What Does the Future of Sustainable Housing Look Like?

townhouses - what does the future of sustainable housing look like

America is facing a housing shortage and has fallen 3.8 million properties short of meeting needs. The demand is greater than the supply, causing rising prices, and the pandemic is adding to the problem. 

As more people began working remotely, they relocated to suburban areas. COVID-19 also led to inventory shortages caused by people who stayed home sick, causing delays in production and the supply chain. Prices for materials increased, adding to scarcity concerns. 

Another cause is the many millennials now entering the market. In 2019, their ages ranged from 23 to 38, so some are buying their first home or expanding their families.  

Loosening zoning laws and financial incentives can help with these issues. Another strategy is creating more sustainable homes, which waste less energy and materials. Lower building costs and energy-efficient features could make these houses more affordable. Here’s what sustainable housing will look like in the future. 

Considering a Home’s Orientation 

Building a new home gives contractors a chance to work with the sun. In northern climates, orientate the house to capture the most sunlight and better heat the home. Make certain high-traffic areas of the house, such as the kitchen, directly face the sun at the times it needs it most.

A homebuilder in the southern U.S., on the other hand, could use thick thermal mass walls to regulate interior temperature and consider shade options, like pergolas and sun shades, to stay cool in the summer. Once the home is in place, add solar panels to the roof to capture plenty of light. 

Solar panels reduce our reliance on fossil fuels and save money on your electric bill. In fact, you can save $10,000-$30,0000 on electricity over your lifetime. Solar panels may have a higher upfront cost, but tax incentives can help balance things out. 

Adding Insulation 

Insulation is essential to keep a home at a consistent temperature. It blocks heat from entering in the summer and traps heat during the winter. In a well-insulated home, you won’t need to crank your air conditioner, which releases greenhouse gases.  

Insulation is also important in order to reduce energy leaks. Insulate critical areas in your home, such as basements, crawl spaces, floors and attics.  

You have various choices, including fiberglass, spray foam, cellulose and mineral wool, and each has its strengths. For example, spray foam is good for small spaces and is resistant to moisture and insects, making it ideal for attics, walls or crawl spaces. Fiberglass is a popular selection for homeowners and is cost-effective. You can place it almost anywhere, such as on interior walls. 

Once you determine the right material for the job, keep in mind there are various forms, including: 

  • Rigid board: It is made of polyurethane or extruded polystyrene (XPS) and is ideal for areas that face extreme temperatures. 
  • Foam: You can spray this option into small areas like attics, walls and floors. 
  • Blankets: These come precut in a wide range of materials. 
  • Blown-in and loose-fill: This adds extra protection to walls and attic insulation. Professionals blow in loose particles above existing insulation. 
  • Reflective: It has foil, cardboard or polyurethane layers to reflect the heat from the walls and ceilings. 

If you can, find environmentally friendly materials for insulation. Seal windows and doors to make the insulation more effective.

Green roofs can improve insulation, as well. The plants absorb sunlight and can reduce carbon emissions. They even remove some toxic chemicals from the air and enhance your property’s curb appeal. In addition, they can lower your energy bills.  

Using the Right Materials 

Material selection is an essential part of the construction process. Planning helps keep the project on schedule. In fact, it takes about seven months for a single-family home to be built.

Start by using natural materials, such as hemp and wood. These absorb carbon from the air as they grow. A home in Cambridgeshire, for example, Flat House on Margent Farm, is made from timber filled with hemp mulch. 

Another idea is using recycled material, such as brick, stone or glass. Doing so prevents materials from ending up in landfills and releasing methane gases. To further reduce waste, save supplies from demolition, such as cabinets. 

Here are a few more green materials to consider in home construction: 

  • Cob 
  • Bamboo 
  • Cork 
  • Recycled steel 
  • Sheep’s wool 

Try to limit your use of concrete, which is a carbon-intensive material. In fact, each pound of it releases 0.93 pounds of carbon dioxide. If you need to use it, add supplementary, more eco-friendly materials like fly ash. 

Decarbonizing and Installing Energy-Efficient Features 

light fixture - what does the future of sustainable housing look like

Heating and cooling require a large amount of energy, especially for families in larger homes. Heat pumps are a great eco-friendly system because they take warmth from the ground or from the air instead of burning gas or another fossil fuel. They redistribute this air using refrigerant devices circulating between the indoor fan and outdoor compressor. 

In the summer, the heat pump takes the warmth from your home and carries it outdoors. In the winter, it absorbs the warmth from the air or ground and releases it indoors. The systems require less maintenance and can be safer. The downside is the higher initial price of $2,00-$5,500 for an air-source unit. 

Consider energy-efficient lighting. Having the proper lighting can brighten up your home and increase its value. Add layers, including the main types: 

  • Ambient: This soft lighting enhances the overall space and sets the mood. 
  • General: This combines multiple sources but is mainly overhead. 
  • Task: It’s lighting in an area where a specific task is performed, such as under kitchen cabinets. 
  • Accent: These are used as decorative features. 

Consider a statement piece, such as a chandelier. Make it more sustainable by switching to LED bulbs, which are energy-efficient and long-lasting.  

You can also install Energy Star-rated appliances in your kitchen. Consider stainless steel, which is durable and works well for modern homes. 

Lowering Transportation Emissions 

Vehicles can create tons of carbon emissions. Location is critical when builders are deciding where to situate new homes. Finding a place near public transportation, like trains, can minimize car use. It may encourage people to ride bikes or even walk if there are clear pathways.  

The future of sustainable housing will mean the whole community gets involved and shares resources. For example, neighbors could carpool to work or social outings.  

Another sustainable strategy is the use of electric cars. Consider this in the design stage and include charging ports near garages.  

Creating Smart Homes 

A smart home has internet-enabled appliances that you can control remotely through a networked device. Smart devices allow for more efficient processes and reduce energy consumption.

For example, a smart thermostat learns your ideal temperature preferences. It can also save energy by automatically lowering when you leave the house. Some smart washing machines can conserve water. The convenient thing is you can control these devices directly from your phone.  

Here are a few devices to consider adding to your home: 

  • Plugs
  • Lighting 
  • Speaker 
  • Security camera 
  • Refrigerator  

The Future of Sustainable Housing 

Today we face a housing crisis with low inventory and rising prices. One way to help is by creating more affordable green homes. These can reduce waste and lower energy consumption.

There are many ways to develop eco-friendly houses, such as using the right materials and considering the placement. The impacts of climate change make it essential to think about how we can build a future through sustainable housing. 

Feature image: Jack Prommel; Image 1: Chris Haws

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