Importance of designing an eco-friendly and energy-efficient home

A home build or renovation is the perfect opportunity to incorporate eco-friendly features. Energy-efficient construction also lowers utility bills and improves home comfort and air quality. Review the requirements of green building certification programs like LEED and Energy Star early in the design process. Though certification is optional, following program guidelines will ensure a holistic, environmentally responsible home. Energy efficiency is the highest standard for passive houses. Passive House design uses ultra-thick insulation, airtight construction, and heat recovery ventilation to lower energy usage by up to 90% compared to conventional homes.

Optimize solar orientation

Take advantage of passive solar design by orienting the house and interior rooms to maximize natural light and solar heat gain. Position the longest side of the home to face south or within 30 degrees of the south for the northern hemisphere. Place main living spaces along this sun-facing facade to benefit from winter solar warmth and light. In hot climates, minimize east/west-facing glass which admits intense summer sun. Install properly sized roof overhangs above south windows to shade during summer but allow winter sun. Strategically place trees, vegetation, and fences to block wind while allowing sunlight. A solar analysis by an architectural designer recommend optimal home and window orientation. For energy-efficient home designs, this is the best site.

Super-insulate the building envelope

Specifying a well-insulated building envelope is the foundation of an energy-efficient home. It includes exterior walls, the basement or crawlspace, the attic, the roof, and any rim joists. Use the following super-insulation best practices:

  • Specify R-30 to R-60 insulation for exterior walls depending on climate and construction type.  
  • Attic insulation should meet R-50 minimum but ideally achieve R-60.
  • Incorporate rigid foam insulation on exterior basement walls and under slabs.  
  • Seal every possible air leakage pathway thoroughly with caulk, spray foam, and weather stripping.
  • Upgrade to triple-pane windows and insulated doors to minimize heat loss.

High insulation levels and airtight construction contain conditioned air and prevent energy waste.

Incorporate passive solar design

Utilize windows, thermal mass, and passive heating to minimize the need for mechanical heating and cooling. Installing ample south-facing glass allows low winter sun into the home and passively heats it.  Hardscaping materials like tile and concrete floors absorb and slowly release daytime solar energy to provide thermal mass. Properly sized roof overhangs block high summer sun angles but permit lower winter sun to enter. A south-facing greenhouse sunroom with stone flooring passively collects and circulates warm air. Monitor passive solar elements to prevent overheating.

Choose sustainable building materials 

  • FSC-certified and reclaimed wood
  • Natural linoleum and bamboo floors   
  • Wool and cotton insulation
  • Natural paints and stains
  • Recycled glass tiles and countertops
  • Composite, recycled decking

Avoid VOC-emitting materials like vinyl, plastics, and synthetic carpeting. Hire contractors familiar with green materials and certified installers when needed. Install solar panels, solar water heaters, or small residential wind turbines to generate clean renewable power onsite. Energy collected offsets grid electricity usage. Aim for net zero, where renewable energy produced equals or exceeds consumption. Extrasolar power is resold to the utility company. Work with an energy specialist to right-size systems based on your electricity needs and solar potential. Energy sage helps compare equipment options and costs after assessing home energy use and roof viability.