Tips: How to Make Your House More Sustainable on a Budget


Preface by Matt Fajkus:

"Most importantly, sustainability is about systematic and comprehensive thinking. It’s not about any one aspect of design or specifications, but rather an understanding of a framework to design buildings that will stand the test of time. Here, Kendall Claus explains the benefits of green design and some strategies to make a positive difference."


There is no doubt that we are facing changing environmental conditions around the world due to rising global surface temperatures and sea levels. The United States has had a significant impact on this change. We live in a privileged society; therefore we face problems caused by overconsumption and environmental neglect.  As an individual you can make a difference! You can reduce your impact by adjusting the way you get around town, by purchasing local goods, or by adjusting your habits at home to name a few.

Follow this link to see your impact based on your zip code:

We’ve compiled a list of simple and affordable methods you can follow to make your home more sustainable and environmentally friendly.



Connect a water collection system to your downspouts
Rainwater is safe to re-use for irrigation and other outdoor water uses. Rain barrels and cisterns are available in many different sizes to utilize to collect this water and use it. 

Introduce a combination of concrete and gravel/grass to your driveway/ back patio
By increasing pervious surface area, meaning using materials that allow water to pass through, you can reduce the heat island index of your property and reduce unwanted chemical runoff from your vehicle.

If you have room in your backyard you can easily designate some space for this. If you don’t have a yard, you can still participate by buying an indoor compost bin, such as the NatureMill  composter. Composting not only provides nutrition for your flower beds but it can also lower your garbage and water bills and lessen the burden on landfills.

Install motion detecting exterior lights or turn off exterior lights when not needed past dusk
This will reduce your home’s night pollution, as well as save energy. Outside lights can also disrupt natural habitats, so motion detecting lights are ideal because they only illuminate when you need them.

Landscape edible plants or start a community garden in your neighborhood
With care you can reduce demand by providing some of your own food for your household.

Select water-wise and native plants
Landscaping with plants that don’t require much watering is termed “xeriscaping”. This type of landscaping is especially effective in dry climates like Austin’s.  It is also important to group plants according to their water needs to minimize over or under-watering. MF Architecture recommends referencing the Austin’s Green Grow plant list when deciding what to plant.

Plant trees
Trees provide needed shade and shelter for your home and also improve the overall air quality. Be strategic with which trees you choose. Consider growth rate, size, flowering, and seasonal qualities. This website here offers some great additional advice:

Collect condensate from your air conditioning unit
We live in a hot climate, which therefore requires a high use of air conditioning to cool our spaces. Condensate is produced as a byproduct of cooling. Usually this water is drained into the sewer and water is lost. This water however is reusable and can reduce domestic water demand! The most appropriate use is for watering house and garden plants. The water is pure, distilled, cold, and doesn’t require further treatment.  All you have to do to re-route this water from the drain line of the unit to a collection barrel. If the condensate is draining into the basement you may need to use a condensate pump as well. The system can produce up to 20 gallons per day!

Install solar panels
This is one of the more well-known solutions to reducing your home’s energy use. There are many solar capture technologies available and they range in price so you have options! No matter the product you choose, if you buy the system, the payback will far out way the initial cost, and most likely you can receive payback from your local energy company or government as well.  There are also rental options out there, should you want to try it out first (Solar City).



Install low water use fixtures
Low flow shower heads, low flush toilets, and water saving faucet aerators help to reduce your domestic water use. MF Architecture specifies WaterSense labeled high-efficiency toilets, shower/bath fixtures with a max flow rate of 2 gpm (gallons per minute).        

Install an adaptive thermostat system
Adaptive thermostat systems such as Nest allow you to track comfort patterns and energy use in your home. They usually tap directly into your current system with minimal hassle and allow maximum control. You’ll use less energy and your local energy provider may offer a rebate!

Seal the leaks!
If you notice your HVAC constantly operating to keep your space comfortable, you may have some leaks around windows and doors or from the attic floor. You can easily seal gaps and holes with low-VOC caulking and/or expanding foam. This can also prevent moisture leakage, which can lead to mold or mildew build-up. MF Architecture suggests a blower door test. We usually shoot for a measurement of 2.5 air changes per hour at 50 pascals (ACH50). Passive House Institute (PHI) standards call for less than or equal to 0.6 air changes per hour.

Install shades or blinds
Shades and blinds can help to prevent heat gain during hot months through doors and windows.

Switch out your light bulbs!
Electric lighting can burn up to 25% of your energy budget! Switching out bulbs to Light Emitting Diode (LED) or Compact Fluorescent Lights (CFL) can reduce energy use significantly. They cost more initially but last up to 10 times longer than normal incandescents.

Install Energy Star rated appliances
These energy efficient appliances can use 25% less energy and 40% less water than conventional appliances.  

Re-use, Recycle, Re-purpose
Whether you’re re-organizing, moving, or renovating you should try to manage materials sustainably.  When you shop, try to only buy products which contain recycled or post-consumer material. MF Architecture only uses drywall which has 50% or greater recycled content and 10% post-consumer content, for example. If you are rejecting objects, consider donating to organizations such as Habitat for Humanity.  If you can’t find someone to take it, consider a different use for it. A mirror can easily become a table top, scrap lumber a planter. Try to reduce your impact on the landfill as much as possible!

Re-paint your walls with zero-VOC paints
Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) are found in most paints and they can have negative effects on indoor air quality. VOCs can cause acute symptoms such as headaches and dizziness. Many companies now offer zero-VOC products, meaning they have less than or equal to 5 g/L VOC content. MF Architecture supports healthy environments therefor we ONLY use zero-VOC paints.


The MF Architecture team does their best to make a difference as a whole and individually. So should you! We hope these methods are helpful to making your home a healthier and more sustainable place.

Written by Kendall Claus, LEED AP.