In our recent post "Sustainability and the Modern Home (Pt.1)", we looked at several basic features of the modern house that are coming to be expected by the newest generation of home buyers. Not only do these elements promote sustainability, they also likewise boost home value. Yet sustainability is a goal with progressing benchmarks. Home seekers will look beyond cost-saving and resource-sparing fixtures to the very structure of the house itself as well as the very land it sits on. These characteristics of design and engineering now take center stage for purchasers who want to be good stewards of the earth while enjoying all the comforts of home.

Saving the Planet, Yard by Yard

Sustainable landscaping can involve simple plantings or more elaborate designs. Some lawns, for example, suffer bald spots where grass refuses to emerge. These might be excellent locations for perennial plants or shrubs. If space allows, adding a tree or two yields numerous sustainable benefits: they can soak up almost 50 pounds of carbon dioxide annually; they serve as cover and food sources for birds and wildlife; and they provide shade during the hot months and windbreaks against blustery conditions, saving on energy consumption as well as exterior wear and tear. To optimize these advantages, homeowners can plant a combination of deciduous and coniferous trees.

Whatever irrigation system is in place -- drip irrigation is greener -- attaching a rainfall sensor compels the system to cease and desist for the course of the downpour, conserving water resources. Speaking of which, installing rainwater catchment systems effectively cuts back water use by collecting rain and re-directing it for other uses. These systems can range from strategically placed barrels to large-scale cisterns attached directly to household plumbing. One caveat: before building in such a structure, check with state and local authorities -- some jurisdictions assert that rainwater is public property.

There are other landscape architecture designs that benefit the environment while performing a useful purpose. One plan is to lay out patios with permeable surfaces like gravel or decomposed granite. This allows the water to seep into the ground at a regulated tempo, preventing runoff into drains and waterways. Ribbon driveways -- paved only where the wheels go, with grass growing in between -- are another method of creating more permeable surface area on the property. At the same time, lush green lawns -- for all their attractiveness -- imbibe water in large volumes. Incorporating native grasses and plants offers all of the beauty without the consuming thirst.

Walls and Frames -- for Tree Huggers

Just as planting trees is a potent weapon in the fight against carbon proliferation, saving trees is a necessity toward that same end. In fact, 40 to 45 mature trees are needed to construct a mid-size house. Employing alternative materials to timber can save countless trees from destruction. Eco-friendly home builders are now turning to substances like rammed earth -- a composite of soil, chalk, limestone and gravel -- to erect residential walls, floors and foundations. Rammed earth can absorb exterior heat by day and release it in the cool of the evening. Straw bales, on the other hand, work as well as lumbered walls, all the while cloistering atmospheric carbon from escaping. In terms of insulation, wool has demonstrated a 10 percent superiority to fiberglass and can actually lead to better air quality inside.

Many younger buyers look for smart glass panes in the windows. This can refer to the glass itself or to a glaze application. In the heat of summer, smart windows block the ultra-violet rays of the sun so that a room is not heated; in the winter, the same glass allows rays free passage to help warm the house and save on heating expenditure. In addition, some smart windows will regulate how much light comes through so that indoor glare is eliminated. All in all, these components contribute to home value through sustainability.

In Pt.3, the next post to our sustainability series, we'll explore 3D printing of homes.