sustainable home building

The 10 Most Sustainable Home Building Techniques

The construction sector is responsible for a substantial percentage of total greenhouse emissions. Addressing climate change means addressing its multiple drivers, requiring the cooperation of builders and governments. What new, sustainable home building techniques are builders using to minimize their footprint? 

sustainable home building

Climate change offers an opportunity to build better and many of the innovations solve other problems, such as construction-related weather woes and rising inequality driving a housing crisis. What could a clean, green, cooperative future look like? You can get a good idea by checking out the ten most sustainable home building techniques rising in popularity today. 

1. Modular Building 

There’s nothing like an unexpected downpour to warp wooden framing, causing the need for future repairs that cost time and materials. If only there were a way to avoid exposing it to the elements. 

Now, there is. Modular construction entails building entire home parts inside a factory and assembling them on-site. One advantage is lenders treat established structures as site-built homes, preserving future resale options. Another benefit is everything stays safe, weather-tight and dry, protecting components, maintaining quality and preventing waste — which makes this method greener than the traditional alternative. 

2. Manufactured Homes 

The humble “trailer” has come a long way and placing one of these on your rural property, with a solar installation and a well, might be your fast track to off-grid living with minimal fuss. They use the same basic, sustainable building technique as modular homes, only builders assemble the whole shebang in the factory. You then place it on a foundation on your property. 

The biggest concern with keeping this a sustainable building technique is ensuring sufficient insulation. Many models come off the assembly line under-insulated to keep them lightweight for transportation reasons — adding more when setting the home on your foundation increases its overall eco-friendliness.

3. 3D Printing 

3D printing lets you build homes on or offsite, sometimes in a matter of hours and at a fraction of the cost. What’s unique is they often feature curvilinear shapes made out of a cement mix. Although many builders use this process to construct high-end, luxury residences, the affordability and speed of construction make such homes an attractive option for housing people experiencing homelessness. 

3D printing also opens doors to sustainable, biodegradable housing. For example, Australia has premiered a series of hempcrete 3D printed houses made from the fast-growing and increasingly popular plant. Texas A&M University recently received a grant for similar research. 

4. Tiny Homes

The less space your home occupies, the fewer emissions it will create. Reducing the square footage of your living area to a minimum leaves more surrounding land for additional outbuildings for community living and extensive gardens, which could address urban food deserts. Smaller homes are more affordable to own and take up less space, making them a meaningful solution to the housing crisis. 

The biggest barriers to more tiny home developments are human-created. One is economic — while you need a minimum of materials to build a home, costs decrease as square footage increases, making constructing larger properties more profitable. The other is building and zoning, as many counties and local jurisdictions set minimum building size requirements at 800 square feet or more while most tiny homes occupy less than 600 square feet. 

5. Timber Framing 

Timber-framed homes are more sustainable than traditional stick-built designs for several reasons. The larger thermal mass of the huge beams stores heat energy during daylight hours, releasing it slowly at night, resulting in more constant temperatures. Additionally, the wood is hygroscopic, absorbing and releasing moisture to maintain consistent humidity levels, a feature your skin and houseplants will love. 

Wood is a renewable resource and responsible forestry practices have become increasingly important as climate change brings stronger wildfires. Such builders serve a crucial role, serving as a liaison between two things people need — safe, thriving forests and sustainable homes. 

6. Earthship Elements 

What is an Earthship? While you can view the original concept of using repurposed materials and natural resources, you can incorporate elements of this design into your build, even if you don’t go for net zero. 

For example, Earthships often use tires packed with adobe to construct exterior walls that maintain a consistent indoor temperature. Interior walls might consist of recycled cans mortared together with concrete. It uses passive solar, such as windows along the sunny side with various curtain closures, to avoid the need for heating and cooling.

7. Reclaimed Wood 

If you examine the architecture of many older buildings, you’ll find gorgeous design features, such as intricately carved mantels. Even decaying barns may contain heavy beams that offer superb structural integrity from having withstood the elements.  

Reclaimed wood entails removing these usable elements from existing structures before demolishing the unsalvageable. It’s more sustainable than harvesting and processing raw materials and can add a fabulous historic touch to new designs. As time and exposure “seasons” the wood, it’s often hardier than new. 

8. Green Roofs 

Green roofs transform traditional rooftops into gardens. They’re particularly attractive in urban areas for decreasing the urban heat island effect while cutting energy costs and preserving the roof’s life and performance. They can address food deserts and provide residents with additional outdoor space, which is crucial for physical and mental health. 

Green roofs also pair well with solar panels — you can do both for a one-two punch of sustainable building techniques. They can even complement each other. For example, high temperatures can decrease panel efficiency, a problem in places like Arizona that regularly see triple digits. The right green roof design uses plants to shade panels from the worst of the day’s heat. 

9. Rainwater Collection Systems 

Water is also a precious resource. Rainwater collection systems take advantage of natural precipitation to keep your landscaping fresh and healthy, without using the stuff you drink. 

What makes this sustainable home-building technique unique is many current homeowners can DIY such a system with minimal fuss. Typical setups attach to your home’s gutters with PVC pipe. It’s a good project for cutting your teeth, especially if you’re not accustomed to swinging a hammer.

Additionally, rainwater collection systems work well when paired with xeriscaping. Xeriscaping is a landscaping technique using native plants, instead of grass, to minimize watering and maintenance needs. Think of the sustainability benefits when you no longer need to run a lawnmower or leaf blower — and the joy of having your weekend free from endless chores. 

10. Passive House Design

Passive house design uses high-quality windows and doors combined with the sun, internal heat sources and heat recovery to save up to 80% on heating and cooling costs. Such properties feature superior insulation that maintains a constant indoor temperature, regardless of outside conditions. 

Such homes use a ventilation system to continually supply fresh air, without unpleasant drafts. Because the layout does such a superior job of maintaining constant temperatures, the only other need is a post-heating coil to distribute warm air evenly throughout the dwelling. 

Sustainable Home Building Techniques 

Building and maintaining the places people live contributes a substantial amount toward rising global temperatures. Reducing the carbon impact by using more sustainable home-building techniques will go far in meeting worldwide targets for reducing emissions and climate change impact. 

Incorporate one or more of these sustainable home-building techniques into your next project. Many of them are more than eco-friendly — they’re also durable, affordable solutions that make such structures into fabulous places to live.

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