Tips for building or renovating an eco-friendly home

June 30, 2015

When building a new home or renovating an old one, careful design and selection of materials will bring long-term benefits.

Tips for building or renovating an eco-friendly home

1. Building a new home

  • Making good use of a site's natural features will help you construct a home that is comfortable, efficient and economical to run.
  • The key to earth-wise building design is aspect.
  • Orientate your house to capitalize on warming sunlight and cooling breezes, and you'll be way out in front in terms of energy efficiency.

2. Start smart

Before you start designing, it's critical that you think through what you want and obtain advice from the right people.

  • Read up on environmentally friendly design; there is a host of books and web sites on the subject.
  • Contact local authorities to find out about building regulations. Ask, too, about rebates and grants for building eco-friendly homes.
  • Make a detailed wish list of features for your new house. Work out how many bedrooms you need. Think about storage space. Don't make the house any bigger than is necessary – every 10 square metres (107.6 sq. ft.) costs about as much as a new car.
  • Look for architects and/or builders experienced in designing eco-friendly homes.
  • Once you have plans, get at least three quotes from contractors with whom you think you can work.
  • Visit homes that prospective contractors have built or designed. Evaluate the success of the design and how the workmanship has weathered. If possible, talk to the owners and find out what they like and dislike about their houses.
  • Check the architect or builder's record for costings, reusing materials, cleaning up and waste disposal.
  • Make sure every detail is thought through and discussed before building starts – it's much more difficult to change things afterwards.

3. Choosing a site

  • When looking for a site, consider its proximity to your workplace and to local services. Being near these places can reduce your dependency on mechanised transport. On the other hand, if you can work from home, you might want to be in a quieter, less polluted rural area.
  • Examine the topography, or lie of the land. Is the site on a slope? If so, develop a design that avoids large-scale excavation – it's usually expensive, and can damage natural habitats, increase erosion and pollute stormwater outlets.
  • Study the local climate and the site's orientation. Does it get plenty of sun? The more the better, as you can use sunlight to warm your home. Where do the prevailing winds come from? Can they be blocked or used to your advantage?
  • Look at neighbouring buildings. How close are they? Are they going to block sunlight? Will your house block their light?
  • At a rural site, check the availability of services such as water, gas, electricity, phone and refuse collection. How will this affect costs and your choice of energy sources?
  • Some banks offer reduced interest rates on loans for eco-friendly homes. Ask around and you could save thousands!
The material on this website is provided for entertainment, informational and educational purposes only and should never act as a substitute to the advice of an applicable professional. Use of this website is subject to our terms of use and privacy policy.
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