There’s no question that buying a new home is expensive, and the selling price is just the tip of the iceberg. You’ll also have to factor in taxes and fees, closing costs, moving costs, decorating and furnishing your new home; and then the long-term costs of running a home such as repairs and maintenance, utilities, and energy costs.
At first glance, eco-friendly homes may appear to cost more than similar homes without eco-friendly features. While you may be inclined to skip looking at such homes in favor of less expensive designs, this is short-sighted. Eco-friendly home designs are no longer an outlier, which means they are more affordable than ever. Builders and homebuyers alike realize the benefits of maintaining our natural resources and minimizing the human impact on the environment, and eco-conscious home design is one way to do that.
What was once thought of as “eco-friendly” is now standard as environmentally conscious home design has become commonplace. Examples include high-efficiency appliances, furnaces, and A/C units; as well as enhanced insulation materials, thermal windows, and low-flow toilets and sinks. Believe it or not, there was a time that these features were considered upgrades. Today? They are just part and parcel of what you’ll get in a new home design. This is great news for homebuyers who want to make eco-conscious and sustainable choices. It means you don’t have to look far to find homes that have far less impact on the environment than you’d expect.
A home is a major investment, so of course you want to maximize your dollars and buy the best home you can afford. But it’s also a long-term investment, which means you need to look beyond the purchase price to determine how much home you can afford month-to-month and year-to-year. Sustainable, eco-friendly home designs can help you better manage the long-term costs of a home because they reduce your future expenses, even if they appear to cost more upfront than less eco-friendly options.
Eco-friendly features make a good selling point, too. According to the National Association of Realtors’ 2018 report on sustainability in home design, 69% [of members] noted that promoting energy efficiency in listings was very or somewhat valuable to them” and that among agents and brokers, “70% said that energy efficiency promotion in listings was very or somewhat valuable.”
Custom home builder Jon Schoenheider, Owner of Regency Builders Inc., Milwaukee, Wis., agrees, noting that the demand is there: “ It’s become recognized that eco-friendly construction is no longer an option, but a necessity when building for a custom home buyer.”
This makes eco-friendly home design not only a smart choice now, but also in the future.
5 Eco-Friendly Home Features
So, what are some eco-friendly home features that can help lower your on-going homeownership costs? Below are 5 features that all support sustainable home design.
1. Energy Efficient Appliances
Without question, energy efficient appliances top the list. They’re so common I almost didn’t include them, but there’s always a chance you’ll run into a builder that might offer less efficient appliances in a home, so it’s worth a mention. Washers, dryers, furnaces, water heaters, air conditioners, refrigerators, dishwashers, toilets and sinks all make the list. Be sure to check the yellow Energy Guide label on the appliance; this will give you an estimate of the appliance’s annual operating cost and how it compares to similar models. Refrigerators use the most energy of all the appliances, so if you have to pick and choose which appliances will or won’t be energy efficient, get the most energy-efficient fridge that you can.
2. Passive Solar Features
The phrase “Everything old is new again” comes to mind whenever I think about passive solar design. Back before homes had central A/C or even central heating, they were designed to take advantage of the sun’s rays to heat and cool a home. That means large south-facing windows to capture the low-in-the-sky winter sun, but also having a large overhang to minimize the high-in-the-sky summer sun’s heat transfer. Windows were placed opposite one another to encourage airflow. Trees were planted strategically to provide shade and/or protection from harsh winds. These are all examples of passive solar design that don’t cost anything; they’re just a conscientious way of designing a home to work with Mother Nature, not against her. When done well, they absolutely help you save money on heating and cooling costs.
3. Reclaimed Materials
The use of reclaimed and local materials is one of the hottest trends in home design today; the shiplap siding trend is one example. Utilizing reclaimed materials reduces what gets sent to the landfill, which in turn reduces demand for raw natural resources that must be harvested and then manufactured. Additionally, local materials save on shipping and transportation costs, which reduces the amount of carbon released into the atmosphere.
4. Renewable Energy Source
This one is tricky and likely the most expensive of the eco-friendly features. Renewable energy sources like solar and wind-powered homes or geothermal heating aren’t mainstream yet, so expect to pay more for these features. However, if you love the idea of solar or wind power but can’t afford to add panels or turbines to your home, look into energy providers. Gas and electric companies have begun adding solar and wind power to their power supply. Sometimes it’s automatically included in your service, but in other cases, you need to opt-in to receive energy from solar or wind power.
5. Smart Tech
Many of the smart home and technology options on the market today can help you run a more efficient home. A smart thermostat, also called a smart meter, can help maintain the temperature of your home based on time of day, lowering the temperature when you’re away and turning it back up when you’re returning from work. Heating and cooling will be one of your biggest ongoing costs, but a smart thermostat, can help you control those costs. Similarly, smart lighting systems and using LED bulbs can help keep a lid on energy costs.
Go Green Every Day
Once you move into your new home, there are plenty of simple ways you can live a greener life.
Make Smart Use of Heating and A/C
Don’t automatically reach for the thermostat. Think about using fans, opening and closing windows, and installing thermal window treatments to maintain a comfortable home.
Use Natural Cleaners to Keep Your New Home Clean
You don’t have to make your own cleaners (although baking soda and vinegar can be used for just about anything!). Seventh Generation, Mrs. Meyers, Method, and even major brands like Clorox all clean without harsh chemicals.
Think Outside the Home Too
Skip the weed killer and fertilizer on the lawn. Watering the lawn is the biggest use of water – and the most wasteful. Landscape for your climate, use native plants, and compost leaves and grass clippings for a more eco-friendly yard.
Living sustainably is easier than ever thanks to consumer demand and concern for the environment, and builders are responding. If eco-friendly features are important to you, don’t be afraid to ask about them. You may be surprised by what you find.
Liyya Hassanali is a Project Manager and Content Strategist for Kinship Design Marketing, a boutique agency that provides marketing strategies and content for architects, interior designers, and landscape designers. She is a 15+ year veteran of the marketing and advertising industry, working closely with her clients to provide written content that meets their marketing goals and gets results.
Liyya is passionate about home design and décor and is a confessed HGTV and Pinterest addict. When not providing content writing services for her clients, she can be found browsing home décor sites or spending time with her family.