Whether you’re considering building or buying a sustainable home, it’s a big step, and there are loads of advantages. A sustainable home will have many features and benefits that aren’t available in a traditional home build.
But, there’s a lot that goes into a sustainable home, and we understand that it can be difficult to work through all the details or understand the value of these details. As a sustainable builder, we feel privileged to share some of the benefits and details with you.
Types of Sustainable Homes
Here is the definition for a sustainable home, “an efficient home that’s built or retrofitted in a way that respects resources, optimizes energy and water use, and will last longer with quality systems.” But, among sustainable homes, there are different types of ways builders and owners seek to make their homes sustainable. Here are some of the most common ways that homes are built to make them sustainable.
First, on our list, we have tiny homes. Typically, these sustainable homes are between 100-400 square feet. They’re often built on trailers so that they can be moved around easily and provide a good mobile living solution for their owners. Tiny homes offer a lot of advantages in that the homeowner is able to live with less clutter, save money by not having as much space (which decreases monthly utility bills) and have less of an environmental impact because of the small size.
We’ll be the first to say that tiny homes definitely aren’t for everyone and that they can be extremely difficult to live in with more than one person. But, if you live in a mild climate where you can spend a lot of your time outside, a tiny house is a great option for a minimalist lifestyle. Don’t be afraid of a small footprint; some apartments are only 400 square feet as well.
The next sustainable home is a prefabricated home. These sustainable homes are built in factories and then transported to the building site, where they’re assembled on-site. The idea behind these sustainable homes is that they can be more cost-effective, energy-efficient, and have less of an environmental impact because it takes much less time for them to assemble. Additionally, these homes can be stronger and built better because they’re only truly exposed to the elements for one to two weeks while being assembled on site. Traditional homes can be exposed to the elements for months on end before roofs and siding are put up to keep the rain and sun off of materials.
Higher quality materials can also be used throughout pre-fab homes because they’re often not customizable and can be built at scale. So, while you won’t be able to make as many changes to the design, you can be assured that you’re getting a high-quality home.
Passive homes are a type of sustainable home that aims to use little to no electricity. These sustainable homes incorporate strategies such as high-performance insulation, airtightness, natural ventilation systems, heat recovery ventilators (HRVs), and as much fresh air circulation as possible. Passive homes are designed to be sustainable and provide a comfortable environment for their dwellers year-round without the use of any active heating or cooling systems (similar to how people lived in ancient times).
Passive houses can be expensive because they’re so well insulated and sealed, but this is what makes them sustainable. One of the major benefits to passive homes is that your utility bill will likely be very small. Some passive homes even incorporate solar panels on the roof and, when attached to a battery bank system, can support all of their electrical needs.
This one takes a bit of a unique twist on the idea of sustainability. These homes are built with bales of hay or straw that are stacked up to make the walls, the straw which provides great insulation takes the place of modern building materials. Offering a much more traditional way of building that’s been around for centuries, plaster and clay are used to form the interior and exterior walls over the top of the straw. They’re cheaper to build than a standard house, can be built in less time (depending on the design), and are usually constructed with low-impact materials that require little to no maintenance over time.
Strawbale sustainable homes will only need regular refreshing of insulation every few years and will need to be repaired from time to time due to weather damage. One of the main disadvantages is the amount of damage that these homes can quickly rack up if a leak or pests get out of hand.
A zero-carbon home is designed to have an annual carbon footprint that is net negative. This means that while also being an extremely efficient home, they will produce energy from solar panels or other renewable resources.
These homes can often be carbon positive and produce even more electricity than needed to power their home.
Earthships are homes that are built to be completely off the grid. Now, that doesn’t mean that they don’t use electricity, have modern amenities, or that they aren’t modern. But it does mean that the homes themselves are completely on their own when it comes to water and electric supply.
These homes prioritize the preservation of natural resources and can be built with recycled and salvaged materials to minimize their environmental impact. This is achieved through rooftop solar panels for electricity, passive heating, and cooling systems, and they’re often made from rammed earth or adobe bricks that provide excellent insulation year-round without using any energy.
Earthships can be difficult to build, which is one of the major disadvantages, but if you want sustainable and off-the-grid living without sacrificing any modern comforts, these are an excellent sustainable housing option for your future sustainable home needs.
Shipping Container Homes
Another sustainable housing option for homeowners to consider is a sustainable home built from recycled shipping containers. These homes are much more cost-effective than other types because they use recycled materials and preexisting shipping containers that would otherwise go to waste.
Shipping container homes are also extremely mobile, allowing the homeowner to move them at any time, which can be a huge benefit if you’re in need of relocation or just want to explore other parts of the country for a while. Note that not all shipping container homes are built the same. Some of the larger shipping container homes that use multiple containers won’t be as portable or portable at all.
Features to Include in Sustainable Homes
When you start to look into these different types of sustainable homes, you’ll find that many of them have similar characteristics. Here’s what you should include in your sustainable home.
Renewable Energy Source
Renewable energy helps to take sustainable homes to a whole new level. Solar panels or other sources of alternative energy will give your sustainable house the power it needs to operate off-the-grid and take care of itself while you’re away for extended periods. The most commonly used type of renewable energy is solar panels, but other renewable sources include wind energy and geothermal.
Water Supply System
Regardless if you use rainwater collection, water purification systems, or sustainable design, you’ll need to make sure that your sustainable home has a sustainable water supply system. In most cases, this means you’ll need a well on sight for your home.
High-efficiency insulation is a sustainable home’s best friend. This means that you’ll want to make sure your sustainable home has at least R50 insulation throughout the whole home. This can be costly, but it will make a huge impact on how much energy your home uses to heat and cool.
High-Efficiency Windows and Doors
High-efficiency windows and doors will reduce the amount of heat loss during winter (or summer if in a warmer climate), and they’ll also keep out moisture which can lead to mold or mildew buildup.
A green roof can be another great way to make your home sustainable. Whether you choose a sustainable roofing material or have a live roof, there are kinds of ways to make a positive effect on your home with a green roof. Capturing rainwater is another great way to take advantage of your roof and get more out of your home.
While this isn’t necessarily a feature, home orientation is something that sustainable homes need to take into account. You want your home’s solar panels to face south so they’ll get the most sun exposure during the day. However, when you’re deciding on the orientation of the home you’ll want to consider having the majority of surface area face east and west—this will help minimize the heat your sustainable home takes in and lets out. South-facing is the warmest, north-facing is the coldest, and east and west are a nice in-between.
At Sustainable 9, these are all factors that we take into account when building new homes. We want the homes we build to be affordable, modern, and sustainable. These homes are built to last for generations and provide a safe space for your family. Reach out to us today to learn more about our process and how we can help you build the home of your dreams. And, in the meantime, be sure to check out our recent projects.