The first glass window was manufactured in England in the early 17th century.
Indoor plumbing became a widespread feature in homes in the early-mid 1900s. Central air conditioning began replacing window units in the 1970s, and air conditioning became Freon-free in the mid 1990s when we found out Freon was destroying the ozone layer.
These are all developments that responded to the needs of the times they occurred in. They’ve also improved the experience of living in our homes.
Glass windows protect homes and occupants from outside elements. Indoor plumbing addresses a number of public and private sanitation issues. And getting rid of Freon has allowed us to make refrigerators a bit more sustainable.
Today we are faced with the question of how we will adapt to the demands of climate change as a collective society. How we build our homes could significantly impact our progress.
If more widely adopted, here are some eco-friendly home features that could greatly influence our efforts against climate change:
1. Geothermal Heating and Cooling
The technology behind geothermal works with the natural processes of the Earth. One manufacturer, WaterFurnace describes how no matter the climate you live in or what season it is, the temperature below ground stays fairly consistent all year. This phenomenon happens because the ground absorbs about 47% of the sun’s heat as it hits the Earth’s surface. Geothermal systems tap into this energy with a series of underground pipes which provide your home with an “infinite’ energy source for heating, air conditioning and hot water.
Because geothermal utilizes the free renewable solar energy stored in your backyard and under your home, it reduces your home’s energy costs and greenhouse emissions. You can calculate your potential savings here.
According to Energy Informative, geothermal possesses massive utility potential with estimates of two terawatts of available energy. It’s also more reliable for meeting the base load of energy demand in comparison to wind and solar.
2. Solar Power Systems
Probably the best known eco-friendly home improvement feature, solar power remains a great way to increase a residential building’s green points — and property value. Until 2017 the residential market for solar power grew by over 50% every year for years before taking a temporary dive. The market rebounded in 2018 with a 7% growth with smaller markets hitting an all time high of 25%.
In addition to reducing your home’s carbon emissions, adding solar power options to your home while still having access to the grid electricity, basically provides you with free energy after paying the installation costs.
When you Google “solar panels,” the search engine provides an estimate of how much money you’d likely save based on your location. In some locations with more data, Google provides estimates of how much you’d likely pay in up-front costs and what your monthly bill might be.
3. Rainharvest Systems
Harvesting rainwater is simply the collection of water from where rain falls and storing it for later use. There are a variety of capture techniques for different residential areas, home types and local regulations.
By capturing rainwater, we can reduce our reliance on water storage dams, reservoirs and other large-scale freshwater collection systems that stress our environment. It can also minimize the threat of overloading stormwater systems in our neighborhoods.
For everything you need to harvest rain, except the rain, RainHarvest Systems provides an extensive collection of complete systems, accessories, filtration gadgets, pumps, controllers, storage and more.
4. Solar Water Heaters
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, there are two types of solar water heating systems: active and passive. Active systems utilize circulating pumps and controls. Passive systems don’t.
Because sunshine is the energy source of these hot water systems — and sunshine is free and renewable — solar water-heating can be great for your wallet and the ozone layer.
5. Greywater Collection
The water used by your dishwasher and washing machine doesn’t all need to go waste after the cycle is done. Some of the excess run-off that’s too dirty to drink or bathe with is clean enough to be used for things like outdoor irrigation and extra water for your toilet. This water is called greywater, and collecting it is a great way to conserve your home’s water use.
If you’re interested in upgrading the sustainability of your home with greywater collection, it’s best to first contact your local government water authorities to find out more about what’s needed for installation. You can also check out Water Wise Group to see if they provide installation and product options for your area.
6. Passive Housing Construction
In 2018 the U.S. Energy Information Administration reported that air conditioning consumed about 377 billion kilowatthours [kWh] of energy that year — approximately 9% of that year’s total electricity usage.
Over three decades ago, physicists at Lund University in Sweden developed an approach to building that removed the need for “active heating.” This concept eventually developed into the Passivhaus standard. Built correctly, a passive house can reduce heating and air conditioning use by 90%.
The Passive House Institute bases their approach on thermal insulation, passive house windows, ventilation heat recovery, airtightness of the building and absence of thermal bridges. In addition to significantly reducing your carbon output and risk of leaking toxic hydrofluorocarbons into the atmosphere, basing your home design on this approach can save you tens of thousands of dollars on energy costs over time.
If you’re interested in this approach, check out:
Passive House Institute (PHI)
Passive House Institute US (PHIUS)
International Passive House Association
New York Passive House
New York State Energy Research and Development Authority
North American Passive House Network
Passive House Academy
Passive House California
Passive House Western Pennsylvania
If you own a free-standing wood stove or low temperature stove, this nifty yet simple accessory could reduce your home’s heating costs and greenhouse emissions.
Designed to sit on top of your stove, the Ecofan uses “thermoelectric technology” to turn the heat from the stove into electricity to power itself. The fan then circulates the warm air from the stove throughout the living space and helps reduce the amount of heat that would escape through the chimney without it. This heats up and maintains the warmth of a living space faster and more consistently.
It’s more of a niche home accessory than design feature, but an eco-must-have in homes with a wood stove.
Why Eco-Friendly Homes Are So Important
As climate change becomes an increasingly urgent issue, outfitting our homes with Earth-friendly features comes with a number of benefits for the planet and for us. Across the board, renewable energy lowers our energy costs, can raise our property values and significantly reduce our carbon output.
What’s not to like about aligning our homes with the needs of today?
Download Our Free Guide to Sustainable Living.
From reducing waste to recycling and upcycling, our e-book shows simple ways to make choices you can feel good about.