Embedding Sustainable and Eco-friendly Design in Residential Property Development.

05 Sep 2023
Deborah Mantell

Construction, Development and Planning, Residential Property

The push towards net zero carbon emissions and carbon neutral buildings is growing. Developers are focusing on constructing or retrofitting properties to achieve a net zero energy balance by integrating renewable energy sources, energy efficient technologies and sustainable building materials.

Sustainable and eco-friendly design considerations in residential property sales have become increasingly important as more people seek to reduce their environmental impact and live in eco-conscious homes. Incorporating these features into any property, be it new or old, can make it more appealing to potential buyers as well as  help contribute to a greener and more sustainable future.

In thinking of making your property more sustainable, there are four key  considerations, all of which  are interconnected.

Sustainable development requires a balanced and equitable approach to social, economic, environmental, and cultural factors.

Truly achieving sustainability requires balancing and integrating actions across all four of these dimensions, working to meet the needs of the present without compromising the wellbeing of future generations.

Sounds daunting! However, if we really want to design properties sustainably and with awareness of our  environment, we can start by  considering the following areas:

  1. Energy Efficiency: Ensure  properties have energy-efficient appliances, lighting, and HVAC systems. Consider using LED lighting, programmable thermostats, and Energy Star-rated appliances to reduce energy consumption and utility costs.
  2. On-site Energy: Install solar panels or other renewable energy systems to generate clean electricity on-site. This can help reduce the property’s dependence on fossil fuels and lower its carbon footprint.
  3. Insulation: Make  sure properties are well-insulated, reducing  heating and cooling needs. Double-glazed or low-emissivity windows can improve energy efficiency by minimising heat transfer.
  4. Water: Implement water-saving fixtures and technologies, such as low-flow toilets, faucets, and showerheads. Consider installing rainwater harvesting systems to collect and reuse rainwater for irrigation purposes.
  5. Eco-materials: Use eco-friendly and sustainable materials for construction and finishes, such as bamboo flooring, reclaimed wood, recycled glass, or low-VOC paints to improve indoor air quality.
  6. Planting: Choose  native plants for landscaping, as they require less water and maintenance than non-native species. Native plants also support local biodiversity and ecosystem health.
  7. Think Smart: Integrate  smart home systems and technologies that enable better energy management, such as smart thermostats, lighting controls, and smart plugs.
  8. Passive Design: Incorporate  passive design principles to optimise natural lighting, ventilation, and heat gain, reducing the need for artificial lighting and mechanical cooling and heating.
  9. Waste: Implement proper waste management systems, including recycling and composting facilities, to minimise  properties’ waste outputs.
  10. Certify: Obtain green building certifications, such as LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) or ENERGY STAR, which can add value to the property and demonstrate its eco-friendly features to potential buyers.
  11. Location: Choose a location with good access to public transportation, biking or walking paths, and nearby amenities to promote a sustainable lifestyle for residents.
  12. Community: Create communal spaces that encourage residents to engage in sustainable practices, such as community gardens or shared composting facilities.

By incorporating these sustainable and eco-friendly design considerations into residential property sales, you can attract environmentally conscious buyers and demonstrate your commitment to creating a greener living environment for the future.

Costs & Benefits

Obviously there are a number of costs associated with sustainable development and design.

Costs of sustainable real estate in the UK can vary depending on various factors such as location, property type, size, and the specific sustainable features or certifications being implemented. A cost benefit analysis should be carried out before starting on such projects to assess the long-term savings and environmental benefits that sustainable features can provide.

Obtaining green building certifications, such as BREEAM (Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method), LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) or Passivhaus involves additional expenses for assessment, documentation, consulting services and certification fees in the short term but can be recouped by the demand for environmentally friendly housing from eco-conscious buyers and tenants.

Incorporating renewable energy sources like solar panels or wind turbines can be a significant upfront cost but in the long run, can provide long term savings on energy bills and potentially generate income through feed in tariffs or incentives.

Incorporating energy-efficient high quality windows, lighting and heating, ventilation, insulation, and energy-efficient air conditioning HVAC systems can increase the initial construction costs. These may involve higher upfront costs but can result in lower energy consumption, reduced utility bills over time and improved comfort for occupants.

Using eco-friendly and sustainable materials, such as reclaimed wood, bamboo or low impact materials, which may be more expensive than conventional materials, can add to the overall construction costs. However, there are often long term benefits  such as improved indoor air quality and durability.

The cost of land and its location can significantly impact the overall price of sustainable real estate projects. Prime locations with good access to public transportation and amenities may come at a premium.

Creating eco-friendly landscapes and outdoor spaces, such as rainwater harvesting systems, native plantings, permeable surfaces like green roofs or living walls, can add to the upfront costs for design and implementation. However, these have gained in popularity since they offer improved insulation, stormwater management and increased biodiversity in urban areas.

Incorporating waste reduction and recycling systems may involve some upfront expenses but they can contribute to sustainable waste management practices and potential cost savings in waste disposal. In the same way, installing water saving fixtures such as low flow toilets and rainwater harvesting systems may require an initial investment but can lead to lower water bills and more efficient water use.

Retrofitting or upgrading existing properties to make them more sustainable can be costly, depending on the extent of the modifications required. However, the long-term benefits will mean lower bills and energy consumption.

It should also be noted that government, local authorities, and financial institutions are providing financial incentives and grants to promote eco-friendly developments which can help to offset some of the initial costs and make sustainable real estate more financially viable for developers and homeowners alike.

Growing Lifestyle Demand

Generally, although sustainable real estate may involve higher upfront costs compared to conventional buildings, these costs can be offset by long-term savings in lower operating costs, reduced energy consumption, improved occupant health and well-being, as well as lower maintenance expenses. All of these can, as we have seen, result in a positive return on investment over time.

Sustainable and community-oriented developments that foster a sense of community, prioritise green space,are walk and cycle friendly and give greater access to public transport are becoming more and more popular as people seek living environments which emphasise occupant health and well-being, improved indoor air quality, access to natural light and outdoor spaces.

Sustaining Sustainability

If properties are to be designed to be sustainable and environmentally friendly, it is important to work with experienced professionals such as architects, contractors, and sustainability consultants to assess the potential costs and benefits of incorporating eco-friendly features into new and older homes.

There are so many advantages to designing sustainable and eco-friendly properties. So long as strategies such as energy monitoring and efficient waste management practices, tax breaks and grants for eco-friendly projects, constant focusing on reuse and regeneration of existing buildings and developments, repurposing of under-utilised spaces, as well as promotion of green spaces and landscaping, are incorporated into property development and management, we can create a more sustainable and eco-friendlier environment.

For questions about any of the matters discussed in this article, please contact Deborah Mantell, Senior Solicitor Residential Property 
on +44 20 8872 3074 or Deborah.mantell@haroldbenjamin.com