What is a Sustainable Home?

What is a Sustainable Home?

Many articles describe a sustainable home from the viewpoint of the environment, in terms of what the home should and should not do to the environment.

Like it should use less water, be more energy-efficient, don’t be harmful to the environment, reduce waste and reuse, recycle or don’t use at all.

What about me?

It seems like sustainability is a win or loose proposition, the focus is either on my needs or that of the environment!

Sounds like a lot of sacrifice and austerity. Sounds like going backwards! Doesn’t sound like fun and anything desirable, unless you are an environmental activist.

I love nature and want to live in harmony with all living creatures. I want to be wiser in my actions, but I also love hot long showers, and a comfortable, beautiful home with nice furniture and décor.

A conflict?

No, not at all!

I will show you in my blog that it is not only NOT a conflict but achieving less water waste, ultra energy-efficiency, and all the other things that benefit our beautiful planet is not a sacrifice or a sign of austerity.

It rather is smart and creates a whole list of benefits for our well being and that of our wallet. It’s all about the Know-How and How-To. 

I am not an environmental activist, I like to think of myself as ‘doing the right thing kind of person‘ but when it comes down to it ‘doing the right thing‘ more often than not turns into ‘doing what’s most convenient for me‘.

Yes I do pick up trash when I walk my dogs on our neighborhood nature trails, but really I do that for myself. That way I don’t have to look at the trash again later, it just hurts my sense of beauty and my experience inhaling nature. It’s all about my own quality experience.

You figured it out, there was a side effect to my selfish trash pickup, my action benefitted not just me but also the environment!

Of course I also could have approached the trash pickup from a whole different, sacrificial angle like

‘ughhh, the right thing to do for the environment would be to pick up that trash, who knows where it will end up… extra work! I don’t really feel like it! I didn’t put it there in the first place…Who did THIS?

And off I go, without picking up the trash, angry.

Can you feel it? Two attitudes with two totally different vibes and outcomes for us both – the environment and me.

In the first, my walk was a quality experience, even that I picked up somebody else’s trash. I came back home with a smile on my face thinking about that beautiful walk.

The second experience brought me home with an elevated blood pressure, still angry about these people who trash our neighborhood.  

PERSPECTIVE IS EVERYTHING!

When it comes to my home, I like to look at it from the same angle – The quality of life with a purpose, positive attitude, my benefit angel!

I discovered over time, that a quality AND purposeful outcome or experience for me is usually good for the environment as well. Who would have thought….

To create a home that is best for your well being and that of nature the trick is to approach your home with:

  • quality and purpose in mind,
  • a willingness to learn and,
  • to put more thought and time into decision making up front.

Don’t fall for the Joneses’ syndrome (unless they upgrade their home sustainably)! Be the one who is setting the example for your neighborhood.  Be Mrs. Jones… Be Mr. Jones… Be the leader…

When it comes to home improvement projects, I know from my own experience that we can’t solely rely on building code and industry professionals. We have to find the right professionals with the right knowledge, skills and attitude to get the best outcome – the best home possible.

I promise you, if you put more thought into your home, you get a higher quality outcome and experience for you and your family.

You get a healthy indoor environment, comfort, beauty and many other benefits.

All that with less energy, water and material wasted, while being gentle to your wallet – just like that.

If you are like me and believe we humans can positively influence the path of Climate Change and all the harm that comes along with it, then you will be proud of the reduction in greenhouse gas emission your sustainable home will contribute.

We can be selfish and a Gutmensch at the same time.

Sustainability is not a political position or ideology, although some try very hard to make you believe it is. Don’t believe it! It is simply a smart approach to thoughtful decision making for a quality outcome for you and the environment.

Sustainable homes are based on building science not political hocus-pocus. 

As I said earlier, it does mean we might have to rethink a few of our beliefs, attitudes and our perspective.

Politicizing sustainability only prevents us from making better decisions for ourselves. – Not Smart

A change in perspective results in a more quality life! – Smart

PERSPECTIVE IS EVERYTHING!

