The concept of sustainable housing is not a new one, but it is something that seems to cause unnecessary confusion.

Quite simply, for something to be sustainable, it needs to be able to last and be maintained for a very long time. So, it stands to reason that for housing to be sustainable, it must be:

  • economically viable
  • technically feasible
  • socially acceptable
  • environmentally compatible

In other words, it must be cost-effective and technically possible, acceptable to the community and those who live in the area, and in harmony with the environment without causing unnecessary harm.

Ultimately, developing sustainable housing takes more than simply considering cost factors and it is important for all of us to realize the non-economic benefits that relate to the environment, society as a whole, and our personal wellbeing. It needs to be:

  • safe, secure, durable, and healthy
  • affordable for everyone
  • constructed using affordable and ecologically low-energy building materials and technology
  • sufficiently resilient to be able to withstand potential climatic impacts and natural disasters, including flooding and excessively high winds
  • connected to the full range of safe, decent, and affordable water, sanitation, energy, and recycling facilities
  • designed so that it will use water and energy efficiently
  • equipped with the necessary water recycling and energy generation facilities
  • constructed so that there is zero pollution of the internal or external environment
  • integrated with the economic, social, and cultural fabric of the community
  • close to jobs, shops, child-care and health facilities, education, and other essential services

Once built and inhabited, sustainable homes should be properly run, well maintained, and renovated and retrofitted when necessary.

We must also realize that while we need to meet our own needs, we must also be sure that we won’t compromise the ability of our children and future generations to meet their needs!

Of course, we can’t do all this on our own. We also need to draw on the resources of professionals including architects and engineers, including those that offer plumbing, electric, and mechanical engineering services in Chicago or the city where you live.

Realities of Sustainable Housing

The key components of sustainable housing relate to health and safety. We often read in the media about the need to provide even the poorest of the poor with “decent” housing, but what does this mean? Certainly, it isn’t “sustainable” in the true sense of the word, but rather habitable, with reasonable facilities for cooking and cleansing, as well as safe and not unhealthy.

Decent housing ought to be in a reasonable state of repair, dry, so that dampness isn’t a health factor, and it should have adequate ventilation, lighting, and heating.

Humans have an innate desire to be safe and secure. But in the context of housing, the implications are vast, ranging from human intruders and pests to a variety of construction risks that could injure inhabitants. This is why we have building codes and regulations! After all, it’s one thing to have electricity, but if it isn’t installed to safe, mandatory standards, the house could be a death trap. Similarly, if the water piped to a house isn’t safe to drink, this would be a definite health risk.

This is another reason why professionals, including New York, Toronto, or Chicago engineers need to be involved in the provision of sustainable housing.

Benefits of Sustainable Housing

If we take the trouble to ensure that homes for everyone are planned and built within an integrated social, cultural, and economic framework that is environmentally sustainable, they will be accessible to everyone, including those with a low income.

Researchers have found that sustainable housing will meet all our needs and will ensure that whichever economic, social, or cultural spectrum we identify with:

  • our quality of life will improve
  • more people will have access to affordable housing
  • there will be better conditions for employment, economic growth, and creativity
  • houses will be more durable and maintenance costs will be lower
  • a good sustainable model will be more energy-efficient and will save water and other resources
  • it will generally improve sanitary conditions and afford a greater degree of environmental protection
  • because of increased quality, better health will be support and labor productivity will be enhanced

On a higher level, sustainable housing has the capacity to play a role in poverty alleviation and social development, as well as environmental sustainability. Seen as a key strategy for improving the quality of life anywhere and everywhere, it can help to mitigate the effects of climate change and urbanization, giving everybody access to sustainable energy. 

It is true that there are different strategies that may be used to achieve sustainable housing, and it takes strong management skills to ensure that they are successful. The onus is on the many different stakeholders in the housing sector to adopt the ideologies and practices to ensure that sustainable housing becomes a reality across the board, globally.

Author's Bio: 

Michael Tobias is the founder and principal of New York Engineers, an Inc 5000 Fastest Growing Company in America. He leads a team of 30+ mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and fire protection engineers from the company headquarters in New York City, and has led more than 1,000 projects in New York, New Jersey, Chicago, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Florida, Maryland, and California, as well as Singapore and Malaysia. He is passionate about energy efficiency and sustainability and is a LEED AP.