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Why Location Matters to the Sustainability of Your Home

Why Location Matters to the Sustainability of Your Home

By Tobias Roberts Rise Writer
Nov 16, 2020

When we think about a sustainable home's essential features, we often envision rooftops covered in solar panels or a rainwater cistern adjacent to the house. While renewable energy and capturing rainwater are undoubtedly important attributes of a sustainable home, its location directly affects those sustainability measures' applicability.

For example, a home located in the Pacific Northwest, where sunlight is a rarity, might have invested in solar panels that cannot meet the household's energy demands. A house in Hawaii that built a massive rainwater cistern to store the water that fell on its roof might have issues with a constant overflow of the cistern due to the fact that some regions of Hawaii receive close to 460 inches of rain each year.

Some contractors and builders mimic strategies and approaches that have worked well in certain climates and contexts while ignoring local conditions that might be completely different. However, the reality is that the local context is a crucial factor that needs consideration. Your home's location will radically affect the types of sustainability features you can incorporate - and your household's overall footprint.

A Brief Definition of Sustainability

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) tells us that sustainability is based on one straightforward principle - that all we need for our survival and well-being depends on our natural environment, either directly or indirectly. They go on to say that sustainability aims to create and maintain the conditions under which humans and nature can coexist in fruitful harmony to ensure the health and prosperity of present and future generations.

The Example of Las Vegas

Las Vegas is a quickly growing urban area in the United States, with a population nearing 700,000 people. It is also a city in the middle of a desert that only gets, on average, 26 rainy days a year for an average of just over 4 inches of rain per year. Where does the water come from? For the millions of tourists and residents of Las Vegas, 90% of the water comes from Lake Mead, emanating from the Hoover Dam on the Colorado River.

Recently, Lake Mead has experienced record water lows due to extended droughts associated with global climate change. In 2016, the reservoir level dropped to just a quarter of the capacity. The Southern Nevada Water Authority constructed an underground tunnel to be able to access the last drop of water in Lake Mead should the drought continue or worsen.

The example of Las Vegas demonstrates that location is an essential consideration for overall home sustainability. It doesn't matter how many solar panels you put on your roof or how many coats of non-VOC paint you put on your wall. The underlying question is whether or not a city in a desert, with limited water resources, can continue to grow and sustain the people that live there.

The Top 5 Sustainable Home Factors

Suppose you plan to build a new home or move to a new region. Then, consider several factors that will affect your home's overall sustainability.

Rainwater Cistern Handeeman
Rainwater Cistern. Photo Credit: Handeeman Contracting

Water Source and Rainwater

Unless you plan to build a home in the woods with a natural spring directly upstream of your home, you will have to dig a well or rely on municipal water systems. It is essential to research the origin of municipal water. If you live in a dry region, the chances are that the municipal water is piped in from long distances. This takes an enormous amount of energy to pump the water into your home.

If your municipal water source is far away or unsustainably sourced, you could consider the possibility of capturing rainwater and storing it in cisterns for household use. If you choose to go this route, it is crucial to find out how much your region's annual rainfall. This research will tell you whether or not you will be able to capture enough rainwater via your roof for your family's annual needs.

Solar On Roof

Sunlight and Wind

Renewable energy is a hallmark of a sustainable house. Residential solar and wind technologies can generate a significant proportion of a home's electricity needs. If a property you are considering purchasing is heavily shaded, however, you might not be able to generate enough solar electricity to justify the cost — and you would not want to cut down trees. For solar panels, Google created an easy to use map that will help you determine whether the roof on your home is suited for optimum solar power generation.

For wind, if you are planning on putting up a wind turbine on your property, you need to make sure that there is enough wind to make it economically viable. You can find a general wind map of the United States here.


Electricity Generation

If installing a renewable energy system on your house is not feasible, it is vital to understand the source of the energy that the municipal grid provides. If your county, region, state, or province is dependent on coal for electricity, your home will have a much larger carbon footprint than a region where hydroelectric or other forms of renewable energy are the primary source of electricity. This website provides a great map that will help you to determine where your electricity comes from and how much CO2 was released into the atmosphere to produce it.

House Buried in Snow

Heating and Cooling Needs

The local climate where your plan to build or purchase a home will also affect the environmental impact associated with it. If you live in an area with long and cold winters, for example, you will consume significant amounts of energy to stay warm. In these cases, you may want to invest more in insulation and efficient windows. Similarly, places with long, hot, and dry summers will leave most homeowners with higher air conditioning needs. Choosing a region with a mild climate without extreme temperature shifts will allow you to design a home that doesn't need high-energy inputs for heating and cooling needs.


Proximity to Community Resources

Finally, the physical location in relation to community resources, will impact your overall ecological footprint. Living close to where you work, play, go to school, etc., will reduce your commute and save you time. Living near bike trails and public transportation access will decrease reliance on your automobile, reducing pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.

Bottom Line

The sustainability of your home depends on many different factors. But, location can have the most considerable long-term impact — and should be a significant factor to consider when considering a move, evaluating potential sustainable strategies and investments.

Disclaimer: This article does not constitute a product endorsement however Rise does reserve the right to recommend relevant products based on the articles content to provide a more comprehensive experience for the reader.Last Modified: 2020-11-16T23:58:20+0000
Tobias Roberts

Article by:

Tobias Roberts

Tobias runs an agroecology farm and a natural building collective in the mountains of El Salvador. He specializes in earthen construction methods and uses permaculture design methods to integrate structures into the sustainability of the landscape.