7 tips for eco-friendly home designs
If you own property or have any interest in real estate then you’ve probably heard the terms eco-homes or sustainable homes. These terms mean different things to different people, but regardless of how you interpret them, sustainability is an important consideration for new home or renovation designs. So here are 7 things you need to know about eco-friendly home design.
1: Eco advantages
Rising electricity and water costs are beginning to have a significant impact on household budgets. Anything that can reduce power, gas or water consumption is a welcome relief to many homeowners.
These rising costs mean additional eco enhancements in any new home or renovation design quickly start to pay for themselves resulting in significant long-term savings.
Some people still mistakenly believe that eco-friendly home designs mean going without or living uncomfortably. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth. The concept behind eco-housing is that you can maintain a comfortable temperature inside your home with little to no need for additional electronic heating or cooling. Sustainability also means keeping your garden alive without the constant need to water it. So you can comfortably live in your home without needing to turn on the air con. Your garden looks great without the need to spend hours watering it. Eco housing principles are not about going without, it’s about being able to keep living the lifestyle you currently enjoy.
2: Home insulation
Reducing power consumption is a great way to be environmentally friendly with the benefit of lowering your power bill. Home insulation is a great way to help lower your electricity consumption.
Ceiling insulation is becoming almost standard on many new homes now and with good reason, it can save you significant money on your power bills over the long run.
Wall insulation is less common but it can be highly effective at keeping the heat out in summer and retaining it in winter. It also has the added benefit of reducing noise, particularly if you choose a soundproofing style of wall insulation.
If your home is raised off the ground, floor insulation can also help lower energy consumption however you need to weigh up what savings floor insulation might achieve against the cost of installing it.
The main advantage offered by insulation is not necessarily that you never need to switch on your air-conditioner or heater. The advantage is that you don’t need to run them as long because less of your conditioned air escapes.
3: Harnessing the power of passive solar designs
Many mass-produced modern homes, particularly two-storey homes, heat up dramatically on a summer’s day due to the amount of sun striking their windows and walls.
Having sunlight strike your home on cold winters days is highly desirable, but during the warmer months, a well-designed home will keep the heat off the exterior of the home as much as possible. And there are some very easy and attractive ways to do this.
One of the best is through the use of verandah’s which allow the winter sun to strike the windows and walls, but block much of the harsher sun during the summer months.
Of course, verandahs don’t suit every home, but for those that aren’t suited, you can still have oversized eaves and window awnings which can create a similar shading effect.
4: Natural airflow
Here in Brisbane in Southeast Queensland, we are blessed by beautiful cool sea breezes on all but the hottest of days. Your home design should allow you to make the most of this free, natural asset. But not every home is designed in such a way that it can harness this natural resource.
Healthy, cooling breezes can be captured and directed through your home through the use of shutters and/or louvres allowing you to regulate the amount of airflow quickly and easily. In addition to this having windows that can be locked in a partially open position can allow breezes to pass through your home whilst not compromising on your home security.
But there is more to natural ventilation than simply opening a window. The idea that you can point a window in the direction of the prevailing breezes and expect to have a cool home in the summer is a commonly shared misconception.
The breeze coming in through the window needs somewhere to go. If it simply strikes a wall then it might swirl around that one room, but chances are it will be very ineffective at cooling the rest of your home. You need to have your project designed by an architect who understands cross-ventilation and eco-friendly home designs.
5: Water saving and harvesting
With a growing population and a changing climate, water is fast becoming a more precious resource, and certainly, a more expensive one as a quick look at any rates notice will tell you.
So it’s a growing advantage for any home that is designed to minimise water usage and maximise its water harvesting potential.
One of the major areas of water loss in the average home revolves around hot water, or more specifically a lack of hot water. In most homes when you turn the hot water tap on the water that comes out is far from hot, due to the fact that it has cooled in the pipes after it left the hot water system.
However, you can have virtually instant hot water by simply having insulated hot water pipes combined with an inexpensive to run hot water circulation pump.
There are literally dozens of water saving techniques and devices available that your home design, and your wallet, can benefit from in the long run. Like having a dishwasher with a high water rating or using water saving showerheads.
But it’s not just about cutting back on water consumption in your home. Harvesting water is just as important.
Mention water harvesting and most people immediately think of rainwater tanks which are great, but they are only one option. What about greywater systems, or diverters that divert water from your gutters into your swimming pool?
With so many options available it is important to engage an architect who understands the options available and can advise you on the ones that will best suit your particular needs.
6: Natural lighting
It seems such a waste every time I see a home that needs to have the interior lights on even on sunny days.
With the rising cost of electricity, it is a considerable advantage to have a home design that takes advantage of natural lighting.
Skylights and tubelites are one of the more common approaches that people take to gain access to natural lighting, however, these often just mask design defects within the home that are better addressed through a high-quality renovation or in the case of a new home, just a better initial design.
7: Material considerations
The materials used in the construction of your new home or renovation, along with the fittings and finishes you choose, will all age and wear over time requiring replacement or some form of ongoing maintenance.
Not all materials wear at the same rate. Some finishes require more maintenance than others and can be time consuming and expensive.
A good example of this is slate. Now slate is not really a commonly used material these days, with imitation slate finishes more popular where a slate look is required. But on those occasions where it does get used the owner of the property will find that it regularly needs resealing.
Recently a client that I spoke with told me that he had used slate as the edging around his swimming pool on a previous property. It looked great and gave him the visual effect he was after but the constant need to reseal it to stop it flaking and breaking away and was an enormous burden on his time. Added to this was the fact that the slate needed to be completely dry and dust free before the sealant could be applied. This was a nightmare around a swimming pool as you can imagine.
There are many better options in the market. Travertine – a form of limestone – is very popular today. Travertine has been around for centuries and can be used inside but is more commonly used outside. It is a far better choice for swimming pools as it doesn’t get overly slippery when wet and it’s quite cool to walk on even on hot days. Other forms of limestone and sandstone are also popular today and tend to be hard wearing and therefore need less maintenance.