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Hand in Hand: Design and Sustainability

It doesn’t have to be one or the other when it comes to energy efficiency and design.

By Brian Alvarado

We are in the midst of the dog days of summer, and green home building and design continues to be a headlining topic post-COVID. There seems to be a perception of sustainability out in the public that poses the question, “can beautiful houses be energy efficient?” Architecture and design are a main, unique focus for this issue of Green Home Builder, and as some of the experts in the industry mention, beauty and appearance does not have to be sacrificed when it comes to high-performance homes.

“Design does not have to be forfeited with the vast amount of product choices available, and although it may cost a little more initially, the long term benefits will continue to add up,” said WHA’s Julia Malisos in her column this month. “Beyond green is the (high-performance home), and beyond its exterior appearance lies the true beauty within.”

Aside from not having to sacrifice appearance, we’re entering an age where architecture, design and sustainability all come hand in hand. Furthermore, many of today’s homebuilders are making green a given, rather than a luxury for the homebuyer to opt into or not. So obviously, sustainability is now the standard.

There’s also data out there that suggests sustainable design is already a preference among the biggest demographic in the homebuying market currently — millennials. In a survey of home remodeling and construction industry experts by remodeling resource, 57% of them said that millennials make the most requests for sustainable features in their homes. 

In the same survey, Fixr also gathered some of the top green home trends, which included high recycled content in materials, bamboo building materials, smart technology, solar panels and ENERGY STAR appliances.

“As the interest in green living continues to rise, so will the interest in sustainable home design. While the trends can change as new materials and techniques are introduced, one thing remains certain. As more people understand the benefits of sustainable design, technology, and materials,more people will adopt them,” said Fixer’s Cristina Miguelez.

“…beauty and appearance does not have to be sacrificed when it comes to high-performance homes.”

Another important aspect of sustainable design in the homebuilding industry is indoor air quality (IAQ) and its impact on residents. In her column this month, Wellness Within Your Walls’ Jillian Pritchard Cooke explains the different ways that IQA can affect one’s overall health, considering the pandemic as an example.

“Although other key factors such as clean water, natural light and physical wellbeing are important, airborne viruses such as COVID-19 have significantly affected IAQ, making it of the utmost importance,” Cooke said. “Controlling invisible adversaries – toxins and other minute particulate matter – in indoor air is essential. EPA studies show indoor air to be 2 to 5 – and occasionally up to 100 – times more polluted.”

Switching gears, many of today’s designers and architects are keeping in mind the many green certification requirements that an abundance of builders might be hiring them to meet, like LEED, Passive House, Zero Energy Ready Homes and the National Green Building Standard just to name a few.

Certifications like these take care of multiple tasks with one stone. They set a goal for architects and designers to meet and keep them accountable. They also provide the homeowner with plenty of reassurance that a home is energy-efficient. They can even increase a home’s value on the market.

In a previous issue of Green Home Builder, Michelle Foster of NGBS further backed up the fact that certifications can be beneficial to all parties involved.

“Consumers are familiar with third-party certifications. They rely on third-party certifications because consumers are generally distrustful of the product claims that builders and real estate professionals may make,” said Foster. “When you have a third-party certification, you can tell the homebuyer, ‘Don’t take my word for it, this home was certified as compliant with the National Green Building Standard by Home Innovation.”’

With health and wellness seemingly here to stay as the hot topic of discussion with rumblings of the delta variant appearing to rear its ugly head, it’s fitting that architects and designers are  beginning to showcase that sustainability is a given when it comes to their planning. One doesn’t have to give up design for energy efficiency and vice versa.

“In the upcoming post-pandemic recovery, as we set out to reopen and rebuild, it’s critical that we build it right,” said WELL Building Institute’s Nathan Stodola in this month’s interview. Making our buildings and communities more resilient means, in a major way, focusing on strategies that advance people’s health and well-being so that our places serve as the first line of defense in disastrous times, such as the one we just went through.”

Brian Alvarado is the editor for Green Home Builder. He can be reached at