Sustainable Home Design & Construction On A Budget

 

With increasing awareness of the effects of climate change, human activity on the planet, escalating energy costs, and wider economic uncertainty, potential homeowners are seeking to minimize the adverse impact of physical development and their financial outlays by designing and constructing homes in a more sustainable or environmentally sensitive manner. Such homes focus on the most efficient use of materials and sources of energy, improving energy utilization and indoor air quality, lowering emissions, deploying various technologies which enhance and protect surrounding biological diversity and ecosystems, and providing living spaces which are healthy, comfortable, and enjoyable.

Contrary to widely held belief, sustainable homes do not have to cost significantly more than their traditionally constructed counterparts. In thinking about the life cycle of a home, lower operating and maintenance costs will help homeowners to recover marginally higher initial costs in as little as five years and create added value well into the future. Sustainable or green homes are becoming more viable as costs come down, adoption and knowledge of green building expands, the technologies which underpin it advance, and persons recognize that it is responsible way to go.

Often required to achieve the desired savings is an integrated or multidisciplinary design approach, underpinned by a committed project team comprised of the homeowner, contractor, architect, project or construction manager, and other engineering professionals. Adopting this approach will help the team at the onset of the project, make more informed, innovative, and intelligent design decisions about the home to be built, balanced by any sustainable goals, budgetary constraints, statutory or regulatory frameworks, and proposed construction methodologies.

We have strong desire to see and be more involved in the design and construction of more sustainable homes and communities throughout the Caribbean. Today, we have gathered a few design strategies more suited for our climate, that will help your team to make the right first steps and keep you within budget. For many architects in the Caribbean, these and other similar approaches are already integrated into their architectural process and thinking about residential design - you are definitely encouraged to seek them out for your next build.

General

  • Before going out and constructing a new home, consider first the renovation or remodelling of an existing one. Significant savings can be achieved on the time, labour, materials, energy, approvals, and other requirements of new building works.

  • If you are looking at all new works, when and where possible, use recycled and reclaimed building materials. These can include for example, discarded shipping containers and the timbers, stone, and metal sheeting used in previous building construction. Reuse of these materials has the added benefit of costing much less, reducing the burden on our landfills, and looking great as finishes.

  • Work with your contractor or project manager to offset some of the construction costs by collecting and reselling the excess or unused building materials from your site such as tiles, blocks, cement, and aggregate.

Exterior

  • Cultivate a more responsible and resilient approach to the management of storm-water. This can be achieved through a reduction in the amount of covered impermeable areas around the home. Use permeable pavers, gravel pathways, and other open grid systems. Where possible, look at incorporating other sustainable forms of drainage, such as ponds and green roofing.

  • Create landscaped areas throughout the site. This will help to further reduce runoff and its impact on existing infrastructure. Use native plants, trees, and shrubs and avoid the use of decorative lawns, as they often require more water and chemical treatments to maintain.

  • Depending on your location, think about installing rainwater harvesting systems for non-drinking purposes around the home, such as toilets, general maintenance, and growing food.

  • Finish your the exterior walls home and roofing of your home using lighter colours and solar reflective paints to help reduce mechanical cooling equipment and costs. Darker colours do tend to absorb and transfer more heat into the structure.

Design

  • Space is a premium on smaller islands and territories throughout the Caribbean. Consider designing a smaller home that makes more efficient use of space. This not only reduces the energy, materials, and resources required to build the home, but the overall cost of construction and impact on the wider environment. Operating and maintenance costs will also be reduced over the home's lifetime.

  • Pursue a simpler, open interior layout, as it will help to reduce material usage, improve air circulation, and increase natural lighting throughout the home.

  • Work with your team to standardize the dimensions of various building elements, thereby optimizing material use and reducing wastage, along with any associated costs.

  • Ensure that the orientation of the building is optimized for maximum air flow around and through it, to further reduce cooling equipment and costs.

  • Specify large operable windows, which allow more air and natural lighting into the home. Getting energy efficient windows would be great, but may not be widely available in certain territories. Alternatively, look at installing solar reflective films and tints to reduce solar gain and by extension, cooling costs.

  • Embrace passive or non-mechanical cooling design techniques and principles, such as solar shades, ground floors that have been elevated above the earth, evaporative cooling, and solar chimneys.

Structure

  • Discuss with your structural engineer, an engineered building solution that reduces the use of materials without compromising performance. They can recommend other innovative, non-traditional framing systems, or modular solutions that work within the architect's design.

  • With the further guidance of the engineer, look at increasing the eaves around the building with the aim of reducing how much sun is allowed to fall on its exterior walls. Where this is not possible for structural reasons, discuss about other innovative design options and solutions which reduce radiant heating and thereby your cooling and energy costs.

Mechanical

  • Specify low flow fixtures which help to conserve water, thereby reducing your usage of the municipal water supply and monthly fees or costs.

  • Rather than traditional lighting systems, opt for modern LED fixtures and fittings. This will serve to reduce your electricity costs.

  • Introduce energy efficient ceiling fans into living areas such as bedrooms. This also helps to reduce your cooling costs, whilst maintaining occupant comfort.

  • Consider purchasing and installing Energy Star compliant appliances and equipment, as they offer significant cost and energy savings without compromising performance.

  • Install solar panels. Their cost has been significantly reduced within recent years due to improve material performance, design innovations, and accessibility. These systems will help to reduce your energy costs and subsequent demands for power.

You are welcomed to leave other tips and suggestions in the comments below, and we can have the article updated in time to come.

For further reading, we would like to recommend The True Costs of Green Building, Green and pleasant lands: eco-friendly Caribbean living, and Passive Cooling.