15 Tips for Building a Custom Eco-Friendly Home

If you’ve always wanted to have new custom homes built to your specifications instead of purchasing a pre-made house, you might be wondering what steps you can take to ensure that the building process and the home itself won’t create any additional burdens on our already overwhelmed environment. Of course, with so many alternative building materials and environmentally friendly design methods to choose from, nowadays there’s really no excuse for building a home that isn’t completely carbon neutral.

In fact, there are even some features that can be added to your home to ensure that not only is it not harming the environment but it’s also helping it by acting as an ideal place for recycling, gardening, composting, and other eco-friendly activities and hobbies. With that said, here are 15 tips you can use to make your custom home more eco-friendly:

1. Install a Renewable Energy Source Like Solar Panels

First and foremost, since your home’s source of electricity will usually be its largest impact on the environment, it’s best to start by planning for the installation of a solar panel system that will sufficiently meet your basic energy needs. As an added benefit, you could tie your system into the grid and receive a check from the local utility company that pays you for the excess power your system produces but doesn’t use.

The most recent “Shining Cities” report from the Environment California Research & Policy Center, states that there are more new solar installations in San Diego than in any other American city. According to reps from Semper Solaris, one of the best solar companies in San Diego in terms of reputation and service selection, the state’s mandatory requirement for solar systems in all newly built homes means that any custom home built in the region MUST be equipped with solar panels. Case in point, similar regulations are likely to be introduced around the nation, so you might as well stay ahead of the curve and prepare to have solar panels installed.

2. Have a Designated Compost Area

Recycling is great for the environment and it’s even better when you’re able to let natural decomposition do the job in your backyard. If you think about it, this is the cleanest form of recycling because it doesn’t require any machine-driven waste transportation or processing. Of course, it also provides the benefit of giving you a potent compost mixture that can be used to fertilize your garden plants for optimal plant nutrition and harvest results.

Thus, every eco-friendly home should have a designated compost area that is strategically located to allow for the simplified sorting and dumping of biodegradable materials. If you’re not familiar with the art of composting and you call yourself eco-friendly, now is the time to learn about it.

3. Use Eco-Friendly Building Materials

One crucial aspect of an eco-friendly building that you shouldn’t forget to overlook is the kind of building materials used in the construction of your custom home. There is an abundance of options

that are more eco-friendly than the conventional materials used in residential construction, and some of them are even more cost-effective.

Perhaps the most environmentally conscious way to build a custom home is to construct it using rammed earth or adobe that is made using resources found on the same land where the home is being built. Using on-site materials is a great way to reduce the carbon footprint of your custom home-building project by reducing the need to transport materials to the site.

4. Avoid Conventional Woodstoves and Fireplaces

While old-fashioned woodstoves and fireplaces certainly set a rustic and natural mood, they’re not exactly great for the environment. Burning wood produces unhealthy smoke that contributes to global carbon emissions and is also bad for your health when inhaled.

Plus, every year a percentage of forest fires are caused by fireplaces and woodstoves, so you’d be contributing to the risk of one of the most damaging natural disasters. Instead of using primitive fuel sources like wood or gas to start a fire, consider using only electric heating systems that are powered by renewable energy sources such as solar panels or wind turbines.

5. Build a Rocket Mass Heater

If you absolutely insist on having the ability to burn wood or other combustible fuel sources for heat, building a rocket mass heater would be your best bet. In fact, having this kind of heat source on standby is a good backup option to have in the event of an emergency power outage or solar panel system problems.

A rocket mass heater is the cleanest and most efficient way to generate heat from fire because it wastes the least amount of heat, and the smoke is filtered through a series of vents to the point where only steam comes out of the chimney. Since rocket mass heaters don’t generate smoke trails, this is also a fun DIY project that will teach you a survival method for building your own stealth heat source during an emergency.

6. Optimize Insulation for Energy Efficiency

When it comes to optimizing a home’s energy efficiency, few factors are more important than insulation because it directly affects the structure’s ability to maintain a stable indoor temperature. In terms of choosing the right insulation material and installation procedure, the two factors you want to consider are the eco-friendliness of the material itself and the overall efficacy of its insulative properties.

Some eco-friendly insulation options to consider include wool, cellulose insulation, and cotton. If you’re looking for on-site materials that you can use to build a small temporary structure, you might want to consider using rammed earth and grass to make your own primitive insulation. However, for a long-term home or larger structure, it’s best to go with official sources of insulation that are made from recycled materials.

7. Build a Garden or Greenhouse

What could be more eco-friendly than growing your own food? Depending on the global agricultural and grocery industry is obviously not the environmentally friend thing to do, because you’re contributing to a system that consumes an absurd amount fuel, water, and other limited resources to produce, package, transport, and sell food items.

