indicates a balance between CO2 produced and CO2 removed from the earth’s atmosphere. The house doesn’t add any extra carbon dioxide to the atmosphere.

While eco-friendly homes vary in their features, almost all have these three.

2. They Maintain Conservation (Energy and Habitat)

A picture of a deer in a woodland representing wildlife habitat.
Ensuring homes are built in a way that harmonizes with the habitat required for wildlife brings benefits to people and animals alike.

Green homes conserve energy, natural materials, and wildlife habitat. They conserve energy primarily, and often those within them also have a very green mindset.

Sustainable home builders look to use sustainable building materials wherever possible and use the least amount of energy possible to accomplish a task.

These homes are often built with lights set to timers or electrical sockets that automatically take away power at a particular time of day.

Often, eco-friendly homes feature energy-efficient light bulbs – the majority of which will use up to 90% less energy than traditional bulbs. They may also feature other energy-efficient appliances, such as refrigerators and ovens.

Energy conservation is about getting the maximum energy for use with the least environmental effect. But unfortunately, many people are hesitant to believe sustainable homes could ever work for them.

However, it’s important to remember that conservation is simply a mindset and that you can still receive the same benefits in a home that conserves energy and natural materials.

3. They Are Space-Saving

Sustainable homes maximize the amount of space available to them. These homes are nearly always built smaller – primarily because a smaller home uses less energy.

They also typically have quite a bit of extra space despite their size. From the outside, a sustainable home may appear tiny – almost unlivable – but when you enter inside, you’ll often find lofts, additional cabinetry, and an unbelievable about of storage in places you would never expect.

Environmentally-friendly homes are typically built smaller for a few different reasons:

  • They are easier to maintain.

  • They are more energy-efficient.

  • They require fewer raw materials.

  • They cost less to produce.

Of course, there are a few sustainable homes that aren’t considered space-saving homes, but these are rare to find.

4. They Use Locally Sourced Building Materials

Locally-sourced aggregate from a quarry.
Using aggregate and other materials from the local area cuts down on the embodied energy resulting from transporting materials many miles.

One of the most prominent features of eco-friendly homes is that they almost exclusively use locally sourced building materials, and many will use recycled materials.

Locally sourced building materials come from the surrounding environment where the house is being built.

As an example, a sustainable home may be built primarily with pine or cedar wood because the area is surrounded by forests containing this wood.

Using locally sourced materials also supports local businesses – another feature of greener homes.

Builders of sustainable homes are some of the most important supporters of local businesses. They often see the heart behind these businesses and help them thrive, even when the market appears challenging.

5. They Contain Energy-Efficient Appliances

We briefly mentioned this earlier, but let’s go into more detail here. Sustainable homes go all out in energy efficiency, often bringing in the best energy-efficient appliances.

Modern appliances use up quite a bit of energy. Your refrigerator, oven, washer, dryer, and other devices are responsible for more than a third of your monthly energy bill.

This is a high cost that most people don’t think about as they go about their daily lives.

For the builders of environmentally-friendly homes, however, placing highly energy-efficient appliances in every home is par for the course.

These appliances often come with an official energy star appliances rating, are built with energy conservation in mind, and typically use significantly less energy than traditional appliances.

While it isn’t always obvious upfront, this makes a massive difference in the long run.

6. They Use Minimal Water

A water-saving tap with a post-it note saying "save water, save the world."
Saving water can help keep your water bills down and benefit the environment.

Water is the stuff of life. It’s used for drinking, bathing, washing dishes and clothes, and more. Yet, most of us are unaware of how much water we use daily.

A simple turn of the faucet can use over a gallon of water in a single use.

Sustainable home builders are all too aware of the amount of water that gets used daily.

For this reason, all sustainable homes are built with water conservation in mind. Whether water usage from appliances, faucets or more, they are designed to use the least amount of water possible.

One way this is accomplished is through faucets with shut-off timers, washers, and dishwashers designed to use significantly less water than traditional ones.

Over time, small water savings add up to significant conservation. Sustainable home builders know this to be true and begin implementing this from the beginning.

