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Sustainable Home

Myth Busting: Sustainable Homes Means Sacrificing Comfort and Beauty

By Tobias RobertsRise Writer
Mar 9, 2019

If you have spent any amount of time on the internet looking at sustainable home ideas, you have probably come across a few homes that look like they were a relic from the past century. While you might care about the state of the world and the environment and want to do your part to protect the planet that sustains us, few of us are going to be willing to forego some of the modern-day comforts and conveniences that make up the homes we live in. Similarly, with the amount of sleek, modern architectural designs on the market today, opting for an unsophisticated, four-walled home that, while super energy efficient, is probably pretty ugly as well, is perhaps not high on your agenda.

Unfortunately, despite the technological advances in the sustainable building industry, there remains a pretty wide-held assumption that sustainable homes are equivalent to a yurt in the woods without electricity or running water. We tend to think that doing our part to help the planet through embracing sustainable home design means giving up our yearning creature comforts, modern tech devices, and voguish home interiors. 

Nothing could be further from the truth. As the sustainable building industry continues to grow and develop, virtually every aspect, comfort, and convenience of the modern homes we have come to expect are being transformed into energy-efficient, healthy, beautiful, and low-carbon alternatives. Below, we look at a few ways in which sustainable homes are increasingly comfortable and beautiful.

The Solar Panel Roof

Let's start with the big one. Many homeowners across the country understand that solar panels are a great way to generate clean, renewable electricity that doesn't emit carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. However, not everyone enjoys the "aesthetics" of a roof covered in silicon PV panels. Several homeowners associations (HOA) have routinely made it difficult for individual homeowners to put up a solar panel system.

community solar panel system
Photo Credit: SunCommon

While the jury is still out on whether or not solar panels are in and of themselves ugly (beauty is in the eye of the beholder), homeowners have several options for taking advantage of renewable solar electricity without relying on conventional solar panels. Community solar programs are popping up across the country; nationwide, there were 1,294 cumulative megawatts installed through the second quarter of 2018.  Solar roof shingles are photovoltaic modules in the form of roof shingles that can be integrated right into your regular shingled roof to generate solar power. While they might be a bit more expensive per kilowatt-hour (kWh) than conventional solar panels, they can be virtually indistinguishable from regular roof shingles.

Thinking Outside (and Beyond) the Box

Another common misconception with sustainable buildings is that they tend to be box-shaped, blocky buildings with little visual appeal. Simple designs tend to allow for more resources to be spent on more sustainable heating and cooling systems, more energy-efficient insulation, and other sustainable home upgrades. Along the same lines, a plethora of windows reduce the need for artificial lighting.

Afton Passive House
Afton Passive House

While the sustainable residential home design might open up large windows in strategic areas for passive solar heating or prioritize box-shaped architectural design to maximize wall space for high-performance insulation, this is a question of preference. Homeowners should be vocal with their architects and contractors and let them know their design preferences. There is no reason why sustainable homes can´t have a multi-pitched roof, curved walls, or virtually any other design idea that you want for your home. This 100-year-old Victorian home, for example, is net-zero energy, and LEED Platinum home has maintained its original charm. Or, check out this farmhouse—you’d never know it was a passive house from the looks of it.

Increased Energy Efficiency = More Comfort

Some of us might have friends who, to keep their heating bills down and their carbon footprints lower, will keep their homes at a “not-so-comfortable” 60 degrees Fahrenheit (15.5 degrees Celsius) during the wintertime. The 1970s-era tip was to “put on a sweater.” That means sacrificing comfort. For a more sustainable home, though, the opposite is true.

One of the main aspects of sustainable homes is a focus on energy efficiency. Passive houses, for example, are built so airtight and with such high-performance insulation that often requires no extra heating or cooling is required. Homes that focus on weatherizing strategies can radically reduce the amount of energy needed to keep a home at a specific temperature. Well-insulated airtight homes also decrease, or even eliminate, draftiness—those cold breezes or cold air pockets make a home uncomfortable. 

So, suppose you like your home to be 72 degrees during the wintertime. In that case, sustainable home-building practices can ensure that you enjoy those temperatures without increasing your heating bill and the carbon emissions that follow. Smart home technologies such as smart thermostats can simultaneously boost the livability and comfort of your home while lowering your carbon footprint and utility bills.

Less Water Usage with Higher End Products 

Sustainable homes are also designed to limit water usage in the house. However, that doesn’t mean that you will have to settle for water faucets that are ugly and impractical or low-flow showerheads that will make it hard for you actually to get the shampoo out of your hair. Instead, several of the low-flow water products on the market today are designed to significantly limit the water you use while improving the performance and aesthetics.

nebia closed loop shower
Photo Credit: Nebia

One great example is Nebia Spa Showerhead. This showerhead is designed with ten precision-tuned nozzles that atomize water and create a shower experience with millions of micro drops of water that flows over your skin for a spa-like experience. At the same time, this showerhead saves an estimated 65 percent of the water used by regular showers and thus can pay for itself through reduced water bills.

Similarly, dual flush toilets, low-flow faucets, and other water-saving technology devices continually come to market. These devices save water and money and are often visually appealing—a definite upgrade over those inefficient and ugly 1970s toilets.

Smaller Homes with Intelligent Design

There is an unfortunate conception among many homeowners that bigness is a necessary prerequisite for comfort and beauty. We tend to believe that more space creates more comfort, despite the obvious environmental consequences of building, heating, cooling, and maintaining larger homes.

Most homeowners, however, will rarely use half of the square feet of the homes they live in. Smaller homes with fewer rooms will require homeowners to have more direct contact with all of the different areas of the house. The closer we are to the homes we live in, the more we can make changes to maximize comfort levels. Even tiny homes often include unique and innovative storage ideas that maximize the livability and comfort of homes that can be well under 400 square feet in size.

Bottom Line

Sustainable homes are not only better for the environment and your family budget, but they are often much more comfortable, livable, and beautiful as well.

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: 2021-12-02T00:27:59+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.