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The future of the sustainable house

Last Updated Nov 23, 2016


What is the future of the sustainable house? Sustainable housing is a growing trend and houses of the future are more likely to be built with sustainable design and materials.

If one thing has been holding home builders back, it has been the perceived cost of building a sustainable home. While a sustainable house can cost more initially, the benefits of sustainable living far outweigh any initial costs.

  1. What is Sustainable Design?
  2. Sustainable Technology is Here Today
  3. Sustainable Landscaping
  4. The Ultimate Sustainable House
  5. The Future of the Sustainable House

What is Sustainable Design?

Sustainable design can be summarised as a design that strives to use as few resources as possible. A sustainable home will use less water and electricity than a conventional home.

Without spending more on solar panels or water collection systems, you can build a more sustainable home for the same price as a conventional home:

  • North facing living rooms and bedrooms can take advantage of the winter sun
  • Overhangs can prevent the summer sun from heating the home interior
  • Good insulation prevents heat transfer into the home
  • Shade prevents walls and windows that face the sun from absorbing solar heat
  • Good ventilation allows breezes to cool the home
  • Light colours reflect heat. Dark colours absorb heat

Sustainable design is not a new concept. It was done in the past, but when cheap electricity and water became available, some of the concepts were forgotten. Today, climate change is on everyone's mind and energy costs are getting higher. We are starting to think of ways to reduce our dependence on external energy sources.

More home builders are looking for sustainable design architects or building designers. They're getting easier to find, too. Sustainable design has captured the world's attention and architects, building designers and builders are studying the principles of sustainable design.

Sustainable Technology is Here Today

There is no longer a reason not to build a sustainable house. All the technology we need is here and is affordable. Solar panels, for example, used to be prohibitively expensive. They have come down in price and improved in quality.

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When you look at the cost of solar power, don't look at the initial cost. Solar panels pay for themselves over time. When buying solar panels:

  • Calculate how much electricity you use
  • Choose enough panels to cover your electricity needs (your supplier/installer can help you)
  • Purchase better quality solar panels that meet Australian and international standards
  • Check the warranty period: 25 years is common today
  • Have your panels installed by certified installers

While rebates are no longer available, if you buy good quality solar panels and have them installed by certified installers, you can qualify for small-scale technology certificates. You can exchange these with your installer and receive a discount on your installation or sell them on the open market.

Solar energy is not just for producing electricity. A solar water heater will drastically reduce the amount of electricity or gas you need to heat your water.

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Single glazed windows do little to prevent heat transference. A sustainable home will have double glazed windows and/or low-e glass:

  • Double (or triple) glazed glass has a layer of air or gas between two panes of glass. This significantly reduces heat transference
  • Low-e glass is low "emissivity" glass. Read What is Low-E Glass? for more information about the types of low-e glass that are available and why you should consider installing it.

Low-E Glass versus Double Glazing covers the benefits of both types of glass and where they should be used in the home. Basically, low-e glass is most efficient on windows that face the sun, while double-glazing is needed to prevent heat and cold transfer.

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Some other products you can buy to make your home more sustainable include:

  • Passive and active ventilation systems
  • Rainwater and greywater tanks
  • Drip irrigation for your garden
  • Low-flow toilets use less water
  • Low-flow shower heads can save you up to 5000 litres of water per year
  • Ceiling fans use far less electricity than air conditioners and can keep you cool

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Sustainable Landscaping

It's not just your house design that should be sustainable. Many gardens use far more water than is necessary. We also consume energy when we buy fruits and veggies in the supermarket. A sustainable garden should use as little water as possible. Having your own veggie garden reduces your dependence on store-bought veggies and you can create an organic vegetable garden that will provide you with most of the vegetables you need. For more tips, read How sustainable is your garden?

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Landscaping can also be used to keep your home cooler. Plants can create shade and as breezes pass through plants, the moisture in leaves cools the air. Passive Cooling Explained offers more tips on landscaping and passive cooling.

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The Ultimate Sustainable House

The ultimate sustainable house is a "Net Zero" house. Net Zero means that a house produces no greenhouse emissions. This can only be achieved if it does not rely on the electricity grid.

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A Net Zero home will produce its own electricity. Solar panels are the most common today, but wind and water turbines can also produce electricity.

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Solar panels alone may not be enough to create a Net Zero home. The house must also have a sustainable design and go beyond the basics:

  • Double glazed and low-e windows reduce heat transfer
  • Extra insulation reduces heat transfer
  • Light exterior colours reflect light and heat
  • A passive ventilation system can keep the home cooler in summer
  • Appliances should be as energy-efficient as possible (read Understanding Energy Star Rating of Electric Appliances to find out what a difference even a single Star can make)

All of these things help reduce dependence on electricity. When combined with solar panels, it's possible to achieve Net Zero emissions.

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The Future of the Sustainable House

Net Zero offices and homes used to be rare and expensive. All the technology we need is available now and as sustainable building practices become more popular, prices are coming down. A Net Zero home is no longer a pie-in-the-sky concept. It is attainable today.

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(image courtesy of Teresa Serrao Architects)

Even if you don't do everything necessary to build a Net Zero home, you can drastically reduce energy consumption by following the principles of sustainable design. It needn't cost much more than building a conventional house, but you will reap the rewards when your energy and water consumption is reduced. The future of the sustainable house is here today. All we have to do is take advantage of it.

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