5 Must-Haves for an Eco-Friendly Home Design
Building a new home? Renovating? House hunting? More than likely, if you’re doing any of the above, you’re well aware that eco-friendly design has joined the ranks of square footage, school system, and natural light as a major priority for homeowners. This isn’t really surprising; advances in technology and materials, shifting tastes, and a growing awareness of the impact lifestyle has on the environment have all converged, creating a situation in which it’s possible to be stylish, cost-conscious, and in sync with the environment all at the same time.
So, let’s assume you don’t want to hop onto the “tiny house” bandwagon and move into a place small enough that you can raid the fridge, do the laundry, and mow the lawn all without getting out of bed. What are some eco-friendly home amenities you can incorporate into the design of your normal-sized home to enjoy your home life more, be kind to Earth, and save money on your utility bills?
“Smart-home” is a buzzword almost as buzzy as “eco-friendly,” and at first the two might not seem related. Smart-home is all about telling an unseen digital concierge to order more toilet paper or turn up your favorite Rihanna jam without lifting a finger, right? Yes, but it’s also all about saving energy. Face it, you’re not going to remember to ease up on the A.C. or the heat every time you leave the house. You’re not exactly batting a thousand at flipping the light switch when you walk from one room to the next. So why not have a home that does all that for you? Geofencing technology and simple motion sensors can make sure you’re not heating or cooling an empty home and that you’re never wasting energy when you’re fast asleep. Plus, watching lights turn on and off as you move from one room to the next makes you feel kind of like Michael Jackson in the “Billie Jean” video. (Google it if you’re under 40.)
Of all the ways to relax and rejuvenate at home, a steam shower is the most eco-friendly house design feature. It turns out that 20 minutes of immersion in soothing, aromatically-infused, healthy steam only consumes 1 ½ gallons of water. Compare that to the 100 gallons required to fill a large jet-spa tub or 17 gallons just to take a garden-variety, eight-minute shower.
And steam offers so many potential wellness benefits—including helping to alleviate muscle soreness, relaxing the mind, soothing the symptoms of a cold, improving skin, and much more—it would be hard to imagine 1 ½ gallons better spent. With components for a small steam shower retrofit beginning at around $3,000, a steam shower is also among one of the most cost-effective additions you can make to your home.
If you have trouble keeping that fern at your office alive, this might not be the one for you, but several companies have emerged that will design and install a wall of greenery in your home—a beautiful, natural, oxygenating alternative to a wide-screen TV or a bunch of portraits of your family. (Heck, you know what your kids look like anyway.) Depending on where you live, you might find your wall bedecked with bromeliads, begonias, succulents, or moss. Like steam showers, living walls are engineered to consume water sparingly, while bestowing a range of benefits that include reduced air pollution, increased well-being, soundproofing, and insulation (a living wall can reduce the temperature of a room by 4 to 6 degrees.)
Green roofs are a larger-scale version of the same concept, transforming what is often wasted space into urban meadows that extend the life of buildings, capture water runoff, reduce air pollution, cool interiors naturally (reducing the need for air-conditioning by up to 33 percent), and bringing natural beauty to an overlooked—but ubiquitous—facet of the urban landscape.
In 2021, environmental virtue is sexy and imperfection connotes authenticity. Nowhere is this expressed better than in the admirable trend toward recycled, upcycled, and reclaimed building materials. There’s no reason for trees to die so that you can have a wood floor—not when the old basketball court from the local high school is being auctioned off.
Or if sneaker scuff isn’t your jam, consider bamboo: the world’s fastest-growing grass (that’s right, grass), it makes an incredibly durable and beautiful alternative to wood as a material of choice for flooring. Barns, boardwalks, and warehouses are all options for creating a floor with history and personality. But why stop there? Old bricks from the demolished firehouse, industrial-chic window frames from the decommissioned factory, or vintage tile in every imaginable shape and pattern—all of it is finding its way into stylish homes rather than landfills. And that’s a good thing.
The good old American lawn—bright green, perfectly square, kept alive via relentless irrigation and petrochemicals, mown weekly with a gas mower and rarely put to any use whatsoever—feels like a vestige of a different time. Today, homeowners are bringing their landscaping in line with the environment, choosing sustainable vegetation that reflects the ecosystem in which they live, and finding a more unique and versatile way to beautify their outside space.
The state of California, in response to its years-long drought, began offering financial incentives to homeowners willing to replace their conventional lawns with plants more suitable to a desert environment. The resulting lawns, resplendent with desert succulents, dune sedge, and cacti, resulted in an artful new approach to landscaping and put thousands of dollars into homeowners’ pockets, not to mention what they saved on their water bill. Similar movements are underway all over the country and the world.
What are you waiting for?
Sustainable architecture and interior design might be the most important real estate trend in decades. And it’s no fad: the conversation about climate change is only growing more urgent. The cost savings of energy efficiency are becoming self-evident. But your home needn’t have been designed from the ground up with sustainability in mind in order for you to reap the benefits of eco-friendly design. Whether it’s choosing an ultra-efficient steam shower over a large tub, or installing LEDs in place of incandescent lights, small changes can make a big difference. So, homeowner, go forth and be green!