In keeping with the trend toward green-friendly lifestyles, many people are now looking to get back to the basics, creating an energy-efficient and sustainable home for their families. Though building sustainable homes requires more thought, planning, and—often—money, homeowners and builders are coming up with more and more ways to cut costs when building a sustainable home.
Determine what type of sustainable house you wish to build. Options include "earthships," a name given to a housing model developed from recycled and often found local materials and completely self-sufficient in terms of water and energy supply; underground homes, which are highly energy efficient, and more mainstream models that include solar panels, concrete insulation options and on-site wells.
Meet with a sustainable design team and work on home design plans based on your preferences and desires for your sustainable lifestyle. Many companies work with homeowners on getting the design and planning phase off the ground, even if you want to try doing most of the building yourself.
Choose local materials to build with—you will save fossil fuel in what it would cost to transport building materials from other regions. Concrete foundations and walls are especially effective in conserving energy and finances—concrete is cheap, you can generally mix it yourself and it will build a strong and lasting home. You can dress concrete walls up with beautiful and colorful stucco layering to add aesthetic enhancement. Build floors and porches from found local wood, and use recycled glass for windows.
Create a means by which your home will obtain and conserve energy. This may involve solar panels (which can be costly to purchase but will save you a significant amount in the long run from the energy you will conserve), compact fluorescent light bulbs and energy-efficient front-loading washers and dryers. You might also want to forgo expensive and energy-consuming appliances, such as dishwashers.
Add the finishing touches to your home, such as doors, furniture, etc., keeping these final additions all-natural (made of natural, local, non-man-made materials). Look into working with local artisans and builders on keeping costs low and perhaps acting as an apprentice to work together on the last phase of making your sustainable house your new home.
Alissa Kinney is a full-time professional in the communications field, with an AB from Brown University and an MA in Writing & Publishing from Emerson College. She has years of experience as an editor and writer, and has been published in The Blue Doors, Our Town Brookline, Art New England and Body + Soul.