By building a greenhouse or garden on your property, you give yourself a solid foundation for leading a sustainable and self-sufficient lifestyle. That way, you’re not just another simpleton creating an extra burden on the ecosystem. Plus, eating highly nutritious, organic, home-grown foods can improve your quality of life and strengthen your resistance to disease, so you’ll be one less person burdening your country’s healthcare system.

8. Use Sunlight to Reduce Artificial Lighting Usage

One of the best ways to reduce your custom home’s energy consumption is to use strategically placed windows and skylights to let in maximum sunlight. That way, you can essentially eliminate the need for artificial lighting during the day in most areas of the home. You may even want to look into automated curtain actuators or smart glass windows to gain better control over how much light you’re letting in. Electrochromic glass panels let you adjust the level of tint instantly using a remote control. This functionality is particularly useful because it gives you the ability to use sunlight much like a dimmable bulb, freely increasing or decreasing brightness as needed. Plus, the glass can block harmful UV rays, letting you get more direct sunlight without the potential risks of over-exposure.

9. Opt for EnergyStar Certified Appliances and Windows

Ideally, your entire home should operate on EnergyStar certified technology. You’ve probably seen this label on products before, especially household appliances. This certification simply means that the product has been extensively tested and has proven itself as one of the most energy efficient models in its category.

You may also want to opt for EnergyStar certified doors and windows and have the installations performed by an accredited installer. Studies have shown that improperly sealed doors and windows are one of the leading causes of poor home insulation, which leads to a substantial loss of energy efficiency.

10. Make Sure the Duct System is Well-Sealed

Once you’ve gotten your EnergyStar certified doors and windows installed and sealed properly, it’s time to make sure your duct system is also airtight. This is a commonly overlooked concern that’s definitely worth consideration because more than 20% of homes have duct leaks.

Many construction workers tend to zoom through the duct installation and don’t do extensive testing to make sure the system is fully enclosed. Many contractors will only measure air resistance and force on the exhaust to ensure that adequate airflow is being pushed through the ducts. Be sure to hire a professional to inspect your ducting system and detect/repair any air leaks.

11. Install Water-Efficient Faucets

Limiting your home’s water usage is another way to ensure eco-friendliness. The easiest way to do this is to install efficient faucets that only release water while you’re suing the sink. You’ve probably seen these at restaurants before – you wave your hands in front of a motion sensor that activates the faucet. Despite their technological complexity, these faucets are quite easy to install and have become relatively affordable in recent years.

12. Go with Dual-Flush Toilets

A dual-flush toilet gives you two option for flushing – one for flushing liquid waste only (which uses less water) and one for flushing solid waste (which uses more water). With these toilets you can reduce your home’s water usage significantly on an annual basis by reducing the amount of water your toilet uses by up to 80%. If you’re building a custom home in today’s day and age, it doesn’t really make sense to install a conventional toilet because dual-flush systems will most likely become the norm in the next 5-10 years anyway.

13. Have an Organized Recycling Area

Every eco-friendly home should have a designated area and system in place that simplifies and streamlines the sorting and disposal of recyclable waste. Generally speaking, ideal spots for this could be in your garage, driveway, side yard, or backyard – anywhere that’s in close proximity to the living area yet somewhat out of sight. In essence, you want your home to make recycling an easy and enjoyable process.

14. Use Plant-Based Finishes

If you’ve covered all the bases except for which kind of paints and finishes you’re going to use, be aware that there are a number of organic and all-natural finishes that are much better for the environment than standard house coatings. It’s also worth mentioning that these products are generally safer for your health as well. Milk paint and earth pigments are prime examples. Check out this list of eco-friendly paint types for more examples of non-toxic paints and finishes.

15.Make Your Yard Eco-Friendly

While it can be difficult to imagine a beautiful yard without a lush green lawn, as a truly environmentally conscious individual, it would only make sense to opt for recyclable artificial turf instead. While this issue is often overlooked, the amount of water, fuel, and resources consumed every year from lawncare activities alone has a significant negative impact on the environment. By opting for native plants or artificial turf, you’re helping the environment while also greatly reducing the need for ongoing lawn maintenance.

Eco-Friendly Homes are the Future of Residential Architecture

As the world population continues to increase rapidly in the face of climate change concerns, we really can’t afford to keep building inefficient structures that drain resources unnecessarily. Instead, most industries are moving towards more sustainable approaches. The residential housing sector seems to

be particularly in tune with the needs of consumers since homes are often built around the preferences of the homeowner.

As the upcoming generation of millennials and first-time homebuyers tend to lean towards the eco-conscious side of the spectrum, it makes sense that homes will continue to become cleaner and more efficient as time passes. Plus, all environmental issues aside, logic tends to prevail in most industries, so building more efficient homes is the next sensible step in the evolution of the modern construction industry.

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