I needed to get this of my chest…

Let’s start at the beginning….

One common definition of sustainability is to meet our own needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

Wikipedia also defines it as the ability to exist constantly. I like this definition better, it tells me if I live with sustainability in mind I can have a long life. 

I am an incurable optimist!

What does that all mean for our home?

A sustainable home is our best investment for our own benefit, no matter on which end of ideologies we reside.

Btw. I use sustainability, eco-friendly, green, and smart interchangeably most of the time, implying the same meaning, to keep it simple. There are differences, I just relate all of them to the superior concept: sustainability.

In some of my other blog posts I will make the distinction where suitable.

In realty, a sustainable home is the result of purposeful design, quality construction and non-toxic material and furniture choices. Any architecture style can suit your home and be sustainable with optimal comfort.

You won’t know just by looking at a buildings’ exterior or interior that it is sustainable – it might give away some hints though.

Once you have spent some time in a sustainable home you won’t want to leave. Once you lived in a sustainable home you will not want to go back to live in a suboptimal “standard home”.

For most of us, our homes are our biggest investment and the place we spend most of our time. It makes sense to invest in it wisely.

It bothers me that merely complying with the building code (yet mandatory before anything else) will usually not provide us with the best solutions for our homes.

This means we have to find the right trade professionals who have the knowledge and expertise to go beyond code.

Educating ourselves is essential to know what is possible, ask better questions and make better choices for our home projects.

How do we find the best products, the right professionals? How do we make better choices that fit our wallet?

This is where my blog comes in…

This blog looks at eco-friendly, sustainable design and product options to green all areas of our home: our building envelop (walls, roof, floor and windows), interior design and decoration, landscape design and our individual lifestyle.

My blog posts and resource pages are meant to give you food for thought, ideas, facts and resources to make the best eco-friendly decisions for your home, and home improvements projects.

I am not the expert in everything related to a sustainable home. I am good at research, making sense of information and bringing it all together. 

When I started to improve the performance of my current home the hardest part was to find materials and products and professionals that are experienced in a sustainable approach to home improvement.

It took me quite some time to get my home improvement started because of that.

With this blog I hope I can make it easier for you to find resources for your sustainable home improvement project. 

At the same time I am learning as well and I am creating these resources for all of us.

I am planning a home renovation sometime in the not-so-distant future myself. My plan is to buy an older house and retrofit it to a modern sustainable home that suits my lifestyle and is adjustable for changing needs as I grow older.

This is my way of creating a guidebook to my dream home. Come along and create your own dream home.

My intention is to develop a roadmap and inspiration beyond what we thought possible.

When to go ‘Green’?

I do not advocate to change all aspects of a home at once, that would be incredible expensive and not even that eco-friendly.

Better to think about converting your home in a phased approach. The best time to go for the eco-friendly option is when you are ready to make changes to your home anyways.

Improving your home in phases will provide you with even more green options for a lower price over time.

When asked, many of my friends, family and clients do want to make better choices for their homes, for different reasons – like lower utility bill, more comfort, get rid of toxic materials, health concerns for their families –  without breaking the bank.

In the past, making green choices meant mostly to select more expensive products and materials and pay extra for skilled trade professionals. It was quite hard to even have a selection to choose from.

This has been changing in the last few years. Increased demand, improved technology and manufacturing practices are bringing prices down and creating more green products and materials to choose from.

More trade professionals are getting educated in energy-efficiency, sustainable homes and lifestyle now as well.

Of course, this all is happening because of demand. More people are looking for better solutions for their homes.

This trend is only expected to grow.

Let’s look at some of the benefits I have been talking about all along. What exactly is so beneficial about a sustainable home – the best home possible?

