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Sustainable Homes: features, benefits, and examples of eco-friendly use cases

What are sustainable homes, what are their characteristics and the advantages? Discover all the details of green design

Sustainable homes are part of a broad context related to modern construction increasingly oriented towards green choices, in full respect of nature and the surrounding environment. Sustainable homes emerge as a concrete response to global environmental threats and are the result of careful design and implementation, focused on minimizing the environmental impact throughout the building’s life cycle. The construction practices adopted aim to harmoniously integrate the needs of the inhabitants with the safeguarding of the surrounding environment, offering residential solutions that stand out for their sustainability and efficiency.

What are sustainable homes?

What are sustainable homes? These are environmentally friendly buildings that respect the environment, aimed at achieving high energy efficiency. Sustainable homes stand out for the use of materials and technologies that allow for reducing the consumption of natural resources, greenhouse gas emissions, and waste production during the construction phase and throughout the building’s life cycle. These homes integrate a series of strategies, including the careful selection of materials, the optimization of energy efficiency, the adoption of waste management systems, and the integration of sustainable technologies.

Sustainable home: characteristics

To be defined as “sustainable,” a home must possess a series of characteristics, including:

  • energy efficiency: a sustainable home is designed to minimize energy consumption, using high-quality insulation materials, high-performance windows, and efficient heating and cooling systems. The goal is to minimize dependence on non-renewable energy sources and greenhouse gas emissions;
  • use of sustainable materials: the materials used in the construction of a sustainable home are chosen for their low environmental impact. They are often natural, renewable, or recycled materials, such as wood from sustainably managed forests, cellular concrete produced with recycled materials, and natural insulators like cellulose fiber and sheep’s wool;
  • waste management: particular attention is given to waste management during the construction and useful life of the building. Practices of reduction, reuse, and recycling of construction materials and generated waste are adopted, contributing to the overall reduction of the building’s environmental impact;
  • indoor air quality: a sustainable home promotes indoor air quality, using materials free of harmful substances and integrating controlled ventilation systems. This ensures a healthy and comfortable indoor environment for the inhabitants;
  • water savings: sustainable homes integrate rainwater collection and reuse systems and low-water consumption technologies, contributing to water resource conservation and overall water consumption reduction;
  • integration with the environment: a green home is designed to harmoniously integrate with the surrounding environment, using bioclimatic design practices and promoting biodiversity through the use of gardens and green areas.

Sustainable prefabricated homes

Designing a prefabricated home is an increasingly popular solution based on two elements: prefabricated materials and Building Information Modeling (BIM), which simplify and improve the design process. Prefabricated homes are manufactured in a factory, transported to the construction site, and assembled, differing from the traditional “on-site” method. The design involves creating detailed models, factory production of components, transportation to the site for assembly, followed by finishes. The use of sustainable materials such as wood, steel, and concrete contributes to efficiency and sustainability. BIM facilitates building design through detailed digital models, improving collaboration and project management. Prefabricated homes offer benefits such as time and cost savings, energy efficiency, and customization.

Sustainable home: how is the design carried out?

Building sustainable wooden homes requires careful design and detailed planning, where every decision is guided by the goal of maximizing efficiency and minimizing environmental impact. The choice of materials is fundamental: natural, renewable, and low-impact materials are preferred, such as wood, cellular concrete produced with recycled materials, and natural insulators like cellulose fiber and sheep’s wool.

Furthermore, sustainable homes integrate advanced technologies to optimize the building’s energy efficiency. Photovoltaic and solar systems allow for generating clean and renewable energy, reducing dependence on fossil sources and contributing to the reduction of CO2 emissions. High-performance heating and cooling systems, combined with adequate ventilation and thermal insulation, ensure optimal living comfort with minimal environmental impact.

The design begins with a thorough analysis of the environmental context in which the home will be located. This involves evaluating the local climate, solar exposure, wind conditions, and characteristics of the surrounding terrain. This information is essential to guide the design in maximizing the building’s energy efficiency and harmoniously integrating with the surrounding environment. To receive valuable support in designing sustainable buildings, it is possible to apply the BIM methodology, use energy calculation software, and implement BIM management platforms for managing the entire life cycle of constructions.

