21 Construction Techniques to Build a Small, Sustainable, Eco-Friendly Home

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Modern Concrete Home Design Using ICF 2

Fox Blocks ICF contributes significantly towards five of the six fundamental ecological principles of sustainable home design and construction: optimize site potential, energy, water, material efficiency, good IEQ, and durability.

A small, sustainable home design applies techniques based on six established sustainable principles aimed to enhance the house's energy-efficiency, durability, and overall indoor environmental quality (IEQ). A small, sustainable house will also save you money on monthly bills, maintenance, repairs, and potential replacement of building systems, compared to traditional construction methods. A sustainable home contributes to preserving our natural resources and ensuring a safe environment for future generations. A recent study predicts that by 2021 new sustainable-green construction projects will increase by 47 percent, nearly doubling the rate from 2018.

What is Sustainable Home Construction?

Sustainable home construction strives to ensure a continuation of our current quality of life by reducing the use of natural resources (energy, water, minerals, land, etc.), protecting the ecosystems from facilities and infrastructure throughout their life span, and creating healthy, comfortable, and safe indoor environments — all of which provide financial, environmental, and social benefits.

Sustainable-green construction first gained ground in the 1970s due to growing environmental concerns and increasing oil prices. However, a formal acknowledgment of sustainable construction practices did not occur until the 1990s, with the launching of the ENERGY STAR program (1992), the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) (1993), the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) pilot program (1998). Today, the definition of sustainable building design continues to evolve, however, six fundamental ecological principles of sustainability persist: optimize site potential, energy, water, and material efficiency, good IEQ, and durability.

The Benefits of Sustainable Home Construction

Sustainable home construction offers homeowners and the global community many financial, environmental, and social benefits.

  • Uses 20-30 percent less energy and water, helping reduce utility bills
  • Can lower maintenance, repair, and system replacement costs
  • May add 2.7 percent resale value to a home.
  • Creates healthy indoor environments by maximizing fresh air and utilizing techniques and materials that minimize exposure to airborne pollutants and toxins.
  • Improves the quality of life by reducing unwanted noise from outdoor sources.
  • Minimizes waste by using renewable sources and materials, preserving precious natural resources, and limiting landfill waste.

21 Construction Techniques for Building a Small, Sustainable, and Eco-Friendly Home

Contractors and architects of small, sustainable homes achieve sustainability goals (preserving natural resources, protecting the ecosystems, and creating a healthy indoor environment) by applying techniques based on the six fundamental ecological principles.

1. Passive Solar Design

Passive solar design minimizes cooling and heating loads with energy-efficient and solar energy strategies — independent of mechanical and electrical devices. Year-round, passive solar homes maintain a constant-comfortable temperature while minimizing energy use. Passive solar design can reduce energy bills by 65 percent compared to typical building methods.

Passive solar design involves facing a home south, directly towards the Sun, and utilizing high-thermal mass products, like insulated concrete form (ICF) wall systems.

During cold weather, the sunlight shines through the south-facing windows, allowing the home to absorb and store the heat in the thermal mass materials, releasing the warmth during the chilly nights — a process that helps stabilize temperature shifts within the home. During warmer weather, the south-facing windows need overhang shutters, awnings, and trellises to shade summer solar heat gains.

South-facing windows and skylights can bring daylight deep into a home or building. The natural daylighting allows natural light to bathe the space throughout the day, reducing the energy needed for artificial light.

2. Landscaping

The landscape of a small, sustainable home should include trees and shrubs that shade and windbreak. These features make a home significantly more energy-efficient and can lessen air pollution, including greenhouse gases. A sustainable home's landscape can reduce air conditioning bills over unshaded yards by as much as 10 to 50 percent.

3. Insulated Concrete Forms (ICF)

3 Insulated Concrete Forms ICF

ICF above- and below-grade walls support a tight-building envelope, stopping thermal bridging and improving the house's effective R-value. Sustainable homes built with ICF walls require 32 percent less energy to cool and 44 percent less energy to heat than wood-framed structures.


High thermal mass Fox Blocks is an excellent ICF product (R-value of 23), providing CI and surpassing ASHRAE/ANSI 90.1 energy code requirements.

4. A Cooling Roof

A cool roof reduces energy use for air conditioning by up to 15 percent on a single-story home, saving homeowners energy and money. A cool roof absorbs less heat and reflects more sunlight than standard roofing materials. Cool roof products include low thermal mass materials like tiles, slate, and clay. Lightly-colored pigments of these products will reflect the sunlight that hits the roof.

5. Polyisocyanurate (Polyiso) Roofing Insulation

Polyisocyanurate (Polyiso) roofing insulation has one of the highest thermal efficiency levels (R-value of 6.0 to 6.5 per inch) available on the market. Sustainable-energy-efficient homes require high-quality roofing insulation because a home can lose about 25% of its heat throughout the winter, without it. An uninsulated roof in the summer will absorb heat from the Sun, spreading it throughout the house — putting a hefty load on the HVAC systems.

6. Exterior Doors and Windows

An NZE sustainable home must include ENERGY STAR certified windows, doors, and skylights suitable to the home's climate zone. ENERGY STAR certified windows reduce energy bills by an average of 12 percent.

7. Energy-Star Appliances and Lights

A sustainable home includes energy-efficient appliances: refrigerators, washer and dryer, dishwasher, freezer, microwave, dehumidifier, etc. Energy-efficient appliances reduce a home's energy use, emit less air pollution, and can increase the resale value of the home.

