An eco-friendly house is a type of house that utilizes significantly fewer resources than a traditional one.
Eco-friendly houses consume energy and water more efficiently than their conventional counterparts.
To make this happen, factors like building orientation, geometry/shape, building envelope, window-to-wall ratio, shading & daylighting need to be planned in great detail.
Consequently, planning and design are the most important stages in building an eco-friendly home.
What are the advantages of eco-friendly houses?
Eco-friendly houses offer various benefits.
Unfortunately, most people are not aware of what they can gain by building an eco-friendly home, so the demand for this kind of building is still very low compared to average or mediocre ones.
The truth is that everyone can build an eco-friendly house. All one needs is to do proper research and apply the right principles.
The most important benefits you should know about are:
Excellent energy efficiency
Eco-friendly houses have smaller heating and cooling demands, therefore they need smaller heating and cooling systems.
Also, eco-friendly houses integrate innovative design features to further reduce energy consumption.
For instance, in an eco-friendly house, the smart use of daylight significantly reduces the amount of power used in the lighting systems.
Over time, this alone helps homeowners to save a considerable amount of money on energy bills.
Sidenote: more daylight cannot be achieved by simply making larger windows. In fact, this comes with 2 problems...
First: larger windows introduce energy losses that must be compensated by using better glass and better window frames.
Second: the larger glazed area can lead to overheating in summer, depending on the orientation of the building.
The correct design of the building is therefore super important to avoid catastrophic consequences to the energy balance and indoor climate.
Less running costs
As a consequence of the high energy efficiency, utility bills are generally very small or non-existent.
Keep in mind that, to minimize the consumption of electricity, you will need to invest in energy-efficient solutions such as Energy Star appliances and high-efficiency HVAC systems.
This, together with high-performance building components, calls for a higher investment cost but it leads to a house that consumes very little energy and it will cost less to run.
Sidenote: you should not look only at the cost for building the house. That's just one part of the equation, the part that will determine the amount of your monthly mortgage rate.
In the end, you want to minimize your monthly expenses, which are given by the sum of the monthly mortgage rate + utilities.
Increasing the monthly mortgage rate by, for example, 20% and bringing the utilities close to zero, will generally play in your favor.
Better indoor comfort
The environment where you live influences your mental state.
Eco-friendly houses generally use wood as construction material, no toxic products, and are developed in a way to promote healthy well-being.
Living in an eco-friendly house can influence your social life as well as the quality of your living standards.
You'll have plenty of natural lighting, high quality of air, a soothing indoor environment, and a more uniform and controlled temperature level.
Human comfort is a subjective matter. However, there are two major factors that affect human comfort experienced in an indoor environment: temperature and humidity.
Most surveys agree on the fact that people feel comfortable within the temperatures of 22 °C - 27 °C with a humidity level of 40% - 60%.
These levels of temperature and humidity can only be achieved by having good control of the indoor environment.
To guarantee that, we need to use:
- sufficient insulation;
- high performing glazed surfaces;
- airtight construction
- controlled mechanical ventilation.
This way, the temperature of the interior surfaces will be kept stable and the humidity level will be under control, reducing to almost zero the possibility of mold growth.
Healthier indoor environment
Many traditional construction materials aren't healthy at all.
For instance, volatile organic compounds(VOCs) are considered to be carcinogens and paints and plastic building materials contain a lot of contaminants.
Also, certain construction materials are very vulnerable to the buildup of moisture which helps to grow toxic mold and mildew.
There is a lot of risk with mold and mildew since they can trigger serious breathing problems and sometimes even cardiac arrest.
When designing an eco-friendly house, you should strive to adopt materials that are non-VOC and are moisture-resistant.
How can eco-friendly houses use fewer resources?
Eco-friendly houses leverage integrated design where all building envelope is designed to work together with all the technical installations (heating, ventilation, how-water, electrical, ...).
When systems are correctly dimensioned to work in synergy, they can use less energy, water, and any other resource.
Although this approach needs more front-end planning, it also leads to passive solutions which can reduce significantly energy demand.
For example, an integrated design could reveal how a slight change in the orientation of a building can reduce the solar heat gain and increase natural daylight, which can help to invest in less expensive HVAC and lighting systems.
Also, most materials used to create eco-friendly houses typically consist of renewable or recycled resources.
Such materials are environmentally friendly since its impacts are calculated over the product 's entire lifespan.
