How First-Time Homeowners Can Create a Sustainable Home

How First-Time Homeowners Can Create a Sustainable Home

As more alarming studies surrounding climate change come out, scientists are recommending that people take real action to prevent the disasters of global warming. A great way for individuals to start is by rethinking eco-friendly housing practices. First-time homeowners should take this into consideration when making their move.

There are a variety of ways first-time homeowners can create a more sustainable home for the future and by using these tips, you can prepare your home with environmental sustainability in mind.

Utilize High-Performance Windows

Energy efficient windows provide a variety of benefits for new homeowners. Once the windows are installed, homeowners can see increased savings on their heating and cooling bills. High-performance windows not only boost the natural sunlight coming into your home, but they also reduce the need for lights until nighttime. Ultimately, this is a great way to save money on electricity as well. These windows can decrease the amount of weather-related noise such as rain, wind, snow or hail.

If you want to improve the overall comfort within your home, these windows also have the benefit of helping to prevent any unwanted drafts or gusts of wind. Even the new technology built into these windows can help prevent condensation build up, which saves the need to wipe down your windows, and over time, reduces the likelihood of mold and mildew. If you need assistance installing these eco-friendly windows, consider hiring a professional to help. That is the simplest way to get concrete results.

Invest in Eco-Friendly Appliances

Another step you can take to become more eco-friendly is to invest in energy-efficient appliances. Regular home appliances use loads of energy, contributing to the creation of excessive greenhouse gases. Eco-friendly appliances are essential for homeowners who want to be more environmentally conscious but with as little disruption as possible to their day to day routine. New homeowners can also save money by installing these types of appliances since the more energy efficient  an appliance is, the lower the utility bill.

When moving into a new home, it’s critical to invest in appliances that not only limit greenhouse emissions but also conserve water. Before buying these appliances, check for the right size, scan for any EnergyGuide labels that compare energy usage, and make sure that there are sufficient energy-saving settings. If you like to plan for the future and be prepared, you should look into getting a home warranty that will provide peace of mind if any unexpected issues arise down the line. Nobody wants to scramble for last minute repairs, so home warranties eliminate the stress and hassle of coming up with the necessary money at a moment’s notice. Implementing this at the beginning of your time there will help you save money in the long-run, especially for new homeowners.

Consider Solar Panels

Solar-powered systems are able to derive clean and natural energy from the sun. Installing solar panels on your home will help reduce your dependence on power companies, resulting in fewer greenhouse gas emissions from the power plant. Most of our traditional electricity supply systems are sourced directly from fossil fuels such as coal and natural gas which, when burned to produce electricity, emit harmful greenhouse gases that are a primary cause of air pollution and global climate change.

The most common solar panels are ones placed on the roof of your property. New homeowners should take into account the amount and size of panels that they want, as well as the location and direction the panels will need to face. The most common direction is south-facing, however, not every home has the same options Much like every home addition, it would be a lot easier to hire a solar contractor to assist with your eco-friendly aspirations rather than taking on such a big project on your own. This way, you not only save yourself time and energy, but you can confidently implement these costly tools.

Evaluate your Home’s Insulation

Before buying or moving into a new property, every homeowner must reevaluate the home’s insulation. This feature can provide a variety of functions to increase your overall comfort while cutting costs and saving energy. Effective insulation can protect your home from extreme outdoor temperatures while creating more consistent indoor temperatures. It can also increase your home’s indoor air quality and help control the humidity. It’s best to implement air sealing and home insulation together.

Air sealing helps to keep unwanted, outside air from filtering in through cracks, gaps, and holes, by essentially creating an air barrier along the exterior of your home. Insulation works a bit differently in that it provides resistance to the transfer of heat, thus keeping heat inside in the winter and outside in the summer. In other words, insulation acts as an effective thermal barrier. Finding nooks and cracks in your home’s armor and evaluating your home’s insulation begins with an energy audit. During an energy audit, a home performance expert will inspect your home and administer several diagnostic tests to assess the efficiency of your home. This inspection will help target problem areas that are undermining home comfort and efficiency.

Implement Smart Systems

Smart home automation systems are critical when it comes to creating a more efficient and sustainable home. There are a variety of gadgets new homeowners can utilize to get the most out of their home in an eco-friendly way. A smart thermostat, for example, can automatically change temperature based on your preferences along with a specific schedule. Even lights can be programmed to shut off at a certain time to save energy. Smart home automation can also help you maximize home security practices so that your home surveillance system can be accessible from the palm of your hand.

It may seem like a large demand to implement a number of different smart home systems, but all of these systems have capabilities that some homeowners never thought were possible. Smart home automation systems will only get more advanced, so if you start utilizing these features now, you will be in a better position for the future. Carefully consider how much easier some of these systems will make it for the people residing in your home.

Moving into a new home is always an exciting adventure, but it can also be overwhelming at times. Investing in eco-friendly ways to save money and energy will not only help homeowners live a more sustainable lifestyle, but can help save the earth. We only have so much time left, let’s try and make a difference while creating a home atmosphere that is positive and refreshing.

