With global populations on the rise, the environmental impact of our day-to-day lives on the forefront of many people’s minds, and fossil fuels proving to be completely unsustainable at the rate we’re consuming them, many are looking for ways to make their lives greener. For those building a home, or looking to retrofit their existing home, the question becomes even bigger: How should they ensure that their living space, potentially for the rest of their lives, have the lowest environmental impact they can manage?
First and foremost, it’s important to remember that all building is going to have some impact on the environment. It’s impossible to go completely green – but that’s okay. Remember, too, that it’s much more environmentally sound to update and retrofit an already existing home, rather than demolish and build from scratch.
Choose your materials wisely
Whether you’re building a new home or adding on to an existing one, be sure to consider the materials you’re sourcing to build it with. Some people choose to look into straw-bale housing, or bags of earth – but more traditional materials can be used, too, depending on how you get them.
Look for what you have in your area, and try to avoid factory-produced materials such as concrete, plastic, metal, and bricks (unless, of course, you’re recycling them – then go all-out!). Things like timber, clay, lime, hemp, and stone can all be sourced locally depending on where you are, and don’t have the carbon footprint things that are factory-produced do. You also don’t have to worry about the impact shipping your materials would have!
Keep it small
Unlike the old adage, bigger is decidedly not better: a small home means less materials, less heating and cooling costs, and less electricity usage. A large home simply cannot have a low impact – it can only take steps to reduce the large impact it has. Don’t fall for claims that state otherwise.
Similarly, a compact house will lose heat and cold less rapidly than a larger house will. If you need a space with 2,000 sqft, try considering a storied home rather than a single-floored home. It’s the same basic principle as the very energy-efficient igloo: the less surface area the home has, the lower the heat loss will be.
Insulate and seal
Surface area is only the beginning of sustainable housing. The smallest house will still bleed heat and cold if it’s not insulated well – and even a larger home will see a huge reduction in energy costs by ensuring it’s insulated properly. Since heating and cooling are the largest energy consumers in the household, accounting for around 50% of household energy consumption, cutting down those costs will have a huge effect.
Sealing air-flow and cutting off drafts is a lesser-known but similarly-impactful way to cut down heating and cooling costs. Areas around doors and windows are the biggest culprits, but looking for cracks and gaps anywhere in the house, including along electrical wiring holes, and sealing them up with caulk or closed cell spray foam, can go miles towards ensuring the heat and conditioned air you’re pumping into your house, stays in your house.
Looking to reduce those costs even more – and willing to try something out of the ordinary? Earth sheltering is on the rise as the lowest-impact way to cut heating and cooling to next to nothing. An ancient technique, it relies on the earth’s natural insulating abilities, and comes with the benefits of being low-maintenance, fire-resistant, and well-protected against storms. There’s a wide variety of ways to work earth sheltering into a home, from roofing to caring into a hillside – learn what works best for you.
Invest good appliances
Using energy-efficient appliances is the quickest and easiest way to reduce environmental impact in the home. While a bit more expensive, looking for an Energy Star label when buying new appliances is a great way to reduce the footprint of an already existing home, or get a new home fitted in the right way. Everything from air conditioners and water heaters, to fridges, toasters, and TVs can have Energy Star ratings, so do your research and look around.
Another, often-overlooked way to reduce impact is to look for LED lighting in your home. LEDs have a very low cost for the amount of energy they provide, so while their upfront price may be more, expect to see drastically-reduced electricity costs – and a longer lifespan.
Even your plumbing can be looked into. Toilets, for example, are being made with water conservation in mind; look for a dual-flush toilet, where you can choose if you need a smaller or larger amount of water. All other fixtures, like showerheads and faucets, can be fitted to have a reduced flow, as well.
Use natural sources instead of grid-based
Getting solar panels installed, especially in climates closer to the equator, are a fantastic way to reduce electricity costs during the day. Reduce them even further by orienting your house in a way that will get the most out of the sun’s warmth, especially in winter, to help offset heating costs. If you’re okay with having less on-demand hot water, looking into solar-heated water is another way to reduce your energy costs with the sun.
Similarly, tapping into rainwater collection is a great way to compliment water-efficient plumbing. Even just connecting gutters and other runoffs to barrels can go a long way towards providing for your home. Untreated, it can be used to flush toilets and water gardens; if you’re willing to look into treating water, rainwater can be used for everything from drinking to cooking.
If that’s not enough, try looking into other renewable resources in your locale. Is your home in a good place for a windmill? Can you tap into the earth’s natural warmth and look into geothermal heating? Explore your options with a contractor who’s familiar with sustainable resources.
Build to last
One of the most overlooked ways to build a sustainable home is to build a home that will last you for years to come. That can mean any number of things – whether you simply want something that will stand the test of time, or if you’re looking for a home you’ll want to live in for years to come.
Guest post by Craig Scott – editor at Green and Growing