Sustainable Home Design Basics

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As the United States seeks to rely less on finite energy sources, sustainability is becoming more important. According to a McGraw Hill report, an estimated 40 percent of the housing market will consist of green, single-family homes by 2018, and sustainable features will be present in 84 percent of all residential construction. Understanding sustainable home design, as well as LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) standards, is critical for those entering construction management.

What Is Sustainable Home Design?

Sustainable homes have a low reliance on fossil fuels and other nonrenewable energy sources, and use the environment and resources available on the building site effectively. Sustainable homes typically:

  • Are energy-efficient
  • Are well-insulated
  • Use natural light and heating and cooling methods
  • Impact the native environment with as little disruption as possible
  • Reduce the carbon footprint of the home and the family living there

Not only are sustainable homes good for the environment, they’re also good for homeowners. Because they are energy-efficient, for example, heating and cooling is much less expensive. In fact, a LEED-certified home typically uses between 30 and 60 percent less energy than a standard home, which can result in thousands of dollars of savings over several years.

Essential Principles of Sustainable Home Design

While there are a number of online resources about how to design sustainable homes (EcoHome and the Whole Building Design Guide are both good starting points), sustainable home design can be summarized in seven principles.

Energy Efficiency

Using less energy reduces not just the cost to the homeowner, but also the carbon footprint of the house. Energy-efficient appliances are a necessity in sustainable home design, as are materials that insulate the house efficiently.

Passive Design

Heating is typically the single largest energy expense for a family, and passive design can help. Construction managers should position the house as well as windows and other features to take advantage of the site’s natural sunlight. Operable windows, thermal chimneys and materials that prevent wild temperature fluctuations can help heat or cool a house without turning to the heater or air conditioner.

Size

Sustainable homes are smaller. Larger homes are much harder to heat and cool, requiring significantly more energy. A larger home uses more materials and causes more disruption to the surrounding environment.

Waste Reduction

Using recycled or repurposed materials in home design can decrease the need for additional materials. By adhering to optimum value engineering, a construction manager can maximize the existing materials, create an energy-efficient home and save on materials and labor costs during construction.

Green Products

Using reclaimed or local products in construction can reduce the energy (and money) required to bring them to the site. In addition, careful planning can prevent ordering additional materials that might go to waste.

Water Conservation

Sewage treatment can cause toxic byproducts that harm the environment, and bringing potable water to some locations can have enormous costs in money and energy. To help mitigate this, a sustainable home should recycle and reuse water wherever possible.

Flexibility

Building a home that can accommodate family changes improves sustainability. If a family knows it will need room later for children or relatives, building the house with that in mind prevents or reduces additional construction. Creating the infrastructure for an additional bathroom now can improve long-term sustainability by minimizing the impact of future modifications to the house.

An online construction management degree from PhilaU can help you learn the principles of sustainable home design. Study in a flexible, online environment with a schedule that fits your life.

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