ADU home

8 Ways to Make Your ADU Home More Sustainable and Not Break the Bank

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, green building standards hinge on six criteria. These are energy efficiency, water efficiency, indoor environmental quality, use of resources, operations, and maintenance. 

While some states, like California, have mandatory sustainable building codes, these national criteria are voluntary for residential construction.  

With this in mind, it makes sense to implement sustainable measures when building ADU homes. You never know when your neighborhood might set up mandatory requirements.

Besides, sustainable building is the best way to ensure your ADU has a long-term positive impact on your community and environment while benefiting you, too.  

Here’s how to go about designing and building a sustainable ADU.

1. Find the Best Location For Your ADU

Your ADU’s location has a big impact on boosting its sustainability and affordability, but there are a few legal requirements that impact the placement of your granny flat

If you have a large yard that provides a few options for placing your ADU, these are the things to consider for a sustainable build.

Preserve the Environment

As far as possible, avoid uprooting any established trees to build your ADU. Trees are vital for preventing erosion, preserving birdlife, and removing carbon from the air.

They also provide shade that can help keep your ADU cool and reduce your reliance on air-conditioning. 

Try to build your in-law suite on a level area of your backyard. The earth-moving equipment used to level a site creates carbon emissions and damages the natural organisms responsible for healthy soil. 

Follow the Sun

Passive solar energy is one of the best ways to warm a small home and decrease how much you use your heater. Try to position your ADU so that you can maximize the sun’s location all day long.

Large windows are great, but the sun’s energy can warm the walls of your home to create interior warmth, too. In winter, this warmth can linger for hours after the sun’s gone down.

Window film is another way to enhance the benefits you get from solar energy, and it can trap hot air inside your home for longer in the wintertime. 

Be sure to consider your primary residence when planning your backyard build. Position it so it doesn’t cast shade on your home or obstruct your view. 

2. Use Sustainable Building Materials

Thanks to their small size, ADUs are an economical and environmentally-friendly choice when it comes to housing. They’re a great alternative to clearing green spaces to make way for residential construction.

California has recently implemented laws promoting ADU construction as a solution to the state’s ongoing affordable housing problem. 

Granny flats help place people closer to job centers, limiting the use of carbon emissions caused by commuting. They also require much smaller quantities of materials than multifamily dwellings.  

You can further enhance your ADUs sustainable qualities by opting for the most environmentally-friendly materials available. These include:

  • Fast-growing bamboo
  • Energy-efficient glass
  • Concrete
  • Cork
  • Steel
  • Plant-based polyurethane rigid foam insulation
  • Wood
  • Sheep’s wool insulation
  • Hempcrete, ferrock, and timbercrete
  • Terrazzo

Any type of recycled or recyclable material is a good sustainable choice when building a backyard cottage. A contractor that’s committed to sustainable construction will help you come up with the best solutions for your situation. 

3. Try Alternative Heating and Cooling Solutions

One of the most effective ways to ensure your ADU is energy efficient is by ensuring it’s airtight. Leaks can cause up to a third of heat loss in homes.

Make sure your doors, windows, and ducts are precisely fitted and sealed properly with weather barrier strips and caulking. 

Insulation is critical in the walls and ceiling of your ADU to ensure your HVAC can operate at its best using the minimum of electricity.

You could also consider scrapping an HVAC in favor of more eco-friendly alternatives. These include:

Ductless Heat Pumps

Ductless heat pumps are an excellent choice for ADUs. They don’t take up much space, and they’re easy to install.

Ductless heat pumps use heat exchanger coils to move warm air around. For instance, in winter, the heat pump draws warm air from outside and pumps it into your room. In summer, it removes hot air from the inside to help cool your interiors.

They’re much simpler, smaller devices than conventional HVACs, require less maintenance, use little electricity, and cost less to run.

Ceiling Fans

During the milder months, you can save electricity and cut your utility bills by using a simple ceiling fan to cool your ADU. Ceiling fans aren’t a food option for large spaces, but they’re an effective solution for your granny flat’s small interior. 

4. Lighting Your ADU Efficiently

Natural light is the most affordable and attractive type of lighting for an ADU. So it makes sense to make the most of your ADUs sunny location with large windows that let the warmth and light flow in.

An open-plan design helps ensure you maximize this sunny aspect since walls won’t block the light from reaching as far as possible into the interior. A lack of walls makes it easier to illuminate your spaces using fewer electric light bulbs. 