Sidenote: as climate changes, the construction industry accounts for as much as 40% of man-made carbon emissions.
Both governments and individuals are starting to take the issue more seriously and trying to find out ways to reduce environmental footprint.
Building more eco-friendly houses can help with that.
Is an eco-friendly house more expensive?
A lot of people believe that building an eco-friendly house cost a lot more than regular houses.
But is it really so?
Provided one recruits the right experts, an eco-friendly house can cost the same (and sometimes even less) than a conventional house.
After all, being eco-friendly is a lot about optimizing spaces and reducing the carbon footprint... so why should it cost more?
Since eco-friendly houses are designed from scratch as buildings that need to be efficient, there are a few costs (mainly design and consulting) that need to be covered upfront.
This may scare away some people from ever taking this road.
Also, as the house needs more energy-efficient building materials and better technical installations, the investment in the building phase is generally higher... and this is what confuses people.
As discussed above, the house ends up consuming less energy and the upfront investment will pay off immediately.
What are the criteria used to assess an eco-friendly house?
Eco-friendly buildings are evaluated on multiple parameters.
The most important assessment criteria are:
- site planning, building design;
- preservation of topsoil and sorting waste for recycling during the construction;
- heating, air-conditioning, ventilation, lighting and electrical and water heating systems;
- renewable energy-based water heating system like solar water heaters;
- optimization of building design to reduce demand for grid energy;
- using renewable energy-based systems to generate energy;
- water and waste management;
- selection of ecologically sustainable materials for construction;
- improving overall indoor environmental quality;
- improving indoor thermal quality;
- improving indoor air quality;
- conservation of soil during construction and proper topsoil for plant vegetation.
Depending on the specific project, different priorities can be assigned to the various items of the list above.
For most people, the important aspects are just indoor comfort and a healthy indoor environment + the increased energy efficiency... and all the rest is only a bonus.
Can eco-friendly houses be built in different climate zones?
Eco-friendly houses can be built in any climate zone.
However, for the building to "work" properly, it is essential to have a thorough understanding of the climate-response of the building itself.
In other words, a house designed to be built in Norway cannot be built in Spain and expected to deliver the same results in terms of energy performance and indoor comfort.
Different humidity, temperature range, solar irradiation, will require using entirely different construction technologies to achieve longevity and efficiency.
When you know your climate zone well, you can select processes and technologies that are safe, and efficient to have an overall energy-efficient building envelope.
Sidenote: you cannot design or build an eco-friendly home without the help of experts.
Who decides if a house is “eco-friendly”?
So far we have discussed the most important characteristics of eco-friendly houses.
But at the end of the day who decides if a house is “eco-friendly”?
Again, for most people this is quite irrelevant... they just want a high-performing house that runs of nearly zero energy. That's totally fine.
Just be aware of scams!
A lot of contractors claim the houses they build are eco-friendly since they used salvaged tiles for a portion of a bathroom, or they have used native plants to plant the backyard.
Of course they do this so they can could these houses for a more expensive price.
...but you understand this brings none of the benefits we talked about in this article and it is a pure and simple fraud.
Fortunately, there are third-party rating systems that help us grading houses for the combination of certain features.
To name a few, Energuide, R-2000, Passivhaus, LEED are amongst the most reliable rating systems used to assess different house projects.
One doesn't necessarily need to get a certificate (since it comes for a price) but knowing the house is designed according to those standards is enough to put the building in a category of its own.
An eco-friendly house is a building that is not a burden, neither for the environment nor for the owner’s wallet.
Building and living in eco-friendly houses saves resources and helps the environment.
People living in these houses are generally physically and psychologically healthier individuals.
To build such a house, one should carefully evaluate a number of aspects, especially in the planning & design phase of the project.
The most critical parts of the puzzle are (in this order):
- the building components (walls, roof, foundation);
- the windows and doors;
- the heating system and ventilation;
- the lighting & on-site energy production;
- the recycling of water;
- soil & landscape preservation.
If you are on a budget or you want to address just some of the aspects of an eco-friendly home, this is the list you should follow.
Living in a house like this pays off the effort of building it, in every possible way.
We believe that soon enough eco-friendly houses will be a more common practice and will continue positively changing people’s lives in the 21st century and further.
If you want more information or you have any other kind of question, feel free to reach out to us.