How Urban Planners Integrate Alternative Energy Into Architecture

How Urban Planners Integrate Alternative Energy Into Architecture

As global temperatures continue to rise and extreme weather events increase in frequency, the need for sustainable solutions has never been more apparent. Human activities are largely responsible for climate change, and urban areas are adversely affected. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the effects of climate change may be amplified within the world’s cities, including rising temperatures.

More people are living in urban areas than ever before — the United Nations estimates that 68% of the global population will live in cities by 2050. Although various sustainability initiatives exist to combat the effects of climate change in an increasingly urbanized world, urban planning must now incorporate sustainable solutions into every design to reduce humanity’s dependence on fossil fuels.

Even as sustainability sits at the forefront of modern architectural trends, developing alternative energy solutions isn’t without its challenges. For example, not every city is ideally situated for harnessing solar power due to atmospheric conditions that limit annual sunshine. The good news is that solar energy is just one of the various forms of alternative energy that can be utilized by urban planners in sustainable building designs.

Combating the Effects of Climate Change

Those involved with sustainable urban development must consider such factors as the effects of climate change, various costs associated with alternative energy systems, local regulations and ordinances, and more. Since the end of 2020, for example, all newly constructed buildings in the European Union (EU) are required to incorporate sustainable designs to achieve “nearly zero” energy usage. Solar energy is at the forefront of their efforts.

However, many of the global leaders in alternative energy, including Sweden and Germany, aren’t necessarily the world’s sunniest nations. For its part, Denmark sources more than 50% of its national electricity needs from alternative sources, primarily sun and wind.

The summer months, when sunshine is abundant and shines for upwards of 17 hours per day, are prime conditions for harnessing solar energy. Conversely, Denmark only gets around 8 hours of sunlight daily throughout the winter, and wind energy helps bridge the gaps in terms of national energy needs. The country’s impressive alternative energy numbers wouldn’t be possible without mindful designs from urban planners with a deep understanding of local climatic conditions.

In those areas like Denmark, where solar energy may not be the most reliable choice year-round, urban planners may need to think outside the box. To determine the most cost-effective alternative energy source for a particular area, climate and weather considerations are just as crucial as estimated energy usage. And indeed the smallest details shouldn’t be overlooked within sustainable design plans – even the most advanced solar and/or wind energy systems can be quickly drained by inefficient devices such as air conditioning units and water heaters.

Sustainability and Urban Planning

To successfully design and maintain sustainable architecture that will last into the future essentially hinges on the drastically changing global climate. Sustainable buildings can vary significantly, and popular green building designs often incorporate the natural landscape and strive for nearly zero waste. Earthships, for example, commonly seen in the southwestern U.S., are often built partially into the earth and rely completely on alternative energy from the sun and wind.

Urban planning on a city-wide level, however, is much more complex than that of Earthships, which are primarily single-family homes, located off-grid. Affordability is also a key part of the equation for urban planners and city leaders alike in regards to sustainable building design. The rising price of lumber, for instance, is both another by-product of climate change and a huge consideration in the design process. There are also building and permit costs to consider, as well as a possible labor shortage stemming from the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Future of Green Building Design

Climate change and urbanization are intrinsically linked, and the environmental impact of urban living is substantial. For large metro areas to continue to sustain an increasing population while also actively reducing emissions, change must come from the same source: cities themselves. When building sustainable neighborhoods, from apartment complexes to community spaces, alternative energy has become an integral part of the solution.

In terms of architecture for all, it’s important to note that the benefits of sustainable building design span well beyond reduced emissions. Urban planners can also do their part to foster healthier and happier communities via the various elements of sustainable design. Integrated alternative energy systems, dedicated bike lanes, and linked sidewalks can help revitalize a community while also reducing harmful pollutants.

By incorporating alternative energy into design plans, urban planners thus have a unique opportunity to improve the quality of life for countless global citizens. As the effects of climate change and increasing temperatures become even more pronounced, we must look for actionable solutions. Within cities, integrating alternative energy, whether harnessed from the sun, wind, or water, into future city planning represents a massive step towards improved climate and public health.

 

Amanda Winstead is a writer from the Portland area with a background in communications and a passion for telling stories. Along with writing she enjoys traveling, reading, working out, and going to concerts. If you want to follow her writing journey, or even just say hi you can find her on Twitter.

Zero Energy Homes Are Great, But Let’s Make Them Better — Zero 2.0

Zero Energy Homes Are Great, But Let’s Make Them Better — Zero 2.0

By Joe Emerson and Bruce Sullivan 

 

The Zero Energy Project is a strong advocate for and supporter of net zero homes (and buildings) and has been for more than a decade. These super green homes are a huge step forward on the path to zero carbon and healthy living. The most powerful attribute of net zero homes, unlike many green home concepts, is that zero is quantifiable through energy modeling and/or tracking energy bills. As the concept of zero evolves, moving to the next iteration of these homes — Zero 2.0 — will be central to ensuring that we positively address the climate disruption, pollution, and financial challenges of the 21st century. Zero 2.0 must reduce the overall carbon impact of homes and buildings to zero while enhancing occupants’ health, security, resilience, and financial stability. Zero 2.0 is both a vision for the future of buildings and a roadmap that we must start implementing immediately. 

