How to Build a Sustainable Home

If you’re thinking of building a new home, there are many reasons why you should make it a sustainable one. A sustainable home is not only beneficial for the environment, it will also decrease your energy consumption and help save money long term. There is often a misconception that building a sustainable home is way beyond most people’s budget. We can understand why people may think that, however, it doesn’t have to be that way. Building a sustainable home means using sustainable materials, improving energy and water efficiency, and taking measures to improve your indoor air quality. Here are some factors to consider when building a sustainable home.

Smart Design

Consulting with sustainable design professionals early in the building process will greatly benefit homeowners, to ensure they are getting everything they have envisioned. The design of your home can make a major difference in how much energy you will consume. During the design stage, a sustainable home should be positioned in a way that it takes advantage of its environmental surroundings. This means building it to be heated by the sun and cooled by the breeze, so you’ll be less reliant on expensive heating and cooling technologies.

Natural lighting:

Utilising natural lighting and incorporating large windows and skylight features in your home, can greatly lower energy consumption.

Be thoughtful of the space:

No matter how sustainable you’re planning to be, an excessively large home will not be as energy efficient and carbon friendly as a small home. Smaller buildings are generally more environmentally friendly and cheaper to run and maintain. However, it doesn’t mean that you have to restrict yourself in terms of size. Instead, take advantage of space and ensure it is being used efficiently. For example, by creating zoned areas of rooms with similar uses, will save on heating and cooling costs. It’s important to keep this in mind when planning and building your home.

Sustainable Building Materials

Utilising sustainable and innovative materials is another important factor to consider when building a home. It’s not just about the layout, the materials you choose are also important. For example, using resources that provide better insulation will automatically lower the energy used on heating.

Cross-laminated timber is a lightweight, durable and prefabricated product that can bring extra thermal benefits to a building and also speed up construction.

Hempcrete is another product that is both fire and termite resistant made from hemp and lime. It offers superior insulating and soundproofing properties, keeps the air in the building healthier and can even prevent humidity and mould.

Reusing old materials where possible is another way to save money and reduce environmental impacts. Recycled wood, plastic, and glass are also less damaging than buying new. It is also important to consider where the resources are coming from. Whenever possible, try to locally source building materials, rather than purchasing items that are being freighted long distances or from overseas.

Renewable Energy

The sun is the ultimate source of clean, low-cost energy. When you’re building a new home, you have the unique opportunity to plan and consider the overall design to maximise the benefits of solar power. How you situate your home and where the solar panels are placed, can have a significant impact on the power that is collected. This is an important factor to consider during the design process.

You could also pair your solar energy unit with a battery storage system. This will allow you to strive for carbon neutrality while gaining the financial rewards of self-sufficiency. Investing in renewable energy solutions for your home can protect you against future electricity prices. If this isn’t incentive enough, I don’t know what is!

Energy Efficient Products

While every new home must meet minimum energy efficient standards, there is potential to take it a whole lot further. Energy efficient homes are no longer just trendy; they are a lifestyle. It is important to think about the:

Lighting:

Installing energy efficient products is a significant method to make your home more sustainable. LED lights are more energy efficient and better value for money than incandescent and halogen light bulbs. They generally use about 75% less energy and last 5-10 times longer than traditional light bulbs [i]. This will greatly reduce the replacement costs and the number of light bulbs ending up in landfill.

Heating and cooling:

Before you consider heating and cooling appliances, ensure your home is as thermally efficient as possible:

  • Install ceiling and wall insulation.
  • Seal gaps around doors, windows to stop draughts.
  • Close internal doors so you’re only heating and cooling rooms you’re actually in.
  • Use passive heating and cooling (opening the windows to let the breeze in).

Installing fans as well as reverse cycle air-conditioning will also save energy. When choosing the best heating and cooling systems for your home, ensure you compare energy ratings.

Hot water systems:

When it comes to choosing the best hot water system, make sure you do some research to ensure it meets the specific requirements for your home, including:

There are four main types of hot water systems:

  1. Gas: Gas hot water systems have energy efficiency star ratings, so choose the one with the highest rating you can afford. They generally have a high-medium purchase, installation and running costs.
  2. Electric: Electric storage systems are generally the most common type. They are usually cheaper to buy, but more expensive to run. However, if you’re powering your home with solar, you can install a timer to power your electric hot water system with free energy from the sun.
  3. Solar: Solar hot water systems are generally the most energy efficient option and can save you a lot of money. If you don’t plan on installing a solar system but still want to save money and energy, they are the way to go.
  4. Heat Pump: Heat pump water heaters are highly efficient and use 30% of the energy of a conventional electric hot water system. This option uses renewable energy by absorbing heat from the surrounding air to heat water.

Keep in mind, however, that buying a hot water system is often a trade-off between initial upfront costs and long-term energy savings.

Cooking

  • Oven: When choosing an oven, here are some factors to consider:
      • Choose fan-forced:Fan-forced ovens circulate hot air evenly, which keeps the temperature constant and cooks food quicker than conventional ovens.
      • Choose triple glazed doors:Triple glazed doors and a high standard of insulation will retain heat better.
      • Consider dual purpose ovens:Dual purpose ovens can function as a steam oven or a conventional oven [ii].
  • Cooktop: When it comes to cooktops, induction is considered to be the most energy efficient, in comparison to gas and electric. Induction stovetops use electromagnetic technology to heat the cookware and its contents without wasting energy heating the cooking surface. Energy is delivered directly to the pot or pan, making it twice as efficient as gas and electric stovetops where the energy must first be converted into heat.

Smart homes:

Smart home systems and devices provide better energy efficiency by allowing the user to monitor and control energy usage in new ways. They incorporate innovative technology that have automatic decision–making skills such as:

  • Automated lighting;
  • Smart thermostat;
  • Manages home device; and
  • Disconnects standby appliances when not in use.

There are many ways that sustainable design and technology can be explored when you are building a new home. From using sustainable building materials, utilising renewable energy, or selecting energy efficient products for your home. There are many variables that can be adjusted to customise a sustainable home that you’re proud of.

[i] https://www.energy.gov.au/households/lighting

[ii] https://www.sustainability.vic.gov.au/You-and-your-home/Save-energy/Appliances/Cooking-appliances

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