The design step in the homebuilding process is pivotal because so many decisions are being made that affect the long-term impact of your home on the environment.  If low-carbon living is one of your goals, there are a few clear choices that can help you enjoy the convenience and beauty of a new home while starting a cycle that will reduce your environmental impact for years to come. 

Consider these steps to ensure your low carbon footprint when designing a home:

Step One: Consider the Site and Surroundings

One of the ways you can make a major impact through your home design is by actually choosing a location that reduces your daily carbon footprint through being walkable or close to public transportation.  These factors make livability higher as well, since interacting harmoniously with your neighbors and fellow citizens can increase quality of life.  You'll also want to know if placing your home in this location will fragment a forest or disturb local wildlife, so checking on the site is essential before committing to building a house there . 


Step Two: Design for the Site You Select

Many famous unusual buildings were known for having seemed to grow up out of the environment in which they were located; this is the ideal of site-specific design.  Once you know the site is right for you, notice how water flows through the site, what kind of sunlight and wind exist in the area, and how the sunlight falls on the site.  These factors allow you to choose where to put windows, how to incorporate renewable energy options, and how to reduce energy use for things like natural drainage.  Architects will be able to help you note the natural advantages of your space and rather than working against a unique site in order to make a home look like others, they can offer surprising and unique features that will benefit you because of the unique location.


Step Three: Minimize Your Resource Needs

While generating new electricity for one's home via sustainable energy is nice, one of the best ways to reduce a carbon footprint is to never need those resources in the first place; after all, new energy systems require components and parts that are resource-intensive to make.  By using passive solar, a design principle that takes full advantage of south-facing windows to heat a home as well as appliances that require the minimum amount of water to function, you can make your home more sustainable without ever "missing" the resources that would be used by more inefficient choices.  Even choices like double and triple pane windows make a home less likely to lose the heat that you generate for it, meaning that a home can stay snug and warm longer without burning more fuel.


Step Four: Efficient Space Planning

The "tiny house" movement and the design of cabins inside boats both demonstrate a principle that ought to be true for regular living spaces as well: every place in a home should have a purpose, and a home shouldn't simply be large and roomy to accommodate greater and greater amounts of possessions.  As you consider the space you need, work with your designers to make sure that you make great use of space and reduce how much of it you need; after all, materials have an environmental effect and every square foot that you must heat and cool for years to come has an energy signature. 

This doesn't mean that you cannot have open spaces, but design your open spaces to have low impact on your carbon footprint; whether that is an airy passive solar porch or a home that relies on an outdoor patio for much of its gathering space, you'll have a more responsible level of energy consumption and resource need if your home is the right size and not too large for you and your family.


Step Five: Choose Sustainable Materials by Their Lifecycle Impact

While many have positive associations with a particular material like natural wood tones, one of the important factors in choosing home materials is whether or not they have low embodied energy.  This metric is a way to look at every process that goes into getting that material to your build site, whether it starts with mining or logging, a processing plant, transportation, and cutting.  An experienced builder can work with you to choose a material that will be long-lasting so that you don't have to replace it while also having low impact along the lifecycle chain on the environment.  They can also use design elements to make even uninteresting materials beautiful and modern-looking, even if you had pictured a home with a different material at its core. 


Step Six: Expect a Long-Lasting Home

When price tags start to pile up, a tendency is to aim for materials that cost less in the short run; this is especially true in large subdivisions full of homes.  However, no material remains new forever, so it is better to invest in something that will remain durable for at least 50 years.  First, the overall investment is lower in a home material that is built to last, and second, choosing a home design that reduces your need for energy and water will already be bringing in some passive savings which are compounded over the life of the house.


Step Seven: Consider Common Options for Pushing Your Home's Standards Even Higher

To make sure that all the above principles are integrated in a rigorous way, you can aim for a LEED-certified home.  These standards are a comprehensive way to evaluate if you are using high quality supplies and well-tested design that save energy and materials.  Another important concept is how to make each room circulate air in a low-energy way, like the principles of Passive Houses. It is clear that many others share your goal of modern sustainable living, so reach out for resources and ideas that may work for your site-specific design.