Of course, ultimately, it’s still up to those that live in the home. However, as we discussed, people who purchase sustainable homes nearly always embrace this mindset.

7. They Are Built With Awareness in Mind

If this sounds confusing, let me explain what I mean by a home being built with awareness in mind.

Sustainable homes are built with an awareness of the environment, neighbors, and other buildings within the community.

Many traditional homes are simply taking up space. Home manufacturers often choose a lot with little awareness of how building homes in that area will affect those who already live in the community, local businesses, or the wildlife in the area.

Sustainable home builders take into account the effect that home building has on the surrounding environment. They factor in how the home will affect local wildlife, businesses, and others in the community.

This makes a huge difference in how well the new homes are received by those who live in the area and their effect on the natural environment.

Let’s say that there’s a massive fir tree on a lot. The fir tree provides much-needed shade and natural habitat to an otherwise void lot.

A traditional homebuilder may ignore what the tree is providing and cut it down. However, a sustainable home builder would consider the tree and its effect on the surrounding environment.

In most cases, the tree would be left standing, and the house would be built to maximize the tree’s usefulness.

This is building with awareness in mind.

8. They Are Passively Designed

A house under construction viewed from inside a room insulated with spray foam.
Good air-sealing and insulation will help to minimize the cost of heating or cooling your home, and will also minimize the impact on the planet.

Green homes are built with passivity in mind. This means they consider natural energy sources before creating additional energy sources.

Let’s look at what this means in more practical terms.

One feature of passively designed sustainable homes is that they typically pay special attention to window positioning since south facing windows will let in lots of precious natural light that provides light and warmth.

Another feature is that the homes are typically built with materials that absorb natural energy.

While they typically include wood, most sustainable homes are built with other materials, such as concrete, brick, and stone. These materials absorb heat, evening out extremes in temperature, making the house easier to heat or cool.

In addition, these materials are more robust than many others, holding up against most natural disasters.

Passively designed sustainable homes also feature various energy transference mechanisms – taking advantage of radiation and convection to distribute heat.

9. They Are Built With Non-Toxic Materials

Another critical attribute of sustainable homes is that they are nearly always built with non-toxic materials.

While traditional homes are built with various materials – many of which contain hazards that affect the respiratory system and more – sustainable homes are built with health in mind.

Often, these materials include recycled materials that have come from a variety of sources. This minimizes waste and provides opportunities for businesses in the circular economy.

10. They Have More Insulation

A wooden model house sitting in snow with a red woolly hat on its roof.
Adding more insulation will help to keep your home warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer. This improves the sustainability of your home by cutting down the amount of carbon emissions from your HVAC system.

Sustainable homes often contain significantly more insulation than traditional homes. This works with renewable energy to minimize the environmental impact of heating and cooling.

An energy efficient home more efficient at keeping conditioned air inside the building envelope, which maintains the living areas at a comfortable temperature without high HVAC costs.

The insulation used is non-toxic, as we discussed in the previous section. Instead, they use various recycled fillings and natural materials to ensure that the warmth that enters the home stays in the house.

Other aspects of energy efficient home design can contribute to keeping a home cool, such as shading windows or using smart glass to prevent too much solar heating.

11. They Are Built To Last

Finally, sustainable homes are built to last.

It often surprises, but sustainable homes are typically even more durable than traditional homes. Part of this is the materials that the homes are built with. The other part is the structure of the house.

Sustainable homes are built with a generational mindset.

This means that they are built to be passed down. However, for many sustainable home builders, the ultimate goal is to make all homes sustainable and bring the best practices used in sustainable home design into everyday use throughout the housing sector.

In the long run, this would make a massive difference in how the world operates.

Suppose more builders start now and build sustainable homes that will last as long, if not longer, than traditional homes.

In that case, we can eventually transition to a society where all homes are sustainable.

Final Thoughts

If you are interested in green living, I hope the above features provide some inspiration for improving your home’s energy efficiency and lowering its carbon footprint.

Using some of the ideas in this article to reduce energy usage, incorporate energy star appliances, and even introduce renewable energy production to your building project, you can keep your home’s environmental impact to a minimum without compromising your standard of living.

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