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
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,
“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
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
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
“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.