First published on Zillow Blog
It takes a little science and a little art to design a beautiful, livable new home that's energy-efficient, uses less material to build, and connects with its building site.
Those are some of the major ingredients of good design - and essential ingredients of "green" design.
But beautiful design can be skin deep and sometimes "green" is too. An energy-efficient home isn't just matter of more insulation and better windows; a truly green home is green from the inside out; meaning that the "green" can't be separated from the "home".
Sure, you can make any house more energy-efficient, but that's usually just cosmetic surgery. Loading up a house with energy-saving gadgets helps a little, but a green home is born that way, starting before the design was just a twinkle in the Architect's eye.
If you're thinking of bringing a new green home into the world, here are (five) simple ways to make sure you conceive one that has green in its DNA.
1 - Face The Sun
Wherever in the world you live, your building site gets more sunshine from some directions than from others. Using the free energy from the sun means putting your windows where they can gather sunlight.
Properly placed, windows that direct solar energy into a home can contribute significantly to winter heating – and add joy and comfort as well.
If you think that will affect how living spaces are arranged in your design, give yourself ten points – you've already begun to see the relationship between environment and design.
2 - Shade It
Those same sun-facing windows of course might also be a liability in the summer, when your air conditioner is struggling to expel that excess heat from the home.
The "gadget" response to this is expensive window glass that reflects some of the heat energy, but solar shading is a better solution.
The difference in the sun's angle above the horizon in winter and summer allows overhangs and other simple shading devices to block the harshest summer sun while admitting the winter sun. Warm sun in the winter, cool shade in the summer – and less energy used…perfect!
3 - Shape It
Remember eighth-grade geometry, when you and your friends wondered why you had to learn this stuff? ‘Cause you'd never ever need it…ever?
Your education is about to pay off big time – because geometry makes some house shapes more energy-efficient than others.
A circle – as you recall – encloses the greatest amount of area in the least perimeter, right? And while you're probably not going to build a circular house, a square's an efficient shape, too. The less exterior wall area you have, the less opportunity your hard-won energy has to trickle out.
That's not to say you can skimp on insulation – that's a critical component – but start with less wall area and you'll be way ahead.
4 - Against The Wind
As much as sunlight brings warmth into your home, wind draws it out. "Wind chill" affects houses, too.
Windows are the biggest culprits, so place those away from the winter winds (often the west or northwest side). The windiest side is also a great place for utility rooms, garages, closets, and other spaces where sunlight and comforts aren't important.
Shielding a home from winter winds isn't a new idea – take a drive out in the country and see how many old farmhouses are built on the east or southeast sides of thick stands of trees. You might not have a forest on your property, but a little earth-berming and some evergreen landscaping can have the same effect.
5 - Get Small(er)
This one's easy – a smaller house uses less energy. And done right, a smaller home can be even more livable than a larger one.
Most homes today are filled with underused and wasted space. Thinking hard about how your home supports your daily life can reveal areas that you rarely use – but heat and cool anyway. Saving space is very green!
If you're going to deliver a new home into the world, make sure it welcomes the sun, uses energy wisely, and isn't bigger than it needs to be – give it "green" DNA!