The Ultimate Guide to Sustainable Home Options for New Homeowners
By Evelyn Long, editor-in-chief of Renovated
Homeownership is quite the leap to take in life since it involves making countless decisions. There’s the matter of where, when and how, but future householders should also think about the what. What kind of home do they want to have? What should they prioritize when getting a new place to live?
Sustainable homes are lauded for their impact on minimizing environmental impact, which makes them a popular possibility among future property owners. Plus, there are various housing options available.
See our resource hub: Sustainable Construction: A Comprehensive Guide
Sustainable housing is seeing a rise in demand, which is more than understandable. Heating and cooling are responsible for 45% of the total energy consumption in residential sectors. In addition to that, many greener buildings are estimated to have higher sales prices than most conventional buildings. Thus, looking at a sustainable house is a good option when viewing a home as an investment opportunity.
Many homeowners are choosing energy-efficient housing for utility savings. Integrating solar energy panels is becoming more common — there’s been a 6% increase in the number of people who sought installation since 2019. Living walls are also garnering plenty of interest in interior design thanks to how aesthetically pleasing they can look.
Different Sustainable Home Options
Developments in the construction industry introduce a wide selection of sustainable housing options. While it is true that there are many benefits to sustainable housing, it’s also key to check the advantages and disadvantages of those offerings. After all, each type of housing can differ from one another in terms of price, availability, and other factors.
A modular home is one of the most popular sustainable housing options. Parts of this type of prefabricated home are built in home-building factories away from the site and assembled in the preferred location of a homeowner.
Many other eco-friendly home options are compared to modular housing as these structures have been around for quite some time, generally used for residential purposes. Designs of modular homes between 1908 and 1940 were meant for post-war housing, arriving complete with the necessary materials for setting them up, much like they do now.
Pros: Modular housing components are designed to have no excess material since the parts are made precisely. Aside from their sustainability, these homes require minimal maintenance in the long run. The materials are constructed to last without having to expend more energy and product.
Cons: Modular homes are built in different locations, but they have limitations in terms of loading and transferring. Unlike motor trailers, these homes are more delicate when moving. Modular housing also comes in standardized designs. For customization, it’s important to discuss the possibilities with an expert.
Manufactured homes are a modern version of mobile homes from the 1970s. Much like a modular home, the elements of a manufactured property are pre-fabricated. However, these structures typically come assembled to the site.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development clarifies that they do not issue certification labels for housing of this nature if it was built before the enforcement of the Manufacture Home Construction and Safety Standards in 1976. When looking at this housing option, it’s recommended to have one constructed now versus purchasing an older model.
Pros: Apart from its aforementioned mobility, manufactured housing has an energy-conservative construction method thanks to prefabrication. It’s also more affordable in comparison to site-built homes. While the latter can cost up to $144 per square foot, the former can go as low as $67 per square foot, depending on the area.
Cons: Manufactured homes can raise question as to whether they’re real housing or not. They’re often compared more to live-in vehicles due to how they are transferred from site to site. When getting financing or ordering this type of housing, it’s important to have a plot of land ready to serve as a foundation for where the manufactured home is initially based.
Shipping containers are quite the spectacle in housing, as it’s a total wonder as to how a transport freight can turn into a living space. The idea first came in the 1960s in an essay regarding container ports before it was turned into a real structure by Phillip Clark in 1987.
Now, many people are turning to shipping container homes. The appeal can come from the creative aspect — there are various inspirational pieces online about turning such a common structure into an interior design masterpiece.
Pros: Converting shipping containers into homes is a quick way to recycle a considerable amount of steel, as the construction process has a shorter timeframe compared to other choices. Since the vessel itself is available and in demand by homeowners, it’s simple to get ahold of these as well.
Cons: Shipping containers have a long lifespan but tend to require more maintenance since the steel is prone to rusting over time. In addition, reinforcements are necessary to ensure a home can fit the state’s zoning laws where the property will be. These regulations may have a say in where construction companies can build and the overall sizing.
The tiny house movement is a key part of sustainable housing since it operates on the notion of using as few resources as possible. However, it first began more as a social revolution for minimalism. With the cost of living constantly increasing, people wondered how they could juggle housing, debt and other expenses.
Jay Shafer answered the question in 1997 by making a tiny home on wheels and beginning the movement. Many homeowners look forward to building their own version of a tiny house, with similar properties created nationwide.
Pros: The tiny home movement embodies sustainability through less energy and water use. This housing option is also suitable for those who would like a lifestyle where they only need a small living area. Compact spaces mean spending less on furnishing and maintenance, as well as a lower inclination to buy more objects.
Cons: Space is an advantage for those who tend to be more claustrophobic, but it’s more important to look at the up-front costs. Although tiny homes seem to be the epitome of saving finds, around 68% of tiny homeowners paid an average of $23,000 in cash for the property, as financing is hard to achieve.
Learn more at Living Big in a Tiny House
Straw bale is an abundant building material in the construction industry, but it wasn’t always the main option. The straw mixes with other materials for insulation in walls and roofing, but the construction industry discovered its potential for sustainable housing back in the 1990s.
Pros: Two hundred million tons of straw are burned in the United States, which can create quite a lot of waste and emit greenhouse gasses. Their incorporation into housing construction is as sustainable as one can get. Additionally, the noise control in a straw bale home is rather exceptional, which explains why recording studios also utilize this substance.
Cons: While it is true that the raw material of a straw bale house is inexpensive, standard code-approved construction can amount to $88,000 without taxes and other expenses. New homeowners should also consider proper maintenance costs, as straw bale is susceptible to water damage without the right support.
The first geodesic dome was originally a planetarium after World War 1 before it was utilized for military, industrial and residential uses. It’s deemed an architectural masterpiece since its shape stands out in comparison to rectangular houses.
Pros: Domes are versatile in terms of the material used. For instance, it’s possible to make a dome out of earthbags with the right plans and tools. When constructed right, this type of sustainable housing has high structural integrity with moderate climate-resilient levels.
Cons: Dome structures are quite popular among DIYers and budding builders, but the disadvantage can lie in the quality of the work. A lack of experience and inexact measurements can lead to a longer building time frame, higher costs, and excess material.
The humble log cabin doesn’t have to be small or by the forest anymore. It’s a plus that this type of housing is certified green by the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Green Building Rating System.
Pros: Wood contains thermal mass, which offers natural insulation through the collection and storage of energy radiated throughout the home. The lumber also contributes to the improved landscaping of this sustainable home.
Cons: Log homes require paint and stain to attain a nice finish, but some of these building materials can be non-toxic. They also cost more to build than conventional homes due to the price of materials and labor.
Earthship homes are an experimental housing design that leans into sustainability the most. Creating this type of property can vary, as everyone has their own version, but Michael Reynolds is recognized as the person who started the trend in 1970 in Taos, New Mexico. His goal is to combine contemporary living with environmental friendliness.
Pros: Earthships can contain various materials, unlike other sustainable housing options that rely on one material. People can recycle aluminum soda cans, car tires and other waste as a part of their building structure. Homeowners living in such properties also commit to the idea of sustainability by installing water collection and treatment features.
Cons: Earthships project a lower resale value due to their location in low-populated areas. This housing option also tends to skimp on living space due to some limitations on what materials are incorporated into the construction.
Deciding on a Sustainable Home Option
Determining what eco-friendly house you want to go with takes contemplation since every homeowner has their priorities regarding home construction, budget, location and more. Explore the options available and join in on making the world more sustainable.
About the Author
Evelyn Long is a writer and the editor-in-chief of Renovated. Her work has been published by NCCER, Build Magazine and other online publications.