Custom homes have a unique place in the world of new construction, offering an opportunity for experimentation with new eco-friendly materials and design trends that could eventually become common in all newly built homes. At the same time, architects and builders need to match their interest in green design with the desires of their customers.
“The buyers that I work with are mostly interested in sustainability, in building homes that will withstand the elements and last over time,” says Marnie Oursler, host of DIY Network’s “Big Beach Builds” and CEO of Marnie Custom Homes in Bethany Beach, Del.
For other custom home buyers, priorities include building residences that are in tune with nature and yet embrace smart technology for greater energy efficiency.
While energy efficiency is at the forefront of most green design trends, custom home builders can take efficiency and sustainability to a new level. Let’s take a look at five recent eco-friendly custom home trends:
- Battery-operated homes
- Designing homes for wellness
- Smart Home technology for energy efficiency
- Sustainable materials
- Modular construction
1. Battery-operated homes with the help of Tesla
The Net-Zero Energy Coalition estimates that there are 5,000 single-family homes in the United States that use only as much energy as the home generates. Now, net-zero homes have been “perfected,” according to John Rowland, president of S2A Modular, the builders of the #GreenLuxHome.
“These homes are 100 percent self-sustaining, which means they don’t need any electricity or gas from the grid and are completely solar- and battery-operated,” Rowland says. “The Tesla Powerwall is great, but it was meant as a back-up battery, so we figured out a way to make a completely off-grid house through a combination of the Tesla battery, solar panels and a net-zero home design.”
S2A Modular recently built a custom home with 18 solar panels and two Tesla Powerwalls, each of which is a lithium ion battery that measures about 3.5 feet by 2.5 feet by 6 inches and can store additional energy generated by solar panels. Energy-efficient components, extra insulation and the architectural design ensure the house needs less energy, too.
“In the past, people with solar panels would have to buy utilities when the sun went down, but this system stores enough power that it would work for a week or more even without any sun,” Rowland says.
2. Homes designed for wellness and to embrace nature
While sustainable buildings are important, new emphasis is being placed on the people who live in them, says Ricardo Santa Cruz, president and CEO of RSC and the founding partner of Mandarina, a community of custom homes under construction in Riviera Nayarit, Mexico.
“There are studies about the importance of lighting, air quality and water quality to people’s mental and physical health,” Santa Cruz says. “For example, the homes at Mandarina are designed with a circadian lighting system, which is known to increase productivity and mental clarity and improve moods.”
The way homes interact with nature impacts how you feel in them, he says. At Mandarina, for example, the homes are meant to be embedded in nature. “We designed the homes and the site to have the least environmental impact and to give users the greatest experience of being in total communion with nature,” Santa Cruz says.
For example, the community has only one-lane roads in a circuit, which saved 50 percent of the trees that would have had to be cut down. The homes are set between a mountainous jungle and the Pacific Ocean, often designed around trees or with trees left in place even if that means their ocean view includes branches, leaves and birds.
“When you keep nature in mind during the design process, it pays off,” Santa Cruz says. “The living spaces of these homes can be entirely opened to the outdoors to connect with nature.”
3. Smart home technology for energy efficiency
Voice-activated smart home features are not only a huge convenience, but they increase the ability of homeowners to reduce their utility usage, says Rowland.
For example, in a 2,500-square-foot house with eight zones of air conditioning, homeowners can easily use voice-controlled apps so they only use electricity where needed.
“Smart home technology immediately delivers higher home values and lower energy costs,” Rowland says.
4. Sustainable materials that will stand the test of time
While energy efficiency matters, Oursler says that custom home buyers at the beach are most concerned about building an environmentally friendly house that will resist the damaging effects of wind, water, salt and sun.
“Sustainable products like fiber cement siding or NuCedar are strong and dense, which makes them durable and energy-efficient,” Oursler says. “They’re finished in the factory, which means they won’t fade, either.”
The combination of durable exterior materials, extra insulation and energy-efficient windows and doors helps make homes airtight. In addition, buyers can opt for highly efficient heat pumps to reduce their energy consumption.
“The landscaping we choose includes indigenous plants, which means the environment will take care of them and no one needs to waste a lot of water on them,” Oursler says.
5. Modular construction for reduced waste, greater energy efficiency and enhanced safety
S2A Modular’s MegaFactory produces modular pieces for custom-designed solar- and Tesla-powered homes as well as for residential communities and commercial use. Custom home builders around the country use prefabricated walls and more to create environmentally friendly yet architecturally interesting homes.
“The big advantage to building with modular construction is that much of the work is being done in a controlled environment,” Rowland says. “There are no weather delays and by the time the lumber is delivered to the building site, it’s weatherproof, so you don’t need to worry about mold or anything else.”
There’s typically less wasted material in the factory, compared with site-built homes. An electrically self-sustaining house using modular construction means there’s no need for gas in the house, which reduces the danger of carbon monoxide poisoning.
Whether Tesla Powerwalls and modular construction will be widely used remains to be seen, but smart home automation, sustainable products and building in tune with nature are already making their way from the custom home world into other residential communities.
Michele Lerner is an award-winning freelance writer, editor and author who has been writing about real estate, personal finance and business topics for more than two decades.