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sustainable house design: building a healthier future through your home

written by: luke davies

Imagine building your dream home – the one you've meticulously planned down to the smallest details. It fulfils all your desires for comfort and style and resonates with your ethos of sustainability.

Imagine your new home with its impressive eco-house design, its walls singing a harmonious chorus with nature, its every corner whispering tales of an eco-friendly design that respects our planet's resources. Sounds intriguing? Welcome to the world of sustainable house design.

We live in an era where the environmental crisis is escalating rapidly. The construction sector has been identified as a significant contributor to the global carbon footprint. Data from the UN Environment Program states that this sector accounts for an overwhelming 39% of all global human CO2 emissions. In Australia, a quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions emanate from the construction and use of buildings. This alarming reality has led to an increasing demand for sustainable home design. More people are seeking innovative ways to construct their dream homes, while consciously minimising the environmental impact.

There is a critical need to transition away from the widespread use of unsustainable building materials and practices, towards more environmentally friendly practices. Your home can be more than bricks and mortar. It can be a testament to your commitment towards a sustainable future. Playwright Mehmet Murat Ildan said, “A house in harmony with nature is much more than a house; it is a continuation of the spirit of nature within us!”

An eco-friendly house design will incorporate this need for harmony between the environment, dwelling spaces and inhabitants. The benefits of sustainable houses are twofold. Firstly, your lifestyle is enhanced by living in a healthy, well-considered home design. Secondly, the environment is protected by adopting sustainable strategies at every stage – from the initial design and construction phases right through to the dwelling period. 

“By the end of this article, you’ll have a clear understanding of how to build your dream home in the most sustainable way possible"

what is sustainable house design?

Sustainable house design is an architectural philosophy that embraces the concepts of environmental conservation, energy efficiency, and the overall health and comfort of occupants. This can involve using environmentally friendly materials, designing homes to be energy efficient, and ensuring that homes are affordable and accessible. 

This approach to building can reduce the environmental footprint of homes, lower energy costs, and promote healthier, more sustainable communities. The essential elements that comprise sustainable home design go beyond simply incorporating renewable energy sources or water-saving fixtures. They address broader aspects such as location, selection of building materials, building processes, and the lifestyle practices of inhabitants.

  • Location and orientation – A strategically placed house that takes advantage of natural sunlight and wind patterns can drastically reduce dependence on artificial heating, cooling, and lighting.
  • Building materials and building process – Selecting environmentally friendly, locally sourced, and recyclable building materials lessens the carbon footprint associated with your home’s construction. The building process should also take into account waste minimisation and efficient use of resources, this can be achieved by considering the materials selection and sizes throughout the design to ensure minimum cutting/ waste is required.
  • Passivhaus design – Originating from Germany, the Passivhaus design concept is based on airtight building envelopes, high-quality insulation, and passive solar gain to achieve excellent thermal comfort with minimal energy usage.
  • Energy efficiency – Sustainable house designs prioritise the efficient use of energy and reduce energy consumption. Sustainable energy design might include renewable energy systems like solar panels and wind turbines, or selecting energy-efficient appliances.
  • Water efficiency – A sustainable home design also incorporates strategies to minimise water use and waste. Examples include rainwater collection and greywater recycling systems, or water-efficient appliances and fixtures.
  • Waste management – Green home design is not just about the structure; it also considers the habits of its inhabitants. Effective waste management systems, such as composting and recycling, are integral to such designs.
  • Indoor environmental quality – Creating a healthy indoor environment is a critical aspect of sustainable design. Use of low VOC (volatile organic compound) paints and finishes, ample natural light, good ventilation, and indoor plants are some strategies to improve indoor air quality.
  • Global goals – The UN Environment Program [United Nations’ Global Goals for Sustainable Development] aims to create a participatory, integrated and sustainable human settlement and to protect the world’s cultural and natural heritage.



features of a sustainable home

Sustainable house design features exist to minimise the home’s environmental footprint, maximise energy efficiency, and provide a healthy living space for occupants. The features listed below are frequently found in eco-friendly house designs.

