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How to build an eco-house: 10 amazing eco-friendly home designs to inspire you

27 August 2021 | Aimee Tweedale

If you picture an eco-friendly house, what do you see? Perhaps an old-fashioned cabin in the woods? Or a tiny, grass-covered house nestled into the landscape?

The truth is that sustainable homes of the future will come in many shapes, sizes, and materials. Some might be the nature-loving cabins we’ve described – but many will be innovative, everyday city homes. 

Whether you’d like an eco-house of your own someday or you just want to learn more about homes of the future, keep reading for ideas and inspiration. 

What is an “eco” house?

It’s an environmentally-friendly house that’s designed to have as little impact on our planet as possible. 

Why’s that important? Because burning fossil fuels to power and heat our homes is causing climate change. Eco-friendly homes are all about using renewable energy sources, being energy-efficient, and using natural materials. 

Wondering what the difference is between “eco-friendly”, “green”, and “sustainable”? Read our guide to these common phrases.

Key elements of an eco house: what makes a home eco-friendly?

When it comes to making a house more environmentally-friendly, there can be many different features to consider. But, broadly speaking, there are 3 key elements.

  1. Sustainable materials

A truly eco-friendly house is one that’s built from sustainably sourced and natural materials. The best option is to use reclaimed or recycled materials, because creating something new from scratch takes much more energy1.

Wood and lime are commonly used to build the timber frames of eco-houses. 

Straw bales are often used in eco-house buildings, as they’re brilliant for insulation. Bamboo is also great. Unlike trees, which can take decades to mature, bamboo is plentiful, and it grows quickly2.

Feeling inspired? Find out about ways you can reduce your carbon footprint around the home.

  1. Renewable energy and greener central heating

Renewable electricity is vital for an eco-friendly home. You might choose to sign up to a green energy supplier like OVO, so your home gets 100% renewable electricity as standard3, from sources like wind, sunshine, and tidal energy.

Some eco homes even generate their own electricity. The most popular way of doing this is via solar panels on a south-facing roof4. Or, if you live in a windy part of the country, you could also install a domestic wind turbine. Both of these methods are sustainable sources of energy and reduce the carbon footprint of the homes that use them.

Countryside homes with solar panels

Another important part of an eco home is the way it’s heated. New central heating systems, like heat pumps, can keep homes cosy without burning fossil fuels. Heat pumps can run on renewable electricity – so they’re a much greener type of central heating than a gas boiler. They absorb heat from the air outside and use this to heat your home – they even work in the depths of winter! It’s really clever technology.

Smart gadgets can also make a home greener. Smart meters let you track your energy use in real time – helping you spot ways to save. And smart thermostats can do things like sync your central heating up with the weather, and make sure you never heat an empty home. It all helps save energy. 

Some eco-home owners might also be on an Economy 7 or Economy 10 tariff, which allows them to use electricity when demand is lowest. 

  1. The all-important insulation 

As well as using a greener type of central heating, it’s important to make sure that heat isn’t being wasted.

How? By getting rid of draughts and leaks. Insulation, airtightness, and double or triple glazed windows all play a big part in sustainable designs. Which means eco homes hold on to heat much better than regular homes. 

The very best examples of this approach are Passive Houses. Invented in southwest Germany, Passive House (or Passivhaus) design is all about creating an airtight, super-insulated house that naturally regulates its own temperature.

Benefits of eco houses: why do we need more eco-friendly homes?

A whopping 40% of UK carbon emissions come from our homes5, so the biggest benefit of an eco-friendly house is its smaller impact on the environment. 

But there are lots of other advantages to eco-houses too, such as:

  • Better air quality
  • Innovative design
  • Reduced strain on local resources
  • Higher property value
  • Less maintenance work (for things like boilers)
Eco house in Shropshire

Photo credit: Jeremy Phillips / https://www.telegraph.co.uk/property/uk/built-home-tiny-disused-newsagent-just-68500/

Another couple built their dream zero carbon home on Shetland in 2006, with its very own wind turbines, at a total cost of £325,000. (It’s estimated that it would cost around £200,000 to build the same house on the mainland.)

Whatever you pay to build your dream home, making it energy-efficient and eco-friendly will have the pleasant side effect of lowering your energy bills. So, you could be looking at big savings in the long-run!

10 amazing eco-friendly houses 

There are all sorts of incredible low carbon homes out there. Here are 10 eco-friendly house designs we can’t stop fantasising about. Ah. We can but dream… 

1. A self-sustaining house in Kent

David Miers & Monika Rese's self-build eco-house in Kent

Photo credit: Alison Hammond / https://www.self-build.co.uk/home/efficient-self-build-german-design/

This German-inspired, £1.5million home was designed to create zero utility bills. That’s right: no bills at all. How? Via top-notch insulation, solar panels, and a home energy storage system.

