7 Homes Designed for Sustainable Living

From a shipping container dwelling to architect Steven Holl’s forest retreat, these residences embody the ideal that what’s best for the environment is also best for our lifestyles.

Dwell’s compilation of sustainable homes is presented by Green Mountain Energy, providers of 100% renewable electricity since 1997, with a welcome reminder to be certain the energy you do use is responsibly sourced.

The design of a home tends to reveal the values of its inhabitants: Perhaps a living room filled with artwork hints at a love of cultural pursuits or travel. A jumbo kitchen island prompts conversation about recent parties or delectable feasts. 

In recent years, forward-thinking homeowners everywhere have explored what it means to build in the best interests of the environment, whether that means using responsibly sourced materials, clean electricity, or energy-efficient layouts based on daylighting principles. Incorporating these elements into a home doesn’t necessarily change its look, but it does make it more attuned to nature—and more nurturing for the lives it frames. 

Below, we’ve rounded up seven homes that reflect their owners’ avid embrace of sustainable design.

A Clever Homestead for a Retired Texas Couple Is Two Houses in One

Architect Ryan Bollom faced a formidable task when presented with this project in Texas Hill Country: He had to build a home for his retired parents and an adjoining property for his sister’s family. The result is a multigenerational hub that respects its location in all the right ways, including using rainfall-capture as the primary water source.  

A Galvalume metal roof over a TPO flat roof is supported by durable cedar timbers.

An Inventive Austin Home Enables Net-Zero Living

In Austin, a family of five lives comfortably in a compact, energy-efficient home, which makes the most of its narrow lot with adaptable spaces and enormous picture windows. It’s composed of two stacked volumes; the suspended one is larger than the base, creating a cooling overhang that complements a canopy of shade trees. 

Husband-and-wife architects Ernesto Cragnolino and Krista Whitson built this net-zero home in Austin together. 

A Shipping Container Home in Pennsylvania Stands in Sharp Contrast to its Neighbors

While surrounded mainly by snug, prewar summer cottages, Martha Moseley and Bill Mathesius have maximized their 7,200-square-foot lot by configuring 11 shipping containers on a raised concrete foundation, creating a custom home that includes an enormous skylight at the center. 

The home is largely furnished with pieces designed by the homeowner, who considers the structure and all of its contents akin to a giant art project and a concrete manifestation of his personality. 

This Net-Zero Barn on Long Island Is a Haven for Climate Researchers

When sustainable design activist Jeff Tannenbaum and his wife, Nisa Geller, teamed up with architect Shauna McManus to remodel a decrepit barn on their property in Long Island, New York, they set out to create a place where like-minded people from all sectors could gather and explore responsible building practices. Solar panels, triple-glazed windows, and reclaimed materials are just a few elements that make this home a showcase for eco-sensitive design. 

This home’s electricity needs are more than met by its efficient solar panels. "It’s a beautiful little power plant," says Jeff.

A House Not Built for Human Beings

Architect Allan Shope’s nearly 3,000-square-foot property on the banks of New York’s Hudson River is as much a retreat for its owner as it is a refuge for neighboring wildlife. Not only did Shope thoughtfully incorporate reclaimed materials into the design—like turning the site’s fallen black walnut trees into the home’s flooring—but he also made way for falcons to visit the area safely. 

The home’s exterior is clad in reflective coating that helps birds spot it as they fly by, while the native landscaping feeds hummingbirds and monarch butterflies. 

This Home by Steven Holl Achieves a Minimal Footprint Without Compromising Interior Volume

Set on 28 acres of land in rural Rhinebeck, New York, architect Steven Holl’s distinctive, self-reliant home is outfitted for sustainable living—from its energy-storage system and locally sourced furnishings, all the way down to its 3D-printed light bulbs made from a cornstarch-based material. The geometric windows provide plenty of light and deliver on design interest.

The secluded property designed by architect Steven Holl is only 918 square feet, and is set on a clearing amid towering trees.

Chicago’s First Certified Passive House

Dwell speaks with Brandon Weiss of Weiss Building and Development LLC about a passive property he built with the help of architect Tom Bassett-Dilley. Weiss discusses the rigorous parameters his design had to follow in order to meet certification requirements, and he shares how existing homes can be retrofitted to follow suit.

The home’s south-facing windows provide free heat in winter, and its traditional massing conceals high-performance infrastructure.

Learn about Green Mountain Energy and how to make your home more sustainable by visiting greenmountainenergy.com.

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