Defining goals and selecting the right materials

Once the complexity of the context is understood, design goals are defined. These goals may include reducing energy consumption, optimizing the use of natural resources, promoting biodiversity, and creating healthy and comfortable indoor environments. Planning the indoor and outdoor space of the building is a fundamental step involving defining room layouts, circulation flows, and outdoor areas, considering the inhabitants’ needs and sustainability goals.

The selection of construction materials is crucial. Natural, renewable, and low-impact materials are preferred. In the design of a sustainable home, the integration of sustainable technologies is also fundamental. These may include photovoltaic and solar systems for generating renewable energy, high-performance heating and cooling systems, and rainwater management systems. The goal is to minimize energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions while ensuring a high level of comfort for the inhabitants.

Throughout the design process, periodic evaluations are conducted to verify compliance with sustainability goals and identify areas for improvement. The design is continuously optimized to ensure that the building meets the highest standards of sustainability and environmental performance. This process requires the collaboration of a wide range of specialized professionals, including architects, structural engineers, energy engineers, interior designers, and sustainability experts, working together to integrate the best sustainable practices and technologies into the overall building project.

Sustainable Wooden Homes

Prefabricated wooden houses are a modern and highly sought-after solution in the field of sustainable construction. This form of construction aims to improve the living comfort while respecting the surrounding environment.

One of the main advantages of sustainable wooden homes is their low carbon dioxide emissions, resulting in a reduction of waste volume generated during demolition, which is often harmful to the environment. Wood is a natural and renewable material, whose use as the main structural component helps reduce the overall ecological footprint of the building. Additionally, the wood production process requires less energy compared to other construction materials, further contributing to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.

Wooden homes are also known for their excellent insulating properties. Wood is a thermally efficient material, capable of providing natural insulation that helps maintain a constant and comfortable indoor temperature throughout the year. Even finishing materials such as paints and adhesives are natural and non-polluting, as well as breathable plasters. Furthermore, the installation of windows with double or triple glazing and the elimination of thermal bridges contribute to improving energy efficiency, reducing energy consumption for heating and cooling.

Sustainable Home: Advantages and Disadvantages

Sustainable homes offer a range of advantages but also come with some disadvantages. Below are the main ones listed.

Advantages

  • reduced environmental impact: sustainable homes use materials and technologies that reduce the impact on the environment, contributing to the conservation of natural resources and the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions;
  • energy efficiency: thanks to thermal insulation, the use of renewable energy sources such as solar energy, and efficient heating and cooling systems, sustainable homes consume less energy, thus reducing costs and air pollution;
  • living comfort: sustainable homes are designed to maximize the comfort of the inhabitants, offering excellent indoor air quality, adequate natural lighting, and efficient temperature control;
  • financial savings: despite potential higher initial costs for the design and construction of a sustainable home, significant savings can be achieved in the long term on operational costs, such as those related to energy and maintenance;
  • property value: due to their energy efficiency and environmental focus, sustainable homes may have a higher market value and attract potential buyers or tenants sensitive to environmental issues;
  • resilience and durability: bio-constructed homes, especially those made of high-quality wood, are resistant to weather conditions. Additionally, wood can be treated to make it fire-resistant, ensuring a high level of safety;
  • customization and practicality: they offer the possibility of being customized according to the owner’s needs and tastes. They can be disassembled and reassembled in other locations with similar geographical features, offering greater flexibility.

Disadvantages

  • higher initial costs: sustainable homes may require higher initial investments compared to traditional constructions, due to the innovative materials and construction techniques used. This may limit access to this type of housing for some people;
  • design complexity: designing a sustainable home requires greater attention and expertise from architects and engineers, as they must consider multiple environmental and technological factors;
  • specific maintenance: some sustainable components and technologies may require specific and periodic maintenance to ensure proper long-term operation, which could entail additional costs;
  • limitations of materials and techniques: despite the wide availability of materials and techniques for sustainable construction, there may be limitations in the choice of materials and construction techniques due to limited knowledge or availability in the local market.

Sustainable Home: The 5 Most Famous Examples

Architects and designers from around the world have dedicated themselves to finding innovative solutions to create homes that meet modern needs without compromising the well-being of the planet.

Here are the 5 iconic buildings of environmental sustainability:

  • Water tower home in England;
  • Vogel house in Switzerland;
  • Bamboo house in France;
  • Home for life in Denmark;
  • Vertical forest in Milan.

