Green Living: Tips for Sustainable Home Design

If you are currently engaged in the excitement of renovating or building a new home, you may be wondering what can be done to improve your home’s sustainability.

Sustainable home design is all about reducing energy usage and working with the climate around you to improve the liveability of your home while also reducing the impact it has on the environment.

So, if this sounds up your alley, how can you go about making your home more sustainable?

Here are my top five tips to consider:

  1. Using sustainable materials
  2. Designing for your climate
  3. Using house plants or a living wall
  4. Saving water inside and outside of the home
  5. Maximising the benefits of your backyard

1. Using sustainable materials

When you begin your build or renovation project, consider choosing building materials that have a lighter impact on the planet.

For example, when deciding on the material for frames, consider the timber option. Timber is a natural, renewable plantation, and with modern foresting and milling techniques it is very efficient in its production. Steel, on the other hand, can require a lot of energy to produce and is not easily modifiable or easy to repurpose. Another benefit of using timber is that it locks up carbon dioxide and is also a natural insulator, helping to lessen the amount of energy you may need for both heating and cooling your home.

sustainable home design timber
Source: ungvar (Shutterstock)

Other eco-friendly materials to consider are rammed earth (a mix of raw materials such as earth, chalk, lime or gravel) and hempcrete (mixture of water, hemp hurds/shives and lime). Rammed earth can be used as an insulator as it has high thermal properties, is non-toxic and non-combustible and adds a feeling of weight to the structure of the home. It can cost more to set up the machinery to construct walls made of rammed earth so consider this in your budget first.

Using hempcrete as an insulator can also lower your impact on the environment. It is a farmed crop that absorbs carbon dioxide, is non-toxic and non-combustible, and is thermally efficient in both hot and cold climates.

2. Designing for your climate

Tailoring the design of your home to the climate and best living aspect of your location can help maintain the temperature both inside and out. Known as ‘passive home design’, this method can reduce or eliminate the need for additional heating or cooling methods, therefore making your home more sustainable.

When building or renovating, consider where the sun rises and sets near your home to help position your windows, skylights, openings or solar panels. This will allow natural light and heat in so you can spend less on other forms of energy. Shading your home, such as planting a tree, adding curtains, shutters or installing an outside awning may also help block out the heat.

Also look at where the natural breezes enter and exit the block and find ways to capture them, such as the placement of windows or doors, or block where necessary with the sealing of gaps in the wall.

Outside the home, consider adding in shades or other covers to keep outdoor living areas cool. Using lighter colours of paint for your building’s exterior can also help reflect the sun and reduce the transfer of heat from the outside to the inside of your home.

sustainable home design skylight
Source: B. Forenius (Shutterstock)

3. Using house plants or installing a living wall

House plants not only add beauty to the inside of your home, but could also help reduce energy costs and improve air quality. Plants help break vertical airflow, which slows and cools down the air. This means air conditioning units or fans may require less energy to cool the air before circulating around a room.

You can also get these same benefits from installing a vertical garden or ‘living wall’ in the inside of your home. Not only do these vertical gardens look unique, but they can also help purify the air, insulate a room and absorb sound from the outside. However, they can be costly to install and to maintain, so it is best to research your options.

sustainable home design living wall
Source: Photographee.eu (Shutterstock)

4. Saving water inside and out

You can save water around your home by implementing water-saving design principles and installing water-saving fittings and appliances.

Inside the home:

  • When it comes to your toilet, consider installing a low-volume water flushing function to cut back on the amount of water used.
  • Bath usage can use a lot of water, so consider installing a shower instead with modern aerating tapware that can reduce the volume of water as it mixes with air, giving it a softer feel.
  • If you choose to upgrade your appliances, such as your washing machine or dishwasher, look for those with a rating specified by the Water Efficiency Labelling and Standards (WELS) scheme. The more stars on the WELS label, the more water efficient the appliance.
sustainable home design shower
Source: Dmitry Naumov (Shutterstock)

Outside the home:

  • When setting up your garden look at the natural flow of the land and position garden beds where water will naturally run.
  • Consider regularly laying mulch to keep the soil moist, or trying water crystals that can help absorb larger quantities of water.
  • On small blocks, consider artificial turf lawns. These allow water to still get to the soil underneath while removing the need for watering (or mowing) the lawn.

5. Maximising the benefits of your backyard

You can also improve the sustainability of your home by considering how your landscaping is going to influence the heat, shade and cool air around the building.

A well-positioned tree or shrub may help shade your house from the summer sun, or greatly reduce the ground temperature around your home. To help insulate your home, you could consider growing vines on the outside walls or near windows to absorb the summer heat.

The positioning of a pool or waterway can also be used to generate cool air from evaporation, which can then be drawn into the house.

sustainable home design backyard
Source: jannoon028 (Shutterstock)

These design tips could help you in your quest to create a comfortable home that is economical to run and less impactful on the environment.

However, before you begin implementing these techniques in your home, it’s important to consider what costs are involved and whether they fit within the budget for your build or renovation. You may also want to seek further advice or assistance from a design or building expert to see if these options are suitable for your situation.

Adrian RamsayAbout Adrian Ramsay

Adrian Ramsay is the Director of Adrian Ramsay Design House, a Queensland-based design studio designing custom new homes, renovations and additions.

Cover image source: Romolo Tavani (Shutterstock)

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