Challenges and Upgrades for Net Zero Homes 

To ensure that net zero homes truly get us on the path to zero carbon and zero negative impacts, they must more effectively address several challenges that faced the first generation of zero energy homes. Here are those challenges and the innovations needed to reach Zero 2.0. 

 

#1 The Use of Natural Gas. Using fossil methane gas for space heating, cooking, and water heating can no longer be an option if we are to prevent the worst of global warming. Zero 2.0 homes and buildings must be all electric. If electric grids source 100% renewable energy, then all-electric, zero energy ready homes will then be net zero, and existing zero energy homes can produce excess renewable energy to contribute power to electric vehicles, batteries, and the grid. 

 

#2 The Disconnect between Solar Production and Home Energy Use. Solar electric panels produce the most power around midday, even though the homes they power consume the most power in late afternoon and evening — creating a disconnect between supply and demand. Zero 2.0 must include smart home controls that integrate with a smart grid, operating dishwashers, laundry, water heaters, and car chargers during times most advantageous for grid stability and low retail pricing. As battery prices come down, Zero 2.0 must include sufficient on-site energy storage to manage appliances’ energy use in a demand-response program to even out energy loads as grids use more renewables.  

 

#3 Most Solar Systems Provide No Power During Outages. Most grid-tied solar electric systems cannot draw on their own solar production during power outages, even when solar power is abundant. As currently configured, they do not enhance resiliency as extreme climate events become more common. Zero 2.0 must include battery back-up for critical survival needs.  

 

#4 Some Zero Energy Homes Rely Too Heavily on Solar. With the price of solar panels dropping, some homes employ only minimal energy-efficiency measures, such as improved insulation, air sealing, and advanced windows. When climate-related emergencies result in power outages that disable solar systems, leaky uninsulated homes will not weather emergencies as well. Zero 2.0 must be designed to the highest efficiency standards. Making all homes as energy-efficient as possible will keep healthy temperatures for days during a power outage. This is especially true for homes without solar potential that need to subscribe to off-site renewable energy.  

 

#5 Most Zero Energy Homes Ignore Transportation and Other Home Energy Uses. Few zero energy homes are designed or equipped to generate enough renewable energy production to supply energy for transportation, yard and garden equipment, and possible luxury items like a hot tub, pool, or sauna. Zero 2.0 must be designed and equipped for 100% zero energy living. This means installing sufficient solar collectors to power all energy use associated with the building, including charging electric vehicles. To increase the area available for solar production, use solar panels to cover patios and parking areas. Alternatively, you can purchase community solar or use renewable energy purchase programs. 

 

#6 Most Zero Energy Homes Do Not Account for Embodied Carbon. Zero energy homes are currently defined by operational energy and do not take into account embodied greenhouse gas emissions from materials, construction, appliance refrigerants, and more. Zero 2.0 must use carbon accounting software and low GWP refrigerants. The design-build team should use a carbon accounting software program to minimize embodied carbon in construction materials and focus on the least carbon intensive and least expensive methods for getting to zero carbon by using energy modeling. All heat pump equipment, including mini-splits, heat pump water heaters, refrigerators, and freezers should use the latest low-GWP refrigerants, such as hydrofluoroolefin (HFO).  

 

#7 Most Zero Energy Homes Are Not Designed for Resilience in Extreme Climate Events. They do not directly address local climate threats to home safety and health from extreme climate events, such as wildfire, wind, and floods. Zero 2.0 must design for resiliency in the face of the most likely local pollution and climate threats. For fire, use fire resistant materials and landscaping. For smoke and air pollution, specify high levels of air tightness and controlled ventilation, and use HEPA or MERV-16 filters integrated to an ERV and air purification system. For floods, specify appropriate foundation height, water resistance, and ventilation, For wind and earthquakes, specify structural integrity. For water shortages, use low water-use showers and faucets, drip irrigation, reuse of greywater, and if appropriate, rainwater harvesting roofs with cisterns. 

  

#8 Most Zero Energy Homes Do Not Provide the Highest Standards of Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) Management. These homes do not always address health threats from local environmental pollution, wildfire smoke, gas appliances, and the use of off-gassing materials during construction. Zero 2.0 must design and build to the highest IAQ standards. New homes must include features and equipment that meet or exceed advanced indoor air quality standards, such as non-toxic materials, high levels of air tightness, and HEPA or MERV-16 filters integrated into the air purification and ERV/HRV system. Go all electric, with no gas heating, water heating, or appliances, to eliminate pollutants released indoors from fossil fuel burning appliances. 

 

Zero 2.0 Starts Now 

In order to meet the extraordinary climate and environmental challenges of the 21st century, these eight upgrades to Zero 2.0 must be steadily integrated into the definition, planning, and implementation of zero. With net zero energy use, zero carbon footprint, and zero health impact, designing and building these resilient Zero 2.0 homes will ensure that the housing industry is doing all it can to get us on the path to zero carbon, zero health impact, and zero risk homes — but to be effective, these upgrades must be started now. 

 

Learn more: 

Zero Energy Project

EEBA