Eco-friendly homes going mainstream

The residential housing market is undergoing a rapid transformation, and the everything from the 1930s foursquare to the 1950s crackerbox and the 1990s McMansion is being re-thought as architects, builders, and homeowners move toward a more eco-friendly and energy-efficient design.

Two perceived disadvantages of eco-friendly and green homes are that they will always cost more and that, by design, they tend to be small. In reality, even if extra costs are involved initially, LEED-certified homes are designed to use between 30 to 60 percent less energy, which adds up to thousands of dollars in savings very quickly. Interest in green homes is growing quickly, as green tech goes mainstream. In 2005, the green share of single-family residential construction was only two percent, but this grew to 23 percent by 2013, and more than half of consumers say that green and energy-efficient designs are among the most important requirements for their next new homes.

You can be eco-friendly and still have room to entertain

The trend in the United States has been toward bigger homes ever since the 1970s. According to the US Census Bureau, over the last 42 years, the average size of a new home in the US has increased by more than 1,000 square feet, from an average of 1,660 square feet in 1973 to 2,687 square feet in 2015. But due to new innovations in green homebuilding and energy efficiency, that larger size does not necessarily mean you have to give up your environmental awareness when you want more space.

This 10,400 square foot French Eclectic home in Greenwich, Connecticut, was designed by architect Douglas Vanderhorn, who is known for his classic themes and historic designs. Surrounded by evergreens and opening toward Long Island Sound, this design mimics a 400-year-old French Normandy manor with wide-plank floors and heavy timbers, but the incredibly spacious floor plan incorporates modern energy-efficient and eco-friendly innovations, including geo-thermal heating and cooling, LED lighting, smart-home functionality, and on-site electrical co-generation.

If an estate-size home in Greenwich isn’t in your budget, builders are building green innovations into smaller designs as well, such as this 1,439 square foot two-bedroom plan from The Plan Collection, with a design that naturally lends itself to energy efficiency with a sunny Great Room and a large glass wall.

Regardless of the size of your home or whether it’s an existing structure or new construction, implementing a green, eco-friendly system can start with lower-cost tactics before moving up to others, which may require a larger investment.

Some of these lower-cost tactics with big payoffs include simple things like high-efficiency lightbulbs and a rainwater retention system for use in the garden and lawn. The latter may be something as simple as a decorative 55-gallon drum for collecting rainwater runoff, with a spigot and hose attached at the bottom.

Smart home systems and smart appliances are also becoming more mainstream and affordable, with simple things like timed light switches and smart thermostats with a smartphone app, which allows you to control temperature from any location. Highly insulated windows are now part of most new construction but can also be retrofitted into older homes – and prices here, too, are more affordable and will result in significant energy savings in the long run.

Solar photovoltaic panels still represent the gold standard in eco-friendliness, although these may become more costly in the future with increased tariffs, which will make installation costs higher. However, many local municipalities and states are offering incentives for homeowners who wish to install the technology. Now is the time to install, though, despite the potential for a short-term price increase – the 30 percent federal tax credit on installation, which will more than offset any increase in price, will be phased out by 2022.

Green, eco-friendly homes are fast becoming mainstream. No longer just an ideal left over from the Woodstock generation, the concept today is firmly rooted in available technology, which not only saves energy but also add to the homeowner’s convenience and enhanced lifestyle – while adding to the natural beauty and elegance of the home.