“We need strategies to know what is essential and to carry it out. What is essential then? Doing the most with the least?” 

Jean-Philippe Vassal Lacaton

A more sustainable, environmentally friendly way of life that takes more and better care of our planet is a global obligation. ‘There is no planet B’ and we are increasingly aware of this. For this reason, one of the trends that is gaining momentum in the world of architecture are energy efficient homes, also known as ecological houses or eco-sustainable houses.

Sustainable architecture, therefore, is vital today, as this sector must find a way to respond to a prevailing social requirement: greater environmental sensitivity. According to UN figures, buildings account for almost half of all global energy use and emit 40% of greenhouse gas emissions.

In fact, the Pritzker Architecture Prize, considered the Nobel Prize of this discipline, has awarded the Lacaton Vassal architecture studio, of which the architect with whom we have opened this article is a member, for its concern for sustainability. 

But ecological housing is not only necessary for greater care of the environment, but also has advantages for the pockets of the people who live in it. Good design and the use of current technology allow considerable savings on bills at the end of the month.

Decalogue of energy efficient homes

But what defines an ecological house? Here are the 10 commandments that this type of home must fulfil to be able to boast this label. 

1. Orientation is key in the design of energy efficient house

The first thing that any ecological house must comply with is a good orientation, that is to say, a good adaptation to its surroundings. In this way, consumption can be reduced as it is warmed by the sun in winter and kept cooler in summer. For colder climates, the recommendation is to open up openings towards the south to make the most of the sun, while in warmer places, the projection of eaves or exterior vegetation is key to avoid interior overheating.

2. Double glazing for windows

Another important point to consider for a good energy efficient home is the windows. These should be double-glazed to avoid wasting a lot of energy. In fact, nowadays, windows, like household appliances, are also energy labelled. To make the right choice, the environment must be taken into account, as not all climates require the same type of windows.

3. Thermal and acoustic insulation

There are now many quick and easy solutions that provide the thermal and acoustic insulation needed to make a house more energy saving. For example, mineral wool can be injected into the air chamber of the walls without any building work. Or rigid insulation panels can be included.

4. Green homes: control water use

It goes without saying that everyone knows that you should turn off the tap while brushing your teeth or lathering up in the shower, as rational use of water is another of the key points of energy efficient homes. And this can be achieved without sacrificing comfort. Nowadays there are taps with mechanisms to control the water flow and reduce it to less than 8 litres per minute.

5. Energy-saving lighting

With energy-saving light bulbs and LEDs, you can save between 30 and 80% on your electricity bill. However, in order to make the right use of lighting when decorating the home, other factors must be taken into account, such as the temperature of these bulbs.

6. Energy efficient appliances

This means that they will use less energy and are therefore more sustainable and environmentally friendly. As we said when talking about windows, there are energy labels to classify them.

7. Efficient air conditioning

In the first point we have highlighted the importance of a good adaptation to the environment in energy efficient homes. The aim is precisely to avoid as much as possible the use of air conditioning equipment, such as air conditioners, which tend to consume a lot of energy.  

8. Adapting to change: key to green homes

The more flexible the home we live in, the more sustainable it will be in the long term. To achieve this, the most important thing is to design a space that is able to evolve with its inhabitants and that the spaces are as open-plan as possible.

9. Follow the great rule of the 3 R’s of sustainability: reduce, reuse and recycle

The ideal way to be as sustainable as possible is to approach the idea of a circular economy, which is committed to a new economic model that is much more efficient in terms of materials, energy and waste. This means using products that have been made from recycled materials and that at the end of their useful life can be reused in other ways. 

10. Improve your living habits

The last of the keys to energy efficient homes has less to do with the design of the house and more to do with the habits of the people who live in it. Our small daily actions can have a big effect on the environment (and also on our wallets): turning off the water while soaping up or brushing our teeth, using cold wash programmes in washing machines and dishwashers, switching off lights, using power strips with switches to avoid using electricity on standby… Small gestures do count.

If you would like to read more information about sustainable architecture and ecological housing, we also recommend our articles on organic architecture and prefabricated houses. We also encourage you to follow Decommunity’s accounts specialised in the architecture sector such as  @_archidesignhome_ or @worldarchitecturedesign.