Sustainable homes

How can houses be sustainable? The EPA estimates we create roughly 600 million tons of construction and demolition (C&D) waste per year (based on a 2018 study), more than twice the amount of the common trash we throw out everyday. Even when taking C&D waste out of the equation, the average house consumes hundreds and thousands of watts each day. However, we still need shelters to regulate and adapt to the ever-changing climates we live in so how can we make/live in sustainable housings without compromising comfortability?

Starting from the ground up:

We can move out of our current homes and start anew. Depending on how much effort you want to put into this new form of living there are few ways to live sustainably. The Toothman Foundation has built a house in Hawaii that has significantly lower environmental impacts. The house—the ELEVATE eco-house—is only 400 sq.ft and its living area sits on a sturdy bolted-down pillar, providing shelter for cars as well as shade. The elevated house solves the problem of flooding and its exterior walls are “living walls”, meaning they have plants living on the walls—providing not only richer air and carbon dioxide mitigation but also acts as a water collector which provides the house with fresh water. However the cons to a house such as this one is that it is fitted for more tropical climates. 

Green buildings for cold/more temperate climates could adapt techniques found in this rural Quebec home. The house contains straw bale insulation and a cellulose wall. Furthermore, the house contains both solar panels and solar thermal panels to keep the house with regulated temperature and hot water. The toilet is also a composting toilet which saves 30% of their potable water. Lastly, most of the house was built by reusing wood from local mills. 

Earthships are the most extreme form of sustainable housing we’ve seen right now. Earthships use recycled materials in their construction and rely on passive heating and cooling. The foundation is built with recycled tires and tightly packed dirt provides the house with a sturdy foundation and act as a “heat battery”, soaking up the heat during the day. However, this way is dependent on water sources and rain so may not be ideal for desert climates. Also, the tires in the wall can break down, causing toxic chemicals to leak into the air. 

How can we live sustainably right now though? Without having to build a structure from the ground. How do we make our houses greener? One way is to upgrade your appliances with water with low-flow counterparts. Low flow toilets, faucets and showerheads can save 2,700 gallons of water per year. At least ⅓ of all trash found in landfills is organic waste, so we can start composting in order to keep a circular system and nip unnecessary waste in landfills in the bud. Adding solar panels can make your house more green as well, but something quick you can do is replace your light bulbs with energy efficient light bulbs. When painting and modeling your house, painting with water-based paints is more eco-friendly and doesn’t emit toxic chemicals into the air when aging. Finally, not wasting food and buying recycled furniture helps make one’s house greener. 

The ideas of sustainable houses or upgrading your current home around sustainability should be modular, meaning don’t let all these forms and methods intimidate you. Try one out and pick the ones that suit your living conditions and budget!


Written by Lugardo Marroquin (’24)

Photo Above: Inside an earthship by Pangea Builders in Taos, New Mexico 


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