The Best (and Craziest) Green Home Design Ideas (guest post)

Adobe houseFor today’s guest post, we have writer and handywoman from DIY Mother  Katie White, who is passionate about self-reliance and conservation. She takes pride in making her home a more sustainable and comfortable place for her husband and two kids. She lives in Dallas.  Take it away, Katie!


No denying it, Green is in, and with all the energy savings and earth saving potential, why not? We’re not talking about greenwashing here; these are some great, albeit a little hardcore, ideas for environmentally friendly home design. Here is the short list:

1. Evapotranspiration

Staying with the outdoors for a moment, let’s talk about Evapotranspiration; it’s the hot topic in the blogosphere… well really, it’s a cool topic. Evapotranspiration is really just a fancy word to explain what happens when a plant moves and releases water vapor. That movement actually cools the plant and the immediate surrounding area. Combine that with the shade that trees provide, and you can cool an area by an astounding 9 degrees Fahrenheit. So strategically surrounding your home with trees can significantly reduce your power consumption once summer rolls around.

2. Radiant heating (and cooling)

Radiant heating systems supply heat directly to the floor (via panels) of a home. The most popular and cost-effective version of these pump heated water through tubes in the floor. To maximize the effect of radiant heating, floors covered in ceramic tiles are best because they conduct heat well, and add thermal storage. With a heating system in the floor, and a cooling system in the ceiling, these designs maximize efficiency and keep homes comfortable at low cost. In most cases, radiant heating should be paired with a tankless gas water heater to avoid wasting heat on stored water in the tank.

3. Shag insulation

Interestingly, some homeowners are installing shag carpet to go green—not for the floors, since those are decked out with ceramic radiant heating panels—but to insulate fridges and furnaces. Heat loss from refrigerators causes about 8% of homeowners’ electrical bills, so this technique can save quite a lot of energy. To maximize this effect, insulation board is taped to the top and sides of the refrigerator (not the doors), then the whole fridge is coated with a luxurious layer of disco. A full fridge with clean coils reaps the most benefit from this insulating design.

4. Ditch the toilet

This is one of the wilder green ideas that is growing in popularity, at least on the internet. The idea here isn’t to completely remove toilets from houses (although older models are usually replaced with high-efficiency models), but to reduce how often they’re used. More and more people are advocating urinating outside, which doesn’t have to be totally like camping. Many people are building outdoor restroom areas, (they prefer not to call them “latrines”) and by doing so save up to 5 gallons of water every time they choose to go outdoors.

5. Adobe housing

Adobe building techniques are a great way to go green, and it’s pretty stylish too. Adobe is efficient because it has low environmental impact, and it has a high thermal mass… meaning it retains temperature pretty well. Until recently, adobe did have a downside—it was seriously vulnerable to moisture—but new methods involving adding small amounts of stabilizers make adobe much more resilient against water damage. It’s still not workable in very rainy climates, but adobe is a great way to keep cool and save energy in arid and semi-arid regions.

Your turn!  What crazy green design ideas have you seen? worked with? recommended?  Share in the comments below, or drop me an email.

Welcome, too, to the new subscribers who signed on this week.  If for some reason, you didn’t get your free white paper on the 7 Critical Mistakes that Engineers and Architects Make, drop me a note and we’ll set you up. 


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