Lighting is a significant amount of a home's annual electricity expenses. A sustainable home can lower its energy for lighting with timers, dimmers, and photocells that turn lights off when not in use. Examples of energy-efficient lighting include halogen, incandescent, light-emitting diodes (LEDs), and compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs).

8. High-Performing HVAC and Programmable Thermostat

The heating and cooling system accounts for 42 percent of energy use; therefore, a sustainable NZE home must include a high-efficiency heating and cooling system (like a variable speed HVAC or VRF system) that saves money and uses less energy. HVAC pro­fes­sion­als must install the system — incorrect instal­la­tion of an HVAC can lessen its effi­cien­cy.

Also, installing a programmable thermostat can save homeowners between 10 to 30 percent on the heating and cooling part of their energy bills.

9. Water Heating

Water heating accounts for 15 percent of a home's energy use, requiring sustainable homes to use a high-efficiency water heater like a tankless water heater, high-efficiency water heater, high-efficiency heat pump water heater, and high-efficiency solar water heater.

10. Renewable Energy Sources

Renewable energy source

A sustainable home should create as much energy as it uses by installing a renewable energy source such as wind systems , solar photovoltaic (PV) panels, small "hybrid" electric systems, or microhydropower. Renewable energy sources can minimize or even eliminate a home's energy bills, and some also provide tax incentives.

11. Choose WaterSense Products

Utilizing WaterSense products (toilets, showerheads, irrigation controls) will conserve water and save homeowners money. For example, a WaterSense toilet can save homeowners nearly 13,000 gallons of water, or $140 a year in water costs — $2,900 over the lifetime of the toilet.

12. Applying Water Conservation Techniques to Landscaping

Thirty percent of a homeowner's water use goes to landscaping, making water-efficient techniques for outdoor services essential to a sustainable home. You can lessen a home's landscape water use by collecting rainwater for irrigation, watering gardens and lawns in the chilly mornings, utilizing mulch (which reduces evaporation), and aerating the soil (which improves water flow to plant roots and reduces water runoff).

13. Modular Construction

13 Modular Construction

Modular construction builds modules offsite, in controlled environments, and transports them to job sites to incorporate into larger building projects. The process eliminates costly delays caused by weather, improves quality, and saves money — it also significantly lessens material waste. In fact, of 800 building professionals surveyed by McGraw-Hill Construction, 77 percent reported a decrease in construction site waste due to modular construction.

14. Polyisocyanurate (Polyiso) Roof Insulation

Polyisocyanurate (Polyiso) roof insulation manufacturers use recycled products to produce reusable polyiso insulation.

15. TRUEGRID Permeable Pavers

TRUEGRID is a sustainable stormwater permeable paving system for home driveways, parking lots, and more. TRUEGRID uses 100 percent post-consumer recycled high-density polyethylene (HDPE) to produce their permeable pavers.

16. ICF Contributes to Excellent IEQ

ICF walls ensure good IEQ because they are moisture-resistant, which stops the growth of unhealthy mold. ICF wall systems also lessen the transfer of sound from the outside to the inside of a structure, improving the family's comfort level. Fox Blocks ICFs also lack volatile organic compounds (VOC), which can compromise the IAQ structure.

17. Recovery Ventilation Systems

Air-tight sustainable homes may trap pollutants; therefore, they require an energy recovery ventilation system that optimizes ventilation rates. An energy recovery ventilation system manages ventilation and minimizes energy loss by transferring energy from conditioned air going out to fresh incoming air.

18. Natural Ventilation

Natural ventilation improves IEQ by regulating the indoor climate and boosting air quality. Specific strategies for achieving natural ventilation include placing louvers and vents in lower and upper sections of a structure, allowing fresh-clean cool air to enter and warm air to escape. Natural ventilation also cools indoor air by exhausting hot air from the inside with careful placement of windows, the building's geometry, and the use of cupolas and other features to exhaust hot air near the roof's peak.

19. ICF Creates Long-Lasting and Low-Maintenance Sustainable Homes

Low-maintenance ICF's solid continuous monolithic concrete (perm rating of 1.0) controls moisture accumulation in the wall; thus, preventing the growth of structurally damaging mold. ICF wall systems also resist destructive termites, saving money on costly repairs. Disaster-resistant ICF can save homeowners money on repairs and even rebuilding after natural disasters like fires, hurricanes, tornados, and earthquakes.

20. Low-Maintenance and Durable TRUEGRID Permeable Pavers

TRUEGRID Permeable Pavers provide a maintenance-free stormwater permeable paving system for residential driveways and sidewalks. Long-lasting TRUEGRID pavers have a compression strength of 120,000 lbs per square foot before the addition of rockfill, which adds to the final product's strength. Furthermore, it contains ultraviolet stabilizers, remaining dimensionally stable in extreme hot or cold environments - adding to its durability and longevity.

21. Ensure Drainage with Tapered Roofing

Tapering the roofing insulation boards to direct water away from the walls and curbs and towards the gutters and drains will prevent ponding and keep water from entering the roof assembly, damaging the building's insulation and structural components. Ponding can lead to unsightly and destructive algae and mold, shortening the roof's service life — even causing roof collapse.

Why Use Fox Blocks ICF for your Next Small, Sustainable, and Eco-Friendly Home?

Fox Blocks ICF contributes significantly towards five of the six vital ecological principles of sustainable home design. Fox Blocks ensure energy-efficient, healthy, durable, long-lasting homes that lower a family's monthly bills and lessen maintenance repairs and system replacement. Fox Blocks provides an ideal building solution for building a small, sustainable, and eco-friendly home that helps preserve natural resources and ensure a safe environment for future generations.

Contact Fox Blocks professionals for more tips on building a small, sustainable, and eco-friendly home.