view into small-scale model of home

There are two ways to create an energy-efficient house: Make energy upgrades to your house and appliances, or build one from scratch.

Whether upgrade your home or build a new house from scratch, the recommendations below will help you create your dream green home.

1. Verify the Materials Your Builder Uses

Everyone talks about using eco-friendly materials in new constructions, but how will you know that’s what your builder is using? Don’t just take your builder’s word at face value. Ask them for a list of materials they’re going to use to build your home. Then, research those materials to find out if they’re truly environmentally friendly.

For example, some eco-friendly materials are better than others because they reuse materials that might otherwise end up in landfills. Such materials include recycled cork panels and flooring, newspaperwood, bark siding, and recycled steel. There are also eco-friendly concrete alternatives like straw bales, grasscrete, bamboo, and hempcrete.

Before you hire a builder, discuss your eco-friendly preferences with them and find out which building materials they will use. If they aren’t willing to work with eco-friendly materials, look for a builder who is. As more consumers demand sustainable building options, we can expect a corresponding growth in builders who use them.

2. Be Willing to Pay for Energy Efficiency

While the majority of people build green homes to save money, some people do it strictly to reduce their impact on the environment. There’s no right or wrong reason to build an energy-efficient house, but be clear on how far you’re willing to go to save money and reduce your impact on the environment.

For example, will you give up running hot water in favor of a gravity shower out on the deck? Will you make your home so green that it doesn’t use any energy at all? Will you get out your rocket stove to cook all your meals? Where will you draw the line?

You don’t need to sacrifice modern comforts to save money and increase energy efficiency. Instead of eliminating a water heater to save money on electricity and water, consider installing a propane tank in your yard and hooking up a propane-powered water heater.

Michael Bluejay, known as “Mr. Electricity,” has spent his entire career analyzing energy use to determine the cost savings of each type of water heater. Bluejay says gas water heaters are almost always cheaper than electric, but installing a solar water heating system is the best option. A solar heating system will pay for itself in seven years.

Although a solar water heating system — or a home solar power system — will cost you more up front, it will pay for itself over time. Going green is an investment that takes time to mature. Be willing to spend the money necessary to build a comfortable, green home.

3. Find Energy-Efficient House Plans

Despite the growing popularity of “going green,” green homes aren’t abundant on the market. Most new construction isn’t green, as sustainable homes are more expensive to build than standard homes. Until there’s a large market for green new homes, home builders won’t have an incentive to prioritize eco-friendly plans — which would eventually bring the cost down.

However, some builders have started offering eco-friendly house plans, and it’s becoming more common. For example, The Plan Collection provides a resource for sourcing house plans that consider the environment by using natural resources, recycled materials, and new technologies. The designs are simple and make use of all the space in the home. For instance, many plans feature large windows that take advantage of the sun’s natural light and heat.

4. Go Directly to an Energy-Efficient Builder

Some builders have partnered with the DOE Zero Energy Ready Home program to build verified energy-efficient houses. This program uses a third-party to verify homes are at least 40 to 50 percent more energy efficient than typical new homes. Partnership requirements are strict, so you can be sure you’re connecting with experienced energy-efficient builders.

To find a builder who will create an energy-efficient house from plans, search the program’s database by state or by DOE partner, if you already know who you’re looking for. Partners of the program include builders, verifiers, training partners, lenders, architects, designers, and innovation partners.

5. Plan To Recapture Usable Water

A significant portion of the water you use in your home can be reused. Used water from sinks, showers, tubs, and washing machines, called greywater, can be captured for reuse. Some people reuse greywater in gardens, while others reuse it to flush the toilet.

You can have your builder install a greywater recycling system in your new home, or you can build one into an existing home. If you’re building a new house, it’s easier to install it from the beginning so you get the exact system you want and don’t need to create workarounds.

Green Is Going Mainstream – Slowly but Surely

New green home construction isn’t the standard yet, but the day is coming when it will be. Until then, it’s up to you to source the right builder, the most efficient and sustainable materials, and modify traditional systems as you see fit to get your energy-efficient house.


By Jenna Cyprus

Jenna is a freelance writer and business consultant who covers business, technology and entrepreneurship. She's lectured for several universities and worked with more than 100 businesses over the course of the past 15 years. She's a mother of two kids, and loves to go camping, hiking and skiing with her family.