New Trends in Home Building

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While most of the latest trends in the home building industry relate to energy-efficiency and conservation of water, and in fact sustainability in general, there is also a noticeable trend towards down-sizing of homes.

New trends in home building also emphasize the need for integrating natural resources in home design, and making it easy to minimize waste. Additionally, there is a strong trend towards ensuring that our homes are healthy.

Here are five current trends worth noting:

Trend 1: Build a Sustainable Home

A huge number of people nowadays are either going green or at very least starting to think green. When you analyze what this means, you will realize that it all has to do with sustainability, both in terms of lifestyle and in terms of the environment. While style and color are clearly important factors in home design, more down-to-earth issues are even more important. These include:

  • Minimal damage to the natural vegetation on your lot when you build.
  • The efficient use of space both in terms of the size of your house and the use of your lot.
  • Use of local materials, particularly those found naturally, like wood and stone. Transportation of building materials is a major culprit when it comes to the industry's carbon footprint.
  •   Use of wood that has been harvested from sustainable forests.
  • Use of recycled materials for building, including lumber.
  • Ensure that lighting, heating and appliances are energy efficient.
  • Install plumbing devices that don't waste water, collecting rain water, and using unpolluted grey water.
  • Install ventilation systems that will cool and heat efficiently.
  • Ensure houses are well insulated.
  • Use alternative power sources, including both solar and wind.

PE International (www.pe-international.com), a global organization that specializes in sustainability, maintains that the building industry has the greatest potential of all industry sectors to reduce both CO₂ emissions and the use of non-sustainable resources. A growing number of consumers are embracing the challenge worldwide.

Trend 2: Build an Energy Efficient Home

There are many aspects of the building program that relate to energy efficiency. While photovoltaic solar power is probably the most obvious and most talked about means of making a home energy efficient, it is only one aspect, and perhaps surprisingly quite a small one.

Another trend that affects energy efficiency is building houses that are tightly sealed, or "built tight". The benefit of this is excellent insulation throughout the year, in hot and cold weather, and the fact that you can build a house without ducts and furnaces. Alternatively, houses are being built with ductwork inside the insulated "envelope" so that excessive heating and cooling doesn't occur. If furnaces are used, these are generally much smaller; so too are air conditioners. Designers are also tending to utilize superior-technology ventilation techniques, specifically energy recovery ventilators (ERVs) and heat recovery ventilators (HRVs) to ensure that homes stay well-ventilated, healthy and comfortable through all four seasons of the year.

These techniques are in keeping with one of the growing energy-efficiency related trends – the passive house. By building "tight", the air envelope of the house remains unbroken, until of course doors and windows are opened. The American passive home standard also calls for thick insulation in both walls and ceilings. Because of this, both heating and cooling requirements are minimal – as much as 90% less than in conventional, old fashioned homes.

Unfortunately, even though the idea of building passive houses is gaining interest and momentum, proponents say it is very difficult to find the right materials, or builders who have sufficient expertise within in North America and other countries outside of Europe.

Trend 3: Save Water at Home

Households all over the world waste water. While most of us can improve – or cut down on – water usage, it is the appliances and fittings in our plumbing units that will make a real difference when it comes to water conservation. For example, by simply replacing your existing shower heads and faucets with low-flow heads and aerators, you could cut your water usage by half.

The same applies to toilets which can account for close to a third of the water used in our homes. A few decades ago the solution was to put a brick in the cistern to minimize the water flowing into the cistern. Today the solution is to install a dual-flush, wash-down toiler. Niagara (www.niagaraconservation.com) has a 0.8 gallon (3 liter) passive "vacuum-assist" toilet (the Niagara Stealth) that according to the reviews tops the list in terms of toilet water conservation!

Installing a tank that will collect rain water is another easy way to save water. Connect it to your plumbing system or simply use it to irrigate your garden.

Grey water recycling is another trend that is growing, albeit slowly. By reusing household waste water for irrigation, we can cut down on our total water usage, replenish groundwater, and reduce the burden on storm water and septic-systems.

Trend 4: Plan for a Healthy Interior

Air pollution quite simply makes us sick. While you may not think that you could get sick at home because the air inside your home isn't of the highest quality, think again.

Many homes that utilize outdated technology have the potential to make us sick. Old fashioned heating and cooling systems, toxic materials, and even the components of some mass-produced construction materials have all been blamed for allergies, headaches and even depression.

Planning for a healthy interior entails getting rid of anything that is toxic. This might be structural lumber that has been pressure treated with arsenic, or paint that was made with toxic VOCs. Consider products like the ultimate eco-friendly NexGen (www.nexgenprotection.com/) or Pozzotive (www.kingstonblock.com), a concrete product that contains regionally recycled aggregates (including glass) instead of virgin-mined aggregates out of the earth.

To ensure a healthy interior also entails getting rid of moisture and dust.

Trend 5: Right-size Your Home

Originally a term that related to the perfect down-sizing of organizations in business, this is a trend that has now become associated with North American home building industry. There's even a book on the subject, published in May 2010 called Right-Sizing Your Home.

Right-sizing is a relatively simple concept that involves designing – or redesigning – a home to meet your needs, without adding space that you aren't going to use. It also involves ensuring that your home fits your lifestyle. Ultimately it enables you to make the living space in your home work for you, rather than having spaces (or rooms) that dictate function.

Right-sizing is intensely related to our personal needs, which is why it is one of the most popular new trends in home building.

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