If you’re looking to buy a new house, there are plenty of options out there that you may have never considered. But if you’re an eco-conscious home buyer, some of these alternative properties are simultaneously eco-friendly and can save you money upfront—and in the future. Here are 5 different approaches to housing that might forever change the way you approach the home buyer or homeowner experience:
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1. Tiny houses
Although the small house movement has become rather trendy, that doesn’t discount the financial and environmental benefits involved. Singles and couples are best served by the tiny home lifestyle (typical homes average 750 square feet or less), which promotes a significant reduction of energy consumption as well as a reduction of accumulated “stuff”–both of which will save you tons of money.
Depending on location, the cost of a tiny home can go up to $50,000, but you can even find 250 sq ft homes for $10,000 or less. Some tiny house enthusiasts gather up their friends and family to build the home themselves. Still, if you’re not a DIY type, you can buy a tiny house that’s on the market (check, http://tinyhouselistings.com), or pick out your favorite design (some come with wheels!) from a tiny house developer who will construct it for you in just a few days.
2. Eco communities
All over the country, sustainably-minded people are coming together to create environmentally healthy communities, either inviting green-minded developers, like the Serenbe community outside of Atlanta, GA, or constructing their own cost-efficient and straightforward homes, like Dancing Rabbit, an eco-village of straw and cob homes in the rural prairie of Missouri. These developments, which are not to be confused with hippie communes, can range in many members from 5 to 500 and are primarily concerned with living in a socially and ecologically sustainable way. Standard features include a typical building for activities and community dining, walkable neighborhoods, organic gardens, solar panels and rainwater harvesting.
3. Passivhaus homes
Long accessible in European architecture, the ultra-energy-efficient design principle known as Passivhaus is slowly gaining attention in the US. Investing in a Passivhaus home, which maintains a steady indoor environment with an airtight and well-insulated structure, ultimately means reducing your total annual energy bills down to about $100—no joke. If you renovate your existing home to Passivhaus standards, you are also eligible for some juicy tax credits.
4. Net-zero homes
Somewhat related to the Passivhaus home, the net-zero home is built to produce as much energy as it consumes, mostly through the use of solar panels. In the United States, building a net-zero or near net-zero home is currently much more common than a Passivhaus home. This is partial because installing solar panels can be less expensive (especially upfront) than investing in Passivhaus building materials–although the long term payback for Passivhaus can be much higher. However, installing solar panels and other energy-reducing systems will earn you tax credits. Forward-thinking green builders have been able to construct net-zero homes that cost as much or less than conventional homes.
5. Renting for Cash
While these housing options allow you to save money and also leave a minimal impact on the environment, you could also consider simply renting out your home to make some extra cash from the property you already own (but are still paying a mortgage on). By taking advantage of websites like Airbnb.com or Homeaway.com, you could pay for much or all of your trip next time you go on vacation. But you could also bring in some extra income to help pay off your mortgage from renting out a guest room in the house or an empty garage as an artist’s studio.
Keeping the size of your home to the minimum necessary can save you a lot of money and is a more sustainable way of living, but whatever the size of your living space, you’ll save the most money if you stay aware of how you can improve its energy efficiency or use the space wisely.
This article was written by staff writer Suchi Rudra. Her mission is to help fight your evil debt blob and get your personal finances in tip top shape.
Suchi Rudra is an avid traveler and freelance writer from Texas who covers personal finance, travel, green building, tech, and entrepreneurship. Her work can be found in VICE, The Guardian, Vice, American Way, BBC Travel, Fodor’s, Transitions Abroad, PlanetEye.com, TravelStart.com, Expats.cz, The Writer and India Currents and many other publications.