How Can I design My Alternative House for Maximum Energy Efficiency?

energy-efficient house

Alternative housing is becoming increasingly popular as people seek to reduce their environmental footprint and live off the grid. One of the essential aspects of alternative housing is energy efficiency. Designing alternative housing for maximum energy efficiency can reduce your environmental impact and save you money on energy bills. A home’s energy efficiency can be increased by designing it for less energy consumption at the outset. This means choosing a design that meets current code requirements and helps you reduce future demand by maximizing indoor and outdoor comforts. Below we outline some key considerations when designing an alternative housing option and advice on maximizing that potential once your plans are finalized.

Plan out your alternative housing requirements

Before you can design an alternative housing option, you must determine what you’re trying to achieve. 

What are your primary goals? 

  • lower utility costs
  • decrease your environmental impact
  • provide a comfortable indoor environment
  • or some combination 

Once you know what you’re trying to do, you can more easily select an alternative housing option that meets your needs. 

If you’re thinking about alternative housing as a way to increase your ecological footprint, here are some things you should consider: 

  • The size of your lot – choose alternative housing that can be incorporated into your property instead of separating it from your home.
  • External factors – ensure sufficient external factors such as views, natural light, and outdoor exposure. You might also want to consider how these factors will affect future renovations by considering how they affect energy efficiency and cost.
  • Landscape design – think about how changes in design or maintenance affect performance characteristics like U-Factor (the amount of heat escaping from a building) or EER (energy efficiency ratio). Think about planting trees or adding screening to maintain privacy while giving the house access to natural light.

The least expensive, most effective way to reduce utility costs and greenhouse gas emissions is to design your home so that the utilities you use to run the most efficiently. This means ensuring you have the proper airflow through your house and installing insulation or replacing windows where appropriate.

This step can be the most important in designing an alternative housing option. If you’re renovating an older home, this strategy is essential because your replacement will likely consume significantly more energy than the home it’s replacing. Your goal should be to minimize future energy demand so that you avoid having to replace your current system in the future.

Maximize passive solar heating and cooling

To reduce energy consumption, consider passive solar design. The idea behind the passive solar design is to use the natural heat and light from the sun to heat and light your home. To achieve this, you need to orient your home to face south and install large windows on the south-facing side. This allows the sun to shine into your home and heat it during winter. You can also install shading devices like awnings or screens to block the sun during summer and prevent overheating.

In warmer climates, homeowners will likely have to increase their use of air conditioning. Passive solar heating will work to transfer that heat into your surrounding soil, where it can be used to keep your home comfortable throughout the night and avoid using a large amount of electricity to cool the air. This can help reduce your cooling costs by allowing you to avoid using air conditioning whenever possible. 

Install the proper insulation

Insulation is critical for energy efficiency in your alternative housing. A well-insulated home can retain heat during the winter months and keep your home cool during summer. To maximize insulation levels, you should design your alternative housing option with high insulation levels in the walls and ceilings. You can use conventional materials like fiberglass batts, blown-in cellulose, or spray foam to insulate your walls, ceiling, and floor to increase the R-value. R-value measures the material’s thermal resistance. It can be expressed as the temperature difference that will cause 1 unit of heat to pass through 1 unit of an area over time. 

Many alternative housing options have built-in insulative properties, such as straw bale homes – The straw bales finished with plaster have a high R-value between 40 and 60 depending on the thickness. Aircrete has an insulative value of R-6 per every inch of thickness. So an aircrete brick of at least 2 1/2 in. – 4 in. thick would be similar to the R-value necessary for exterior walls. If you doubt the insulative value of your home, consider adding sustainable insulation, like the type from this table by Science Direct

Consider weatherproofing

When planning your alternative housing option, consider maximizing your building’s weatherproofing. Seal gaps or cracks in your home to prevent air leaks and improve energy efficiency. You can also incorporate high-performance windows and doors. Choose a roofing system with good insulation and a sealed roof deck to minimize air infiltration. You can also install an overhang to shield your roof from direct sunlight and prevent it from absorbing heat.

Use high-performance windows and doors

Energy efficiency is also significantly increased by improving your building envelope. High-performance windows are essential in this regard because they are designed to maximize airflow and reduce air infiltration. This can help provide indoor air quality free of harmful indoor pollutants such as formaldehyde, benzene, and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). High-performance windows can reduce your building’s energy consumption by reducing condensation and allowing more sunlight to enter your home. They can also help create better indoor air quality by allowing more fresh air. High-quality doors can also reduce your building’s energy consumption. They can allow more sunlight and fresh air to enter your home and provide sound insulation so that your home doesn’t lose heat as quickly during the winter.

Install a standing fan for ventilation

In addition to improving air quality, a standing fan can help you ventilate your home more efficiently by drawing in outdoor air and replacing indoor air with outdoor air. This can increase outdoor air ventilation and reduce the amount of indoor air pollution. For the summer, you can increase outdoor air ventilation by opening windows and using fans to replace indoor air with outdoor air.

Select the proper heating and cooling equipment

You can use a heat pump or hybrid heating and cooling systems when designing your alternative housing option. These systems are more energy efficient because they use electricity to heat and cool air instead of burning fuel. They can also be programmed to heat or cool rooms on a schedule and use less energy during periods of lower use. For example, a heat pump can help you lower your cooling costs in the evenings when electricity is cheaper and use less energy during the day when temperatures are higher.

Choose energy-efficient appliances

When planning your alternative housing option, you should also consider maximizing the use of energy-efficient appliances. This can help you reduce energy consumption by using less energy for appliances such as water heaters, air conditioners, and furnaces requiring fuel. Energy-efficient appliances use less energy and can save you money on energy bills in the long run. Look for appliances with the Energy Star label, which indicates that they meet strict energy efficiency guidelines set by the Environmental Protection Agency.

To maximize the use of energy-efficient appliances, you should design your alternative housing option with high insulation levels in the walls and ceilings. You can also select a well-lit design with sufficient floor space for appliances. You can install a rainwater harvesting system to save money on your water heater.

Consider private renewable energy

Your alternative housing option can also provide an opportunity to incorporate more private renewable energy systems such as rooftop solar panels, geothermal systems, and small wind turbines. These can help you reduce your overall energy consumption by providing power during periods when the grid is not functioning. You can also install a battery system to store excess energy generated by your renewable energy system and use it when needed. Before installing any renewable energy system, you need to assess your energy needs and determine the system size you need.

To install these systems on your alternative housing option, you should consult an engineer to determine how best to meet your needs.

Get a green roof

Your final opportunity to maximize energy efficiency in your alternative housing option is to get a green roof. A green roof is covered with vegetation, which can provide insulation, reduce stormwater runoff, and improve air quality. It can also help you increase your building’s energy efficiency by providing insulation and a source of oxygen for plants.

Are you ready to design an energy-efficient alternative house?

Designing your alternative housing for maximum energy efficiency can reduce your environmental impact and save you money on energy bills. Passive solar design, insulation, energy-efficient appliances, renewable energy, and green roofs are some ways you can design your alternative housing for maximum energy efficiency. Before designing your alternative housing, assess your energy needs and determine the most effective energy-efficient strategies for your home.

With the right design, building alternative housing options can help you lower your utility costs and reduce your greenhouse gas emissions. While building upon what you have is essential, it’s also important to design to meet your future needs. By incorporating energy-efficient building designs and technologies, you can save money, save energy and reduce your environmental impact.


Eva is a freelance copywriter specializing in all things real estate, B2B, PropTech, ReTech, CRETech. Owning rental property herself, Eva's love of real estate has turned into a passion for alternative housing options and educating people about the different types of housing available.

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