2. The Meera Sky Garden House, Singapore

Meera Sky Garden House

Photo credit: Patrick Bingham-Hall https://www.ignant.com/2012/11/09/meera-sky-garden-house/

This amazing eco-friendly home makes use of a green roof, with gardens on every level. Not only does it look beautiful, it’s also designed to have plenty of natural ventilation, so there’s no need for air-conditioning.

3. An angular Canadian abode

Meadow House, Ontario, Canada

Photo credit: Tom Arban Photography / https://inhabitat.com/ian-macdonalds-meadow-house-melts-into-the-canadian-landscape/

The Meadow House in Ontario is the work of architect Ian Macdonald. With its low profile, it’s protected from strong winds, and other extreme weather. 

4. The most futuristic street in Leeds

Solar Avenue in Leeds

Photo credit: https://www.yorkshirepost.co.uk/lifestyle/homes-and-gardens/pioneering-eco-homes-launched-sale-citus-leeds-south-bank-site-1766832

Closer to home, there are 60 low-energy homes on this innovative street in the north of England, each one using up to 10 times less energy than a typical house.

5. The compact Ecocapsule

Ecocapsule

Photo credit: https://www.ecocapsule.sk/

The Ecocapsule is an off-grid micro-home in the shape of an egg. Not only does it generate its own power from the wind and sun, but it also collects rainwater on its surface.

6. Is it a bridge? Is it a house?

Bridge house Adelaide Australia

Photo credit: Max Pritchard Architect / https://www.archdaily.com/27470/bridge-house-max-pritchard-architect

It’s both! This striking structure in Adelaide, Australia, makes the most of sunlight and ventilation, to avoid the need for heating and air-conditioning.

7. This community house in Vietnam

Suoi Re community house Vietnam

Photo credit: https://www.archdaily.com/102639/suoi-re-village-community-house-ki-percent-e1-percent-ba-percent-bfn-vi-percent-e1-percent-bb-percent-87t

Rainwater collection, solar power, and geothermal heating – is there anything this spacious, sustainable bamboo building can’t do?

8. Going underground in Switzerland

Vals House Switzerland

Photo credit: https://inhabitat.com/a-luxury-swiss-villa-nestled-beneath-the-earth/

The Vals house closely resembles a rabbit’s burrow: it’s nestled deep into the side of a Swiss hill. The surrounding earth keeps the house at a steady temperature, while large windows let in loads of light. 

9. An apartment complex in West Hollywood

Sierra Benita West Hollywood LA

Photo credit: Patrick Tighe Architecture / https://www.architectmagazine.com/project-gallery/sierra-bonita-housing

Eco-houses don’t have to be in the countryside. The Sierra Benita apartment block in LA was designed with both environment and income in mind, and features solar power, eco-heating and an internal bamboo forest!

10. A Passive House in the English countryside

Pond House Stalham Norfolk Forrester Architects

Photo: Kenny Forrester / https://www.archdaily.com/784191/pond-house-forresterarchitects

This home in Stalham Staithe, Norfolk, was designed and built with Passive House principles at its core. It’s not only a spacious, beautiful house, but it’s also fully sustainable. 

Power your eco-friendly home with OVO

If you want to make your home greener, energy is the best place to start. After all, home is where the heart is.

Switch to OVO today and you’ll get:

  • 100% renewable electricity as standard3
  • A tree planted in your name every single year you are with us6
  • Access to our free energy-saving tool, OVO Greenlight

Get a quote in under 2 minutes and see what OVO can do for you. 


Sources and references

1 http://www.thelivingvillagetrust.com/what-is-an-eco-house/

2 https://broadsword-group.co.uk/the-importance-of-eco-friendly-materials/

3 The renewable electricity we sell is backed by renewable certificates (Renewable Energy Guarantee of Origin certificates (REGOs)). See here for details on REGO certificates and how these work.  

4 https://energysavingtrust.org.uk/could-you-generate-your-own-energy/

5 Based on analysis carried out by the Carbon Trust for OVO Group (2019), 26% of an average individual’s carbon footprint in the UK comes from energy. In this analysis, the carbon footprint includes the following lifestyle categories: energy, transport, shopping, food and drink and holidays. See table for each category. This excludes emissions from things that the average person cannot directly control such as supporting the NHS, defence, government bodies, etc.

6 Each year, OVO plants 1 tree for every member in partnership with the Woodland Trust. Trees absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, so tree-planting helps to slow down climate change.

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