  • Solar panels – Solar panels harness the power of the sun to generate electricity for your home, significantly reducing reliance on fossil fuel-based power sources. This can cut down your energy bills while contributing to a decrease in greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Rainwater harvesting systems – An excellent way to conserve water is to collect and store rainwater for use in the garden or for flushing toilets. This system reduces dependence on municipal water supplies, conserves a precious resource, and decreases water bills.
  • Green roofs and walls – These are roofs and walls that are covered with vegetation. They provide natural insulation, reduce heat absorption, and improve air quality. They also add aesthetic appeal to the home and provide a habitat for local fauna.
  • Sustainable building materials – The use of recycled, reclaimed, or rapidly renewable materials (like bamboo, recycled steel, and reclaimed wood) can lower the environmental impact of the home and create a unique, eco-friendly aesthetic.
  • High-performance windows – Double-glazed or triple-glazed windows, along with other types of high-performance windows, help keep the house warm in the winter and cool in the summer by reducing heat transfer. This leads to lower energy use for heating and cooling.
  • LED lighting – LED lights consume less energy and last longer than traditional incandescent bulbs. This reduces the energy usage and the waste associated with frequently replacing light bulbs.
  • Composting systems  – Composting organic waste reduces the amount of waste going to the landfill and creates nutrient-rich soil for your garden.
  • Passive design – Passive design strategies include appropriate orientation, natural ventilation, and shading. This can drastically reduce the need for artificial heating and cooling, leading to significant energy savings.
  • Insulation – High-quality insulation in the walls, roof, and floors reduces heat transfer, keeping the house warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer, which in turn reduces the need for mechanical heating or cooling.
  • High-quality building envelope and airtightness – The building envelope consists of the barriers between interiors and the outside environment, such as walls, roof and windows. A high-quality, airtight building envelope is essential to reduce the energy required for heating and cooling.
  • Small footprint homes – Smaller homes inherently have a lower environmental impact simply because they require fewer materials to build and less energy to heat and cool. A small footprint home promotes a minimalist lifestyle, reducing unnecessary consumption and waste.
  • Renewable energy sources – A truly sustainable home avoids the use of fossil fuel sources such as gas appliances. Instead, it would rely on renewable energy sources such as solar or wind power, and use electric appliances that are more energy-efficient and can be powered by these renewable sources.
  • Natural light optimisation – Optimising the use of natural light reduces the need for artificial lighting during the day, saving energy and creating a more pleasant living environment.

5 strategies to make your home sustainable

Adopting sustainable practices in house design and construction is more than just a trend – it's a necessary shift towards creating healthier living spaces and a more resilient planet. These four key strategies can make your home more sustainable.

strategy #1 – use an environmentally savvy architect 

An environmentally aware architect will be well-versed in sustainable house design principles. They will take into account the environmental impact of your home, from its planning to its long-term imprint. An eco-conscious architect will acknowledge the pressing issues of climate change and global warming, and make this awareness central to their design ethos. Your architect should prioritise the use of sustainable building materials, processes and design. Their aim should be to reduce the carbon footprint of the building over its whole lifetime, from concept to dwelling. These sustainable considerations include the way your home will interact with the environment. Eco-friendly architects will work to optimise natural light and ventilation, help you choose an appropriate site, and consider the home's impact on local ecosystems. Architects committed to sustainability may also participate in give-back programs. This could involve initiatives like [tree planting programs] to offset carbon emissions, or commitment to Global Goals or B-Corp programs that encourage sustainable business practices.

strategy #2 – create conscious design 

Conscious, sustainable design is about more than just energy efficiency and eco-friendly materials; it's about creating a harmonious connection between the home, its inhabitants, and the surrounding environment. 

  • Purpose refers to the intended use of the house. How many people will live there? What are their lifestyle needs? A sustainable design must serve its purpose effectively without excess. 
  • Landscape means considering local climate, flora and fauna, and ensuring the house is positioned to make the most of natural light and heat.
  • Function means that every aspect of the design should serve a functional purpose. This might involve clever storage solutions to reduce clutter or flexible spaces that can serve multiple purposes. 
  • Feeling is about your home becoming a joy to live in. Consideration of light, space, and materiality can create an ambience that is uplifting and restorative. 
  • Health refers to the health of the house itself and its impact on the people living there. This means ensuring good ventilation and air quality, choosing non-toxic materials, and providing plenty of access to natural light. 
  • Technology can greatly enhance the sustainability of a home. From efficient appliances and heating systems to smart home features that allow you to monitor and control energy use, the right technology can make a big difference. 

Conscious house design involves considering each of these elements throughout the process. The benefits of this approach to the customer are manifold. You’ll end up with a beautiful, comfortable home, and you’ll enjoy lower energy bills, a healthier living environment, and the peace of mind that comes from knowing you're doing your part for the planet.

strategy #3 – cohesive interiors

Creating sustainable interiors is about more than selecting eco-friendly materials and furnishings. It's a comprehensive process that involves designers and builders working together from the project's inception, ensuring that every aspect of the home's design, construction, and finish aligns with sustainable principles. A collaborative approach between designers and builders has significant environmental benefits. It enables efficient planning and minimises waste, as both parties can foresee and address potential issues before construction begins. 

