Would you like to live in an environmentally friendly house or apartment?  by

Corey Szopinski:

We currently live in a highly efficient house, and my family loves it. The good news is that it’s not hard to build an environmentally friendly house, but it does require some design thinking.

First a few of the choices that make our house special:

– The house is built from SIP walls. SIP stands for structural insulated panels, and they’re awesome for a few reasons:
a. SIPs are highly insulating
b. They are pre-fabricated and shipped to the site. This makes them economical and fast to put up.
c. They’re effective sound barriers

– Our house is covered in a thick coating of white stucco. This reflects sunlight to keep it cool in the summer. And the stucco acts as a thermal mass which slows down the movement of heat through the walls.

– The main floor is concrete. This large thermal mass also helps keep the house cool in the summer and warmer in the winter because it is slow to change temperature.

– The windows are low emissivity (Low-E), which blocks much of the incoming UV heat.

– The roof is covered with a 6 kW solar array which keeps the sun from hitting the roof (keeping the house cool) and also generates 95-100% of the energy we need.

– A tankless water heater heats up only the water we need at the moment… it doesn’t keep water hot all day long.

– Our heating is provided by a wood pellet stove. These stoves use compressed wood chips/sawdust in a special burn chamber to kick out heat. The wood is actually a waste product left over from sawmills and woodworking shops.

Best of all, our house was cheaper than many on the LA market for a similar size. A few cost savings techniques:

– Fewer windows. Windows are expensive and are very good at losing heat in the winter and taking on the heat in the summer. The opposite of what you want. Keep them to a minimum.

– All the water is on one side of the house. Our bathrooms are located on the second floor directly above our kitchen. And our laundry room is right behind the kitchen. So all the pipes have a short run. This saves money and gives us hot water faster.

– Reused existing concrete outside the house. Concrete pouring and removing is expensive, so our architect positioned the house to take advantage of the existing driveway.

– We have a fast charger installed in the garage that powers my Chevy Volt. I cut my monthly gas costs from $400/month down to zero. Many people forget to factor these types of lifestyle choices into the overall cost benefit of a house.

– While we paid for our solar array all at once (and got a nice tax credit), friends have had great luck with Solar City. With solar leasing, there’s no upfront cost, just a lower monthly power bill for the next 20 years. Hard to beat that for cost efficiency.

In LA, there’s a trend around “small lot” buildings. These new homes are clusters of townhouses that are more cost effective because they share walls and driveways. Cost per square foot is about half what we paid for our house. And modern building codes require gray water systems. Many of these new homes include solar panels. And they’re priced perfectly for folks looking for their first home.

Bottom line: cost isn’t the barrier keeping people from living more efficiently. The barrier is simply inertia, which is overcome by rethinking our approach.

Would you like to live in an environmentally friendly house or apartment? originally appeared on Quora