Access to natural light will greatly reduce your reliance on electricity during daylight hours, and you can easily create shady areas using blinds if necessary. Studies show that exposure to natural light is good for the mind and body, too. 

For nighttime illumination, there’s no better lighting solution than LED. These light fixtures use 85% less energy than halogen bulbs do, and they last ten times longer. 

5. Be Water Wise

Due to their small size, ADUs automatically use less water than a full-size home, but that doesn’t mean you should skimp on water-saving initiatives.

A tankless water heater is one of the best ways to avoid water wastage and conserve electricity.

These appliances heat water on demand, passing it through a heating element before it reaches the tap. That way, you don’t pay for constantly refilling and heating a large boiler.

You can also conserve water by installing some of the following appliances:

  • Low-flow shower heads
  • Faucet aerators
  • Toilet tank banks
  • Shower timers
  • Low flush toilets
  • WaterSense and Energy Star certified appliances like washers

An ADU also adds an extra roof area to your home, so you can use it to capture some more of that precious rain that’s so rare in water-strapped California.

When you install a water run-off system that channels your ADU’s gutters into a storage tank, you can save water that would otherwise go to waste. You can use this for flushing toilets or nourishing your garden.

Gray water systems and bioretention systems cost a little more to implement, but they’ll pay for themselves within a few years. They’re the best way to make use of wastewater over and over again. 

6. Furnish Your ADU Responsibly

Furnishing your ADU is one area where you can save a lot of money by doing the right thing. You don’t need to splash out on the latest state-of-art bamboo-derived furniture to create a sustainable space.

Recycled furniture is a more sustainable option than new and is also a top interior design trend. Instead of buying new furniture, consider picking up some pieces at auction or from a local second-hand dealer. 

You can repaint, refurbish, and re-upholster these items using eco-friendly materials, saving yourself a lot of unnecessary expense in the process. Plus, you’ll prevent these unwanted items from ending up in a landfill somewhere. 

Reclaimed wood is a particularly attractive and versatile material when it comes to crafting kitchen surfaces, tables, flooring, and shelves for your ADU. You can also consider bringing old floor coverings back to life, or framing vintage prints to add character to your backyard home’s interiors. 

If you’re not a creative type, speak to an interior designer about your sustainability aims. They’re bound to come up with some attractive solutions. 

Are you creating a space for relatives to move into? Ask them to bring some of their existing furniture along and donate the rest to charity. They’ll feel more at home in their new space that way, too. 

7. Install Energy-Efficient Appliances

If you’re going to have someone living in your in-law suite, they don’t need a huge range of appliances for their comfort and convenience. 

Remember, an ADU doesn’t accommodate a lot of people, so you only need small appliances to see to the needs of the inhabitants. 

It’s vital to install energy-star-certified appliances to cut down on electricity use. These modern innovations are at least 10% more efficient than regular appliances. 

Smart home systems are another worthwhile addition to your in-law unit. Appliances linked to these systems can save a lot of electricity and water by shutting down when they aren’t in use, limiting shower times, and monitoring your ADU’s energy use.

For instance, smart light bulbs switch themselves off in vacant rooms, smart thermostats limit air-conditioning use to occupied rooms, and smart fridges can warn you when you’ve left the door ajar.

You can keep tabs on all these aspects using a smartphone app.

8. Solar for ADU Homes

Solar installations are one of the most widespread and effective sustainability solutions in a residential setting and an expensive option for most homeowners. In California, green building codes mandate solar panel installations for detached ADUs (and all new construction).

According to the SEIA, the average solar panel installation costs $2.94 per watt, which translates into around $20,000 for an average home installation, more for more energy-efficient panel options.

The diminutive size of an ADU results in low electricity use, and energy-efficient measures mean you’ll need fewer solar panels to meet these needs. 

Building your ADU from scratch with solar energy in mind can reduce the costs associated with installing solar power after the fact.

Solar panels are at peak production during the hottest time of the day, coinciding with periods of low electricity use. All this extra electricity goes back into the grid and shows up as a credit on your electricity bill. 

This way, electricity-saving measures implemented in your ADU can help supplement your home utility costs without an extra costly installation. 

Discover Your Ideal Sustainable ADU

With so much to think about, it’s helpful to work with a team of experts when planning and building an in-law unit in California.

Acton ADU has been at the forefront of constructing ADU homes for over 30 years. We can assist you with every area of your new ADU, from conceptualization to construction. 

Get in touch to experience the convenience of working with California’s ADU experts.

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