strategy #4 – building biology 

Building biology (Baubiologie) principles guide the creation of living spaces that are environmentally friendly and conducive to the health and wellbeing of the occupants. Baubiologie encompasses everything from the air quality within homes to the materials used in construction, considering factors like toxicity, durability, and sustainability. A home designed with building biology principles in mind will use non-toxic, natural, and breathable materials wherever possible, ensure good air quality through effective ventilation, and be designed to minimise exposure to electromagnetic fields (EMFs).

strategy #5 – incorporate Passivhaus principles

Passivhaus is an international standard for energy-efficient buildings. Incorporating Passivhaus principles into your home design is a powerful strategy to significantly reduce its energy consumption, contribute to environmental preservation, and create a comfortable, healthy living space. The Passivhaus standard revolves around five core principles that aim to reduce the energy requirements of a building, creating a structure that is comfortable, affordable, and sustainable.

Superior insulation: Passivhaus buildings are wrapped in a continuous layer of high-quality insulation, keeping the interiors warm in winter and cool in summer without reliance on artificial heating or cooling systems.

Thermal bridge-free construction: A thermal bridge is a part of the building's structure that allows heat to escape. In Passivhaus buildings, these are minimised or eliminated, reducing heat loss and improving energy efficiency.

Air-tight construction: Airtightness is crucial to prevent unwanted drafts and energy loss. This is achieved through careful construction methods and the use of specific materials and sealing products.

High-performance windows and doors: These are essential to maintain the thermal comfort of the building, often featuring triple-glazing and insulated frames. They are also positioned to maximise the benefits of solar gain.

Mechanical ventilation with heat recovery (MVHR): This system provides a continuous supply of fresh air, improving indoor air quality. It also recovers heat from the exhaust air and uses it to warm the incoming fresh air, contributing to the building's overall energy efficiency.


How much does it cost to build a sustainable home? 

Sustainable homes may require a higher upfront investment due to the use of high-quality materials, advanced technologies and specialised construction techniques. However, they also provide long-term financial benefits and savings such as reduced energy bills, lower maintenance costs, potential tax incentives or rebates, and increased property value. The cost of building a sustainable home varies depending location, size, design complexity, and the specific sustainable features incorporated. These costs are gradually decreasing as sustainable practices become more widespread and economies of scale come into play. Remember that with any building project, there is always a cost to the environment. By choosing to build a sustainable home, you’re minimising the environmental cost. This aspect of sustainability is invaluable for mitigating climate change, protecting natural resources, and preserving the planet for future generations.

Will I have to compromise on the design?

A sustainable home doesn’t mean you have to compromise on design. In fact, sustainable design can be seamlessly integrated with your aesthetic preferences and design vision. We take great care to ensure that your preferences are fully considered and incorporated into the house design process. We work closely with you to understand your vision, style, and specific requirements, and then creatively merge those elements with sustainable design principles.

What is “Passivhaus"?

Passivhaus, also known as Passive House, is an innovative and rigorous standard for energy-efficient building design and construction. It originated in Germany in the late 1980s and has gained widespread recognition and adoption globally in recent years. Passivhaus is founded on the principle of creating buildings that require minimal energy for heating or cooling, while still providing excellent indoor comfort. The primary goal is to reduce a building's energy demand to such a degree that it can be comfortably heated or cooled using only a fraction of the energy typically required by conventional buildings. Passivhaus buildings achieve remarkable energy efficiency and significantly reduce the ecological footprint associated with heating, cooling, and overall energy consumption. 

One of the reasons behind the rise of Passivhaus in the design and construction industry is its proven track record in delivering exceptional energy performance and occupant comfort. Passivhaus buildings typically use up to 90% less energy for heating and cooling compared to conventional buildings, leading to substantial energy cost savings and a significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

Can I make my existing house more sustainable?

Absolutely! Making your existing house more sustainable is not only possible but also a practical and impactful way to reduce your environmental footprint and improve energy efficiency. There are several steps you can take to enhance the sustainability of your existing house. These measures can significantly reduce energy consumption, lower your utility bills, and reduce your carbon footprint.

Energy efficiency upgrades: Install insulation, seal air leaks, upgrade windows and doors, and replace inefficient appliances with energy-saving models. 

Renewable energy integration: Incorporate renewable energy systems, such as solar panels or wind turbines, to generate clean energy for your home.

Water conservation: Implement water-saving measures such as installing low-flow fixtures, capturing rainwater for irrigation, and reusing grey water for non-potable purposes. 

Sustainable materials and finishes: Opt for sustainable materials and finishes that are made from recycled or renewable materials and have low environmental impact.

Smart home technology: Integrate smart home technology to automate energy management and optimise energy usage. This can include programmable thermostats, smart lighting systems, and energy monitoring devices that help you track and control your energy consumption.

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