Water Tower Home in England

From a water tower to a luxury residence! Located in the Kennington district, south of London, the Kennington Water Tower has a rich and fascinating history. Built in 1877 as part of the “Lambeth Workhouse and Infirmary“, this tower also housed Charlie Chaplin. Abandoned for years, it was purchased in 2011 by Leigh Osborne and Graham Voce, who transformed it into a luxury residence.

An extension was added to the back of the tower: a three-story glass cube, called The Cube, which serves as the main living space and includes a kitchen, living room, and a panoramic terrace with a 360-degree view of the entire city, with the London Eye and Big Ben in the foreground. Equipped with the largest sliding doors in the UK and “smart” windows that allow for transition from transparent to opaque to maximize privacy. The highlight of the transformation is the Prospect Room, located on the eighth floor where the original cast iron water tank was once located.

Vogel House in Switzerland

This is an example of an eco-friendly wooden house designed by architects Diethelm&Spellman in Switzerland, characterized by a design that minimizes heat loss and maximizes solar energy utilization. Raised from the ground on an unheated base, this house is entirely built of wood and clad with a silver plaster. Rough larch panels adorn its walls, giving it a rustic and natural character. Its compact structure is completed by a sloping roof, fully insulated to maintain an optimal indoor temperature. Equipped with photovoltaic panels, this house is designed to minimize temperature fluctuations and heat loss, allowing for almost zero energy consumption.

Bamboo House in France

The architecture firm Karawitz, located in Bessancourt, France, has created a house that has received the prestigious certification from the Passivhaus Institut, becoming the second national house to receive this recognition. This success is not only about comfort and environmental sustainability but also about the exceptional architectural quality of the work.

Low-energy architecture has its roots in Northern Europe since the 1980s, but it was only at the end of the decade that the concept of “passive” architecture began to be explored. Thanks to studies at Lund University in Sweden, design and construction methods were developed to reduce building energy consumption and ensure autonomous environmental comfort for users.

In Karawitz’s project, the archetype of the rural house with a gabled roof merges with traditional local dwellings. The walls and roof are completely covered with a bamboo layer, aiming to mitigate the effect of direct sunlight. Modular panels allow residents to regulate the indoor climate, offering coolness in hot seasons and allowing variations in the house design through openings and closures.

South-facing openings harness solar radiation during cold seasons, while windows with triple glazing and argon gas reduce thermal dispersion. Photovoltaic panels installed on the roof provide energy, while the solid wood and wood fiber structure ensures excellent thermal insulation.

The house is divided into two distinct parts, separated by a “backbone” that serves as a compositional and functional element. This backbone divides the functional areas of the house and provides support for internal movable walls, adapting the space to different needs. The main areas facing south are expanded by an internal garden, providing an additional layer of thermoregulation and connection with the external environment.

Home for Life in Denmark

Located in Aarhus, Denmark, the Home for Life is a pioneering demonstration of a zero CO2 emissions house, inhabited by a family of four since July 2009. The Home for Life embodies 3 fundamental criteria: energy efficiency, high living quality, and minimal environmental impact. Featuring large roof windows that ensure optimal natural lighting, this residence offers great comfort, demonstrating that it is possible to create buildings that are CO2 neutral without compromising architectural quality or residents’ well-being. The project focuses on the individual, innovation, and sustainability, offering a vision of a more eco-friendly and comfortable future living.

Vertical Forest in Milan

The Vertical Forest in Milan represents an innovative urban forestation project aimed at regenerating the urban environment and biodiversity without the need for further city expansion. This model of vertical densification of greenery and buildings within the city closely aligns with reforestation and renaturalization policies of large urban areas, also known as “Metroboschi“. The Milan Vertical Forest consists of two towers of 110 and 76 meters, hosting a total of 900 trees, some of which reach a height of nearly 9 meters, along with numerous shrubs and floral plants. This equates to a wooded area of approximately 10,000 m2, which would be equivalent to 50,000 m2 of land occupied by single-family homes.

The operation of the vertical forest is based on a system that optimizes, recovers, and produces energy, helping to create a microclimate and filter fine dust in the urban environment. The diversity of plants and their characteristics allow for the production of humidity, absorption of CO2 and dust, oxygen production, and protection against atmospheric agents and noise pollution, thus improving living comfort and reducing energy consumption. Plant irrigation mainly occurs through a centralized system for filtering gray water, while the presence of solar panels and geothermal energy utilization systems contributes to making the project environmentally friendly.

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