Sneaky Sustainability: 7 Ways to Design a More Efficient Home

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If you’re interested in building a more sustainable, eco-friendly home, you probably already know most of the basics: installing solar panels for power, opting for water-saving fixtures in the bathroom, you know the drill. But while that takes care of some of the biggest uses of power and water, you might be overlooking some of the smaller factors. Fixtures, solar panels and sustainable landscaping can definitely reduce your environmental impact, but the very design of your home could help you shrink that impact even more. Some of the smartest ways to increase sustainability might actually be the sum of a few small changes to your home’s design. Consider these sneaky sustainability hacks for a more energy efficient home.

A two-story home is often more energy efficient. Image: Omni Customs

1. Size Matters

It’s no secret that a smaller home is typically more energy efficient than a larger one. But it might not be just the size of the home, but how you use it. Consider two homes of the same square footage: one is 2,000 square feet on one level and the other is two levels, with 1,000 square feet on each. Which is the more efficient home? Stacking your square footage is almost always more energy efficient than a sprawling space, which costs more to heat and power.

Think about how much space you need and how it can be configured for energy savings. If you can get everything you want in a smaller, more compact footprint, it’ll be more sustainable in the long run.

2. Think Passive

Your mother-in-law might be passive aggressive, but an energy efficient home should be just plain passive. Passive design means creating a home that can basically take care of itself. When your home is designed so that it takes in the most sunlight during the winter, you can spend less on heating. The same home can offer shades to draw against hot summer sun, or windows that are situated for a cool breeze. Think of the ways you can decrease your home’s energy expenditure simply by where it sits on your lot or its layout.

Modern home with landscaping

Think about shade trees to keep your home cool. Image: 186 Lighting Design

3. Smart Landscaping

When talking about landscaping for sustainability, you’re usually referring to plants and grass that naturally do well in your home’s climate. It’s definitely a great way to save money on water and energy, but you can also use landscaping for even more sneaky sustainability. Simply plantings trees so they provide your home with natural shade and coverage helps you save on energy costs. Choose a leafy deciduous for hotter climates and you won’t need to crank up your A/C. Just make sure you plant trees where they’ll block sun in the summer, yet allow the sun to keep your home warmer in the winter.

4. Reclaim and Recycle

Building a home isn’t always the most eco-friendly way to procure a place to live. Even if you’re designing for a sustainable space, having new materials manufactured and delivered to your building lot requires a lot of energy. Thinking about how you source various materials can help you lessen the environmental burden. Choosing materials that are recycled or reclaimed from other projects reduces your environmental impact while giving every inch of your home more character. You can check with local builders, scour online classifieds and even check out demo projects to see if you can find solid materials with life left in them. If not, choose materials created from recycled goods whenever your contractors offer the option. Your environmental footprint will thank you for it.

Living room with large windows

Opt for natural light whenever possible. Image: Art of Architecture

5. Let in the Light

Indoor lighting can definitely drain you when it comes to energy costs. Besides a hefty electric bill, you’re also left with the burden of buying and swapping out bulbs. Instead, ask your architect to design your home for optimal natural lighting. It’s not just a question of installing windows, but utilizing your home’s orientation to make sure you get more light without sacrificing heating or cooling.

You can also sneak in sustainability by opting for LED fixtures and bulbs. Don’t worry about sacrificing ambiance: new-school LED bulbs can cast a natural, warm light. They’ll be more expensive up front but last much longer than traditional bulbs. What’s more, they’re cheaper to use because they consume less electricity.

6. Home Automation

Making your home a smart home can seem like an unnecessary expense. If your goal is a more efficient space, however, you might want to rethink technology’s role. Home automation puts some of your home’s energy-wasting processes on autopilot. The result? A more efficient home that adjusts itself when necessary. A smart thermostat can adjust the temperature based on when you spend time at home. Smart blinds can close themselves to block out hot sun in the middle of the day. Home automation isn’t just about convenience. It can create a space that is hyper-efficient and easy on your wallet.

Bright modern kitchen

Utilize organization for smaller, smarter spaces. Image: Tim Moss

7. Organization Solutions

An organized home means everything has a place. And when everything has a place, you can use less space storing your stuff. Smart organization solutions allow you to reduce the size of your home and storage space so you make less of an environmental impact. Whether it’s installing outlets in some of your most-used cupboards and drawers or building shelves into tight corners, think about organization from a sustainability point of view. Shelving, cabinets, attic spaces and closets can be retooled so they take up less room and store more stuff for a more efficient home.