Top 5 Qualities of a Sustainable Home

1. Health

A healthier home environment through improved indoor air quality:

  • Building materials, finishes and furniture are made with mostly non-toxic ingredients and less to none toxic waste is emitted into the air.
  • Ventilation systems with working air filters bring fresh, clean air into the home.
  • Prevention of mold, the use of non-toxic pest control and maintenance with non-toxic cleaners.
  • Avoidance of pollutant producing fossil fuel combustion to operate the home.

2. Comfort

A more comfortable home due to consistent temperatures on all interior surfaces and throughout the house, during cold winter month and hot summer periods alike.

To achieve this comfort, your home enclosure has to be of a superior quality, it has to be a so called High Performance Building Enclosure. I will show you how to get there:

  • Continuous insulation in roof, walls and floor based on local climate (usually more than code requires) without any breaks in the insulation.
  • Airtight building (yes you can open windows, and no you won’t live in a plastic bag, and yes you will have a constant flow of filtered fresh air).
  • High performance windows that are airtight and well insulated.
  • 7/24 filtered, fresh air ventilation.

3. Wellness

A nourishing and healthy home and environment that allows all occupants and nature to thrive.

A sustainable home provides access to continuous fresh air, natural daylight, views to the outside, where occupants are connected to the weather, the seasons and the time of day.

A well designed home that creates comfortable spaces for all, which are well designed to best support all intended activities and needs in an uplifting fashion.

4. Beauty

Interior and exterior design that uplifts our spirits, connects us to nature and all other living systems. It inspire us to be better than we currently are.

Due to the innate attraction of us humans to nature and living creatures, beauty can be achieved with biophilic design – connecting us to nature through visual and all other senses.

Beauty can also be achieved through calming as well as thought provoking design and artwork. Good design and art uplifts our spirits and mind.

5. Economic Benefits

A return on investment through energy savings, lower maintenance and replacement cost:

  • Durable materials last a long time — not only are they sustainable, but they save the cost of replacement and regular maintenance.
  • Lower energy bills due to a high performance building envelop (like 75% savings to some of the “standard code buildings”), and more efficient lighting & appliances.
  • Lower water bills due to low flow faucets and showerheads, dual flush toilets, efficient irrigation systems, water wise landscaping, and managing the storm water on site.
  • Increased building value; studies have shown that a building’s value increases by 3-5 percent and sells faster when it is sustainable. This can make a big difference in today’s market.

6. Positive Environmental Impact

With or without the addition of renewable energy use, the high energy efficiency of the home radically reduces CO2 emissions and stands as a significant contribution to climate protection.

Less construction waste is emitted during construction due to the recyclability of materials.

Less toxic waste is being emitted into the air, soil and water over the lifetime of the building.

Higher water efficiency indoors and outdoors create lower water demand and keeps the reservoirs and water table balanced.

Habitat for local fauna is saved and created.

7. Predictability & Resiliency

Due to the high energy efficiency and low water needs, the homes utility needs are low and the cost is predictable over the long run, even if utility prices rise.

Sustainable, high performance homes maintain habitable interior temperatures for weeks, even in freezing weather without power, and thus provide optimal shelter in emergency situations where other buildings would fail in a short period of time.

How can we achieve these qualities in a sustainable home?

No matter if you’re thinking about a big remodel that involves your roof and walls, additional floor space, or you are simple looking for some decorating ideas, there is always a more sustainable option that benefits your wellbeing and that of the environment at the same time.

Of course, we all must comply with the building code first and permits must be pulled if applicable. Safety is most important!

What transforms your code home into a superior sustainable home are additional measures that are outlined in Green Building Standards.

These green building standards describe the different aspects of sustainability and how they relate to your home.

They offer certification based on a third party evaluation on how well your home complies with their measures. I am not here to sell you on any certification though.

First and foremost, these green building standards open your horizon. Learning about their intentions and measures gives you guidance for your own project – for a high performance, a sustainable home and better lifestyle.

However, depended on the scope of your remodel project, certification might be well advised. E.g. if you do a retrofit to create a high performance exterior shell and might even pursue a zero energy home, a Passive House certification is well advised.

