10 Green Design Ideas for Building Sustainable Housing

Evelyn Long

Jan 9, 2023


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There’s been increasing demand for sustainable housing as more people have grown concerned about climate change and the environment. 

However, commercial buildings aren’t the only spaces that have turned towards a green design. Residential buildings are constructed with sustainability in mind, too.

The green building market is worth nearly $81 billion in the United States and is one of the fastest-growing industries in the country. Homeowners are now leaning towards energy efficiency and natural materials that have the lowest environmental impact and saving money long-term.

Eco-friendly designs are quickly becoming the norm in home construction. So, in what ways can homeowners build a more sustainable house? Here are 10 green design ideas to consider.

1. Build Small

A small home is not for everyone’s taste; however, decreasing the scale of your build is far more sustainable and energy-efficient than owning a larger house. 

The average American homeowner spends close to $400 per month on utilities, with the most costly utility spending over the national average seen in Connecticut, Alaska, Hawaii, Massachusetts and Rhode Island. 

With a larger house, you’ll require more materials to build, as well as additional heating and cooling. When designing with sustainability in mind, try to focus on what you need without going overboard. You’ll reap the benefits of smaller sustainable housing in the long run. 

2. Location and Orientation

It would be best if you considered the following when deciding where to build your sustainable house:

  • Do you want to be within walking distance of public transit, or do you intend to have a car to get around?
  • Will you build from scratch or remodel an existing house?
  • How far is your home from hazardous sites or high-risk flood zones?

The orientation of your sustainable home is also important to factor into your green design, mainly if you live in a colder climate. For example, southern sun exposure will help warm your house in the winter. However, you’ll want to avoid sun exposure from the west to prevent uncomfortable temperatures during the hottest days of the summer. 

Work with a contractor to determine the best direction for the windows to face for natural light and heat. Maximizing natural daylight will enable you to save more energy and money year-round.

3. Local Materials

When you can, try to source building materials that are available locally. With local materials, you lessen the environmental impact of shipping items to your site from across the country. Of course, you may risk having fewer options to choose from depending on where you live.

If there is a landscaping and garden center or stone quarry nearby, consider hiring them to construct your backyard patio or yard. In some areas, you may also luck out with local artisans who can build your cabinetry rather than having to import products from other countries. 

Buying local materials from a small business is far greener and is often higher quality than mass-manufactured products.

4. Recycled Materials

In addition to locally-sourced materials, aim to buy recycled, reclaimed, or reused materials. Some ideas may include:

  • Reclaimed wood from lumber yards, older demolitions or salvage projects
  • Reclaimed bricks, stones or other masonry materials
  • Countertops made from recycled glass
  • Plastic products
  • Roof shingles made from recycled matter
  • Steel or other metals
  • Recycled drywall

Construction has dire impacts on the environment in the U.S, and the accumulation of industrial waste is a serious issue. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the construction industry generated 600 million tons of debris in 2018, twice as much as municipal waste.

Avoid using materials made of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) often found in paint or glues. You might also look for sustainable certifications, such as the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), Cradle to Cradle, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) and GREENGUARD. 

It’s best to speak with your contractor about your wish to recycle as much debris and material waste as possible during your green building project. 

5. LED Lighting

Residential LED lighting has become a popular sustainable design feature in homes across America. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) reports that LED lights — particularly those certified by Energy Star — use about 75% less energy than incandescent lighting and last up to 25 times longer. 

LED stands for light-emitting diode, and while they tend to be more expensive upfront, long-term savings make it an appealing choice. Of course, they’re also excellent options when constructing an environmentally-friendly house design.

6. Energy Star Appliances

Energy Star-rated products don’t just apply to LED light bulbs. They’re also the preferred option for appliances in sustainable housing.

To receive Energy Star certification, products and new construction projects must meet stringent program requirements that indicate higher energy efficiency than 75% of similar U.S. construction.

Integrating Energy Star-efficient appliances in your green design is one of the easiest ways to ensure your home is sustainable and has a low environmental impact. Everything in your home should be Energy Star approved, from your kitchen stovetop and microwave to your water heater. 

7. Efficient HVAC

Your heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) unit will most likely be the largest energy consumer in your house. Choosing an HVAC system that integrates advanced technology and an efficient design is critical.

Consider purchasing a smart thermostat to manage your home’s heating and cooling with ease. Smart thermostats have the capacity to learn your preferred climate patterns and optimize your settings based on your level of comfort. 

Breaking your house into different zones can also help to reduce your energy consumption by only running your HVAC system in occupied rooms. For example, you may not need to regularly heat or cool your basement, loft area or laundry room.

8. Water-Saving Fixtures

Leaks account for nearly 10,000 gallons of water wasted in U.S. households every year. Additionally, 10% of houses leak more than 90 gallons of water per day. That’s why water-saving features are crucial for sustainable housing.

Today’s toilets, showerheads, faucets and other plumbing fixtures are far more advanced than they used to be. Some toilets come with flushing options that allow you to choose between higher or lower flush rates, while you can opt for low-flow water in other spouts, as well. 

It’s easy to find water-saving fixtures at stores or online, and many brands are quite affordable. Prevent water waste and potential leaks by purchasing plumbing products that conserve water instead. 

9. Smart Landscaping

The interior of your home isn’t the only place you can integrate a green design. Landscaping offers ample opportunities for you to plant sustainable and eco-friendly vegetation.

There are many advantages of landscaping with native plants for your climate and agricultural zone, including saving money, reducing pests and restoring habitats. You’ll want to make sure whatever plants you choose can thrive in a specific location, depending on the average temperature and rainfall. 

Not everyone has lots of time to prune their yards, so you’ll also want to consider planting vegetation that doesn’t require a whole lot of maintenance or irrigation. Across the U.S., outdoor irrigation accounts for almost one-third of residential water use, or about 9 billion gallons a day.

Vegetable gardens are another sustainable design option to grow organic produce for you and your family. It’ll save money on grocery shopping, and you’ll have a delicious, homegrown food source to enjoy. 

10. Solar Power

Solar panels are probably the most typical green design ideas for sustainable housing— and they’re just as good for the environment as they are for your wallet.

While the upfront installation cost is rather steep, the average household can save between $10,000 and $30,000 throughout the solar panel system’s lifetime. 

There are many benefits of adding solar panels to make your house more sustainable and energy-efficient, including:

If you’re interested in purchasing solar panels, you may be eligible for federal grants and tax credits to help with the initial costs of installation.

Green Designs: Built to Last

Whichever way you decide to build your sustainable housing, make sure to put durability at the forefront of your green design. Sometimes it’s worth it to spend more on solid craftsmanship and materials that require few repairs or replacements. Most importantly, build a green home you’ll love for years to come.

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