Sustainable By Design

Written by Laura Braun, ESLLC 2016-2017

There are millions of things that you can do to help create a more sustainable community and one of them is doing things within your own house/residential building to help limit its environmental impact. Modern housing and residential communities contribute a huge amount to climate change and its causes, so logically it should also contain the potential to diminish the causes and largely help the environment and its current state. So what can homeowners do in order to help create a more sustainable home?

First and foremost, sustainability can be in the infrastructure itself. Where you build a home, for example, can help diminish your environmental footprint considerably. If the house is close to local transportation services, you have an augmented ability to reduce energy outputs and oil consumption. Also, if the house isn’t near a hazardous area or if its is and you utilize materials that will help withstand these hazards, you avoid potentially having to build your home twice (which isn’t sustainable). Another example of how the infrastructure of your house can maximize its sustainability is size. Smaller houses simply tend to be more efficient. They reduce the material and energy use. Similarly, layout and orientation can also set up your house for success. Orientating the house in a way where natural light and heat can be used to there maximum potential can help conserve and create efficient energy usages. Concerning the actual materials used to build a building, local and recycled materials are best. It will reduce the need for shipping and manufacturing the materials from scratch in some cases. Some examples of recycled materials that can be beneficial are recycled glass (used for countertops), recycled metals (used for steel), reclaimed wood (used for a multitude of design purposes), reclaimed brick, reused soil, and recycled drywall materials/roof shingles. Just about anything in the skeleton of a house can come from recycled materials. Lastly, Insulation and how a house performs insulation is also a big way to create a sustainable housing structure. The more resistance the materials have, the more insulation it has, and therefore less energy is needed to keep a house cold/warm.

Efficiency also depends on limiting the use of resources and maximizing their effect. For example, an increase in windows can increase the amount of natural light, thus limiting the amount of artificial light needed (this is also the case for heat). The type of glass you choose for these windows/doors is also important. They need a tight seal and be made of a type of glass that maximizes light intake and insulation. For the cases that artificial lighting is required, LED (Light Emitting Diode) lighting is preferred considering the fact that they reduce the energy cost since they use less power and their durability. Energy Star Appliances & Equipment is also a very important characteristic of sustainable homes. Similar to LED lights, these fixtures limit energy needed are durable as well. Water is also a huge resource that houses need, so water conserving plumbing fixtures can go a long way. There are a multitude of toilets, sinks and showers that conserve water, so there is no problem in finding such fixtures. HVAC stands for Heating Ventilation Air Conditioning and is the largest source of energy consumption in a home, so it also has the largest potential to save energy as well. A few options that allows this to occur are the usage of a programmable thermostat, inner household zones, and efficient equipment. Programmable thermostats only kicks in when a certain temperature threshold is passed and is turned off when the desired temperature is reached. They can also turn off completely at certain times at night. Zones within your house allows you to set independent temperatures by room. Thus, for example, if someone within your house likes it hot or cold, you have the ability to shut of the HVAC is only one portion of your house. Efficient equipment, as always, can help as well.

Similarly to resource conservation, houses also have the ability to create its own renewable energy and water heating system. One type of renewable energy that can be applied, and the type which is most popular, is the use of photovoltaic panels (i.e. solar panels). These panels generate energy from the sun and therefore it allows a house to be self-sufficient and limit its usage of harmful resources like oil or coal. Windmills can also help, when appropriate by doing the same thing but with wind instead of the sun. Geothermal Heat is the least popular choice, but it is just as beneficial and extremely universal. This type of heat is taken from the soil deep beneath your home that remains warms no matter the season or climatic conditions. Similarly, you can use solar panel-like fixtures or pumps in order to heat your water. This hot water can be put to use in showers or sinks.

Finally, planting intelligently outside of your home can be just as important as anything that occurs within your home. Planting vegetation that originates/belongs to the house’s local climate and land type is very important in creating a sustainable home. Making sure that plants can survive with minimal maintenance and watering can help preserve many resources. Additionally, growing a vegetable garden is preferable in an efficient housing structure since they can allow you to grow your own organic food. However, similar to plants, these vegetables need to be able to thrive in your location without much watering or it is simply doing more harm then it is helping.

In conclusion, houses and there respective energy usages are a necessity to a community, but that doesn’t mean they can become more efficient and beneficial to the environment. We need to start to develop new ways of building houses in order to shape a new future and protect our environment.

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Jorgefontan. “21 Ideas For Sustainable House Design, Fontan                                                Architecture.” Fontan Architecture. N.p., 23 Nov. 2016. Web. 07 Mar. 2017.

Mola, Francesca Z. “Sustainable House Ideas.” Classic Magazine. N.p., 2  Nov. 2015. Web.


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