Sustainable housing: what do we mean?

A sustainable house must be energy efficient and less expensive to use. Like the Francis Jammes Residence in Pau, it must be durable and made from materials that will not harm you or the environment. It must take into account the evolution of your family in the years to come and adapt accordingly. Besides, the waste produced during construction must be taken into account, both in terms of cost and environmental impact. So what is a sustainable home?

There are three aspects that go into the definition of a sustainable home: design, materials, and size.

Passive design

Another buzzword, a passively designed home makes the most of natural heating and cooling methods to keep the home comfortable and reduce operating costs. The main elements of passive design are orientation, spatial zoning, thermal mass, ventilation, insulation, shading, and glazing. Taking these into account can make a huge difference in how your home functions throughout the year. Proper orientation is the most important, as it allows you to take advantage of the sun’s heat in the winter and block it out in the summer. This alone can reduce your energy costs considerably. Insulation is another important element to consider. Insulation acts as a barrier that keeps heat in and out of a home, keeping a home cooler in the summer and retaining heat in the winter. Insulation is not just for the roof, you can also insulate your walls and floor for maximum energy efficiency.

Each site presents different challenges, but the goal should always be to minimize the sun in summer and maximize the heat in winter. Air movement and ventilation are two other important elements to consider, with the goal of designing efficient cross-air flow throughout the building.

Sustainable materials

All materials have embodied energy, the energy used throughout their life cycle, from processing and manufacturing to product delivery. The wrong choice of materials can diminish or negate the benefits of all your other sustainable living choices. Also, as mentioned earlier, materials must be durable to avoid the cost (to your pocket and to the environment) of replacing them. We try to use sustainably sourced woods, recycled or locally sourced materials, and finishes that are low in volatile organic compounds. Thermal mass is another criterion to consider for materials: this is the ability of the material to absorb and release heat. Brick and concrete are most often the best choice.

Size

Not surprisingly, smaller houses use less energy to build and operate. So the question of size is the first one that any ambitious builder must answer. How much space do you need to live in? It is important to answer this question correctly because every square meter of a house consumes energy and therefore contributes to the operating costs of the house. Size is also important to consider when designing a house. What will happen in the house? How many people will occupy it? A good design will take these questions into account and leave room for possible modifications to the house by the future occupants.