When designing a more sustainable home, it’s important to think about how you’ll live in the space. Solar panels and energy-efficient appliances are great, but day-to-day sustainability might come from a smaller master bedroom or better kitchen windows. By working with your architect, you can design a space that is beautiful, functional and energy efficient.

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Things to Consider When Installing Outlets

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While it might not be as fun as choosing countertops or paint colors, planning your new home’s electrical outlets can impact your daily life more than you realize. After all, how often are you left searching for a place to plug in your charger or install a new light fixture? Your architect will include an electrical plan with your blueprints, so designing outlets will be part of the process. Don’t leave it to your architect to guess where you want outlets. Consider these factors and you’ll always have the power you need.

Modern white kitchen

Tuck outlets under cabinets for quick access. Image: Gilmans Kitchen and Bath

Beyond the wall

Your architect will plan around city codes when it comes to placing outlets. Your city or county will dictate how far spaced your outlets must be. But you can still have input on where they go, or if you want outlets in specific places. Obviously, most outlets will be placed in your walls, but think beyond the wall to really make sure you’re covered. Imagining how you’ll use the home and live your daily life can help you visualize the best places for outlets. Here are some clever places to make sure you have power:

  • In kitchen drawers and cabinets. Drawers and cabinets are a sneaky way to run more power through your kitchen. Whether you need to charge a phone, run a hand mixer or even plug in a small light, having power tucked away in your drawers gives you easy access that doesn’t disrupt your decor. You can also use cabinet outlets to light some of the darker corners of your cupboards.
  • Under cabinets. Under-cabinet lighting is a cool feature, but it can be expensive. What’s more, you might find yourself changing out pricey specialty bulbs, or just leaving them burned out. Plugs underneath the cabinets let you choose less expensive lighting and serve up space to plug in electronics and kitchen gadgets without taking up counter space.
  • In the island. If you have a kitchen island, consider running power up and into your island with an outlet on the side. Even if you have other counter space, you’ll likely use your island for prep work. It’s annoying to have to move food to another workspace in order to plug in a mixer, blender or food processor. The island is also the perfect place to serve up pancakes hot off the electric griddle.
  • In the entryway. Why add outlets to the entryway? It’s just a place to take off coats and shoes, right? Well, think about how many times you plug your phone into an outlet in the house, only to forget it? Or how many times have you guests who need a charger? Adding plugs to your entryway gives you a convenient out-of-the-way place to charge phones and electronics so they’re always ready when you are.
  • Living room floors. Don’t want to trip over cords and plugs? Putting outlets in your living room floor means you can plug lighting exactly where you need to, hiding the cords under furniture instead of causing a constant trip hazard.
  • Bathrooms. Your architect will definitely plan for plugs in the bathroom, but you can design their placement so they’re more functional. Think about how you use bathroom electronics like shavers or hair dryers. Remember that it’s unsafe to string cords over sinks so plan accordingly. Addicted to quiet baths and reality TV? Your architect can also help you find a safe place to put an outlet for a TV in the bathroom.
Bright family room outlets

Add outlets in the floor to reduce trip hazards. Image: The Orpin Group

Smart outlets 

Old, outdated plugs might do the trick, but new smart outlets make life so much easier. Check out some of the new smart outlet options to see if they’re an upgrade you want to make.

  • USB outlets. Why worry about USB converters at all? If you’re placing outlets where you know you’ll want to charge your phone, just install a USB outlet and you can plug directly into the wall.
  • Bluetooth outlets. Make your house a smarthome on the cheap by using smart outlets and plugs to control your electronics from your phone. They use Bluetooth to connect with your electronics, so you don’t have to get out of bed just because you forgot to turn off the a lamp downstairs.
  • WiFi outlet. Wondering how much power it takes to run your home? WiFi outlets can send information about your power usage and even cut off certain appliances or electronics when they meet a quota. This can save you major money in the long run.

They might not be the most visible part of your home, but plugs might be some of the most important. They are a small thing that make a big difference in your daily life. Slowing down the design process to choose and place them properly means you’ll love your home that much more.

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