How to Build an Eco-Friendly Home

How to Build an Eco Friendly Home

So you own a land property and are ready to build a home, but want to make sure it’s eco-friendly. Do you know how to do it?


With the rise in awareness of climate change and the waste that commercial and residential homes and buildings expend, it is becoming a much higher priority for many landowners to keep eco-efficiency in mind when constructing new buildings. Not only is it helpful to the environment, but it can help homeowners’ wallets as well.


New construction is currently responsible for almost 40% of carbon emissions. The use of green building materials and methods can stem those carbon emissions and drastically reduce the environmental problems being caused by construction projects, as well as the lifelong emissions a home expends.



Why Build an Eco-Friendly Home?


If you’re reading this article, you may already know about the importance of building an eco-friendly home. But here are some helpful reminders about the benefits:

  • 1. Recycling materials during construction not only helps protect the local environment, but it allows for the materials to be reused and repurposed, saving the need for further material collection.
  • 2. Increased efficiency of energy and water helps save personal energy costs over time. A heavier investment in eco-friendly structures at the onset will pay off in the months and years to follow.
  • 3. The federal government and most states offer tax incentives for reduction of waste and the use of clean energy.
  • 4. Green construction typically means sourcing and purchasing local goods for materials. This not only promotes the local economy but also minimizes shipping costs, time, and fuel consumption.
  • 5. Traditional building materials can sometimes contain compounds which are dangerous to the health of individuals living in the home. Many of these materials can also contribute to mold and mildew problems if moisture buildup occurs.


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How to Build an Eco-Friendly Home Part 1 – Location and Planning


Just like in real estate, the first factor to consider in the construction of your eco-friendly home is location. Annette Wiley, award-winning architect from Wiley Architects, advises to consider location as a crucial aspect of your building process.


“Plan your home’s orientation on the site and its building design to take advantage of the climate with natural ventilation, daylighting and sun control to maintain warmth in winter and avoid heat in the summer. The most energy efficient home doesn’t need lights on during the day and uses natural ventilation for cooling and good insulation to maintain warmth.”


The location in relation to the source of your building resources, as well as the community in which you will one day live and work in, should be considered as well. The less distance, the better. This will help reduce your carbon footprint both during construction and over the lifetime of living at the location. Shorter distances also allow for walking or biking rather than driving vehicles.


Bryan Henson, President of Allen Construction, agrees in the importance of homesite. Not only is it important to factor where the lot is, but how the home is situated on the lot. “Since the first 10% of a home’s design determines 70% of its energy efficiency, it is essential for an architect to consider a) the home’s orientation on the lot for passive solar heating and cooling as well as availability of natural light; b) how to take advantage of naturally cooling breezes; and, 3) the type of building materials used and the qualities these materials bring to the project’s energy efficiency.”


Bryan also speaks highly of the importance of building a smart team to lead the planning process from the onset. “Having the project team – owner, architect, and builder – on board and setting energy efficiency goals (as well as other green attributes) early is important. That way everyone is working towards the same end goals and making an effort for all decisions throughout the project to adhere to these goals.” This is particularly important for larger projects.

How to Build an Eco-Friendly Home Part 2 – Water


Jessica Winstead of SERVIZ, a Home Services company, believes the key to an eco-friendly home is to start with the rooms that will use the most water. “To design a home from the ground up that’s energy efficient, the most important rooms to think of are the kitchen, bathroom and laundry room since they tend to use the most.” She offers the following tips:


  • 1. Water efficient aerators in the kitchen can reduce consumption of water by 40%, and given the relative savings, are inexpensive.
  • 2. Install a compost system to help save gallons of water used by garbage disposals.
  • 3. Ensure that fixtures are labeled with the WaterSense label to make sure they have low water flow, particularly for bathroom showerheads, faucets, and toilets. Aim for low-flow showerheads, dual flush toilets, and localized on-demand water heaters.
  • 4. Laundry rooms should have the newest machines, preferably an Energy Star model, and a plumber installed system that re-routes graywater from your washer to your lawn.


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How to Build an Eco-Friendly Home Part 3 – Air and Structure


Carl Seville, building expert with SK Collaborative, has recommendations related to air and structure that can provide serious efficiency. He describes eco-friendly construction as “a big important question that can take a book”, but simplifies per below:


  • 1. Define the building enclosure that keeps the outside out and inside in – including moisture management (rain) temperature (insulation and air sealing) and vapor management to keep humidity under control and avoid moisture damage inside walls.
  • 2. Make it durable through proper material selection and building techniques to limit maintenance and repair material and costs.
  • 3. Create high quality indoor air through a properly designed and sized HVAC system, bath and kitchen ventilation, and whole house ventilation to keep the air healthy and fresh.
  • 4. Keep out pollutants including VOCs, toxic additives to building materials and furniture such as urea formaldehyde, avoid fireplaces unless they are sealed and direct vent.
  • 5. Provide outdoor living spaces such as porches and decks that do not need HVAC; provide operable windows for ventilation with screens if necessary.
  • 6. Make it beautiful so its occupants will like it and not tear it down or remodel it too often.


Allyson Acker, of Premier Copper Products, adds that copper is a smart material to use when constructing a home. Copper is naturally antimicrobial, rust-resistant, and is extremely recyclable. As materials go, copper is relatively expensive, but it is also one of the highest quality materials available to green builders.


Common Mistakes


Of course, with every type of construction there are some common pitfalls, which should be avoided. Here are a few of the worst ones you may encounter:


  • 1. First things first— many forget to start planning for eco-friendly construction from the very beginning. This is a mistake as a plan and solid construction team is important, and the building foundation is literally the bedrock of a green home.
  • 2. Choosing the wrong fixtures can be a killer when it comes utility time. A greedy HVAC system, faucets, and non-efficient lighting can lead to higher electricity and water bills and waste precious resources. HVAC is the most important fixture to consider in this, as it is the single most expensive fixture in the home in terms of bills.
  • 3. Poor design decisions regarding placement of HVAC systems and water heaters in the context of where the air and water is actually going to be used.
  • 4. Using traditional building materials. Again, this can lead to mold, moisture buildup, and other significant health issues in the long term.
  • 5. Not taking water management into account. Buildings which catch water can have erosion and water damage over time.

Final Thoughts


Building an eco-friendly home is no longer only for the rich—it is an affordable and attainable goal to shoot for when constructing a new building on your land property. Consider these construction tips not only to help the environment, but to help your wallet. Saving energy over time means saving costs, and the early cost/labor investments can pay off substantially over the lifetime of a building.


If you have any other tips to add, please share in the comments below!



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Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons | W. L. Tarbert, Michael Klajban, flickr | BAKOKO

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