A certification is a third party validation of your home’s sustainable features and high performance.

Having somebody outside your project team validate if and how goals, especially performance goals, have been accomplished provides great benefit.

For most interior remodel projects I would rather learn from green standards and apply their wisdom and skip the certification. But that is just me. Green certification have many benefits besides the third party evaluation of your team’s work.

Once you understand the programs and their intent, you can look at your own plans more educated. You will come to your own conclusion what green standard and features to focus on and if you want to go for your home’s certification.

In this blog I will provide you with information and resources so you can come up with your own pathway to the best home possible.

Through my research and involvement in the green building industry, I have decided on my roadmap, on how to close the gap between building code, standard practices and a superior sustainable home.

I decided to focus on the most rigorous green building programs that complement each other for a holistic approach:

For inspiration for my home and my lifestyle choices, I keep these nine sustainable design principles close to my heart:

There is a lot of overlap but each of the three contributes something the others don’t offer. Together they create a well-rounded complementary sustainable approach.

There are many more green programs available. In my article Most Impactful Green Building Standards I provide an overview of some others worth exploring.

Getting to know some of the green building standards is a great way to better understand sustainability overall and in the building industry in particular.

I show you how you can gain from these green building standards to green all areas of your home: your building envelop (walls, roof, floor and windows), interior design and decoration, landscape design and your individual lifestyle.

No home project is too big or too small to have a green option that enhances its outcome.

You might decide to focus on any one or combination of the other green standards. Maybe you get inspired to do more research and find a standard or guidelines that fit your goals and perspective better.

Please let me know, I love to learn from you and exchange ideas.

Think of it this way…

To better grasp the benefits of a sustainable home I like to make the comparison with the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) who ensures our food safety.

Food that is approved by the FDA is not necessarily healthy or good, it is merely safe to eat. There is a wide range of FDA approved products out there, it is our job to figure out which one’s are good for our health and well being, if we care.

I bet you care and you have invested some time to figure out what food and products are good for your health and what to avoid. You might even have gone organic, local and seasonal, whenever possible.

You might have selected your organic or local products purely out of concern for your own health and taste. Well, it seems good food choices for your well being can be a good choice for the environment as well, just like that!

Our Building Departments are the ‘Food and Drug Administration’ for our homes, they ensure our safety in our houses. Like with food, we have many options to go above and beyond safety in our homes.

For our home remodel projects it is up to us to strive for the building products, processes and professionals that benefit us the most. Like with food, you have to gain some basic building knowledge to make the most beneficial choices.

How My Blog Works

There are 4 parts to my blog and they are all connected, especially the last three ones.

In my monthly deep dives I write a few posts about a topic I find interesting. I introduce you to different facets of the topic  and air my opinion. I do a lot of research each month and capture my findings in the resource libraries and recommend products and services in the sustainable shop.   

It all starts with Sustainable Basics, which covers blog posts about fundamentals of sustainability for your home’s enclosure, interior and exterior, such as this blog post or posts about green building standards.

In Monthly Deep Dives you find monthly topics and the related posts and resources. Every month I like to focus on one particular topic, research and write about it and create a resource library for you to use.

Resource Libraries provide links to experts in the field, related products and product sources as well as templates, infographics and other downloadable products that support your (and my) sustainable journey. COMMING SOON!

My Sustainable Shop covers mostly products, services and programs that can support your journey to a better, sustainable home. Most of the recommendations are affiliate links to other companies. I only list service and products I either used myself or did thorough research about.  COMING SOON!

Finding the right products and services has been one of the most inhibiting factors on my journey to make better, sustainable choices for my home so far. It takes a lot of research and lessons learned. That is why it is my goal to provide you with a faster and easier path to better choice. Let me know if you are interested in a certain topic and I will look into it. That was a long first post, I am glad you’re still here!

Remember it is all about how to get from a Standard Home to a superior Sustainable Home – the Best Home Possible.

live smarter.

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