How to Prioritise Sustainability in Your Home Build
When you design and build a new home, you get to set the priorities for your new living space. For example, you might want the feeling of absolute luxury that comes from oversized rooms and ultra-high-end finishes. Or you may want to challenge architectural traditions and set new building standards with a truly unique modern home design.
Whatever your priorities are, they should be used to guide all the decisions that go into creating your new home. From the floorplan to the material and colour palette, every element should be chosen in line with your overarching design principles. Your vision and goals should also underpin every step of the construction process, from preparing the site to the final handover.
Such a holistic approach is particularly important if you want sustainability to be a key feature of your new home. Here we explore how to do this, including the practical steps you need to take throughout the design and build process. We also share our advice on the best ways to maximise efficiency and minimise the impact of your design.
READ > What is a Passive House?
What makes a home sustainable?
As interest in sustainability has grown and evolved over the last couple of decades, so has our definition of the concept. It was once quite a specific term, with energy efficiency being the key focus. Now, it broadly applies to a range of factors that contribute to the total environmental cost of a structure.
In addition to energy efficiency, sustainability now considers how efficiently all natural resources are used. It also measures the total consumption of resources, both during the construction phase and ongoing. And it assesses where those resources come from, with renewable options being the strong preference.
More recently, longevity and resilience have also started being seen as elements of sustainability. This is an acknowledgement of the significant impact the need for regular repairs or replacement will have on resource consumption. Importantly, it also adds a measure of quality and reinforces the need to take a longer-term view of sustainability.
With all this in mind, a truly sustainable home is one that is considered and deliberate in its resource use. It is designed to operate efficiently and is highly tailored to the lifestyle and requirements of its inhabitants. It is also built to maintain its optimal efficiency over the long term, with limited need for ongoing maintenance.
Reducing, reusing, and recycling
To embed sustainability within a new home’s design, it must be a key consideration from the earliest stages. For example, the location and orientation of your home should be chosen to optimise natural light and ventilation. This will improve the liveability of the home and should reduce the need for heating and cooling.
You should also carefully consider the size of home you need and the layout that best supports how you live. While it is important to have enough space for your whole family, the overall footprint should closely fit your lifestyle. This means avoiding wasted space, as it unnecessarily increases the building materials required and your ongoing heating and cooling requirements.
There are also several more advanced concepts, like creating a thermal mass, which can significantly increase the sustainability of a home. A good custom home builder will understand these and be able to help you incorporate them into your design. They should also be able to recommend ways to achieve your preferred style (e.g. a French Provincial home), without compromising on your sustainability goals.
It is also worth noting that if you are planning to knockdown and rebuild, this creates some unique sustainability considerations. Unlike a renovation, choosing to knockdown and rebuild allows you to really put sustainability at the core of your design. For example, you can use all the latest materials and techniques to make sure your new home is highly efficient.
However, the process can have a significant environmental impact, creating a lot of waste and consuming a lot of new material. To help minimise this, consider whether you can salvage or reuse any of the material from the existing structure. In addition to being more sustainable, this is a great way to acknowledge and celebrate the history of the property.
High performance products
When deciding on the materials for your new home, it is easy to focus on the more obvious choices. After all, you will see the floors, tiles, and benchtops you pick every day that you live there. However, it is the more structural components that will have the biggest impact on your new home’s sustainability.
For example, opting for higher quality insulation will significantly increase the thermal protection your home offers. Also, choosing to install insulation throughout the whole structure, including under the floors, will reduce the potential for heat loss. This will help keep your new home at a more consistent temperature, reducing the need for heating and cooling.
Similarly, most new build homes in Australia feature single glazed windows and glass panelling, which offer minimal thermal protection. As such, upgrading to higher quality double glazed – or, even better, thermally broken – windows is a worthwhile investment. In addition to helping retain more heat energy, these windows also offer greater sound protection, making the home environment quieter and more comfortable.
In addition to minimising their consumption, most sustainable homes now have some capacity to generate or store resources. Generally, this is used to further increase their efficiency and, at least partially, offset their environmental impact. That said, some homeowners go a step further and set up their new home to be completely self-reliant and off-grid.
Rooftop solar systems have long been a staple of sustainable design, allowing homes to generate their own electricity. Recent advances in battery systems have complemented this, enabling excess energy to be stored and improving the resilience of the home’s power supply. When used in combination, these technologies enable homes to easily produce between 75% and 100% of their energy requirements.
Water storage has also become a common feature of sustainable home designs, allowing rainwater to be captured and used. This is increasingly being paired with wastewater collection and recycling systems to reduce the home’s total water consumption. These are particularly important measures here in Australia, where water is a truly precious resource, particularly in times of drought.
Other ways to boost your new home’s sustainability
Quite often, improving the sustainability of a home design requires many small changes which combine to make a big difference. As such, making sustainability a priority for your new home really requires a strong focus on the little details. In particular, we recommend you give careful consideration to your new home’s:
Fixtures and fittings: The energy efficiency of your home appliances will have a major impact on your new home’s total energy requirements. As such, when picking your appliances, you should pay close attention to their energy ratings – noting that the higher, the better. You may also want to consider choosing low-flow tapware and showerheads to help minimise your new home’s water usage.
Landscaping: In addition to helping ground a new home, well-designed landscaping can also offset some of the impacts of construction. Installing a drip irrigation system will make caring for your new greenery easier while helping minimise water wastage. You may also want to consider a grey water system for your new garden to further minimise your water consumption.
Painting: While they have evolved significantly over the last 50 years, traditional paint products still contain several environmentally damaging chemicals. However, some manufacturers are committed to making a difference and now produce eco-paints, which are much less toxic. Many of these products also absorb pollutants, which means they could help improve the air quality in your new home.
Waste management: By now, we all understand the importance of separating our household waste and recycling as much as possible. To make this easier, when designing your new kitchen, consider including a built-in waste management system. This could be as simple as having two separate bins – one for waste, one for recycling – built into your cabinetry.
Home automation: While primarily designed to improve liveability, smart home systems can also help you monitor and manage your electricity usage. As smart lighting and smart switches provide remote control, they minimise the risk of accidentally leaving something on all day. And smart heating and cooling systems can be set up to efficiently maintain your optimal home climate.
Want to discuss this further?
If you need help keeping sustainability at the heart of your new home plans, give Carmel Homes a call. As one of the leading custom home builders in Melbourne, we know how to develop and deliver highly efficient designs. We also have significant experience working with the most popular architectural styles, from French Provincial homes to more modern home designs.