Updated: Apr 6
Nearly three-fourths of homeowners have home improvement plans this year, according to Zillow's top home trends in 2022, and sustainable, eco-friendly projects have emerged as a high priority. Driven by the need to combat rising utility costs and embrace a more climate-conscience lifestyle, homeowners have a wealth of options to help them lower their carbon footprint without sacrificing any comfort or style.
Making energy saving home upgrades has become much easier than it used to be. From energy-efficient lighting and fixtures to home ventilation systems, appliances, and sustainable construction materials, any reduction in home energy demand can make a big impact. And let's not forget about all the money you'll save in the long run — utility bills beware.
Swapping out old light bulbs for longer-lasting and more efficient LED bulbs is one of the easiest steps in creating a sustainable home. According to EcoWatch.com, LED lights use up to 90% less energy than regular bulbs (and save the average customer about $225 per year)!
Natural daylight, which is about as sustainable as it gets, has also become one of the most desirable home features, especially in home offices, studios and workshops. Homeowners are upgrading windows and doors to light the home whenever possible, and employing mirrors and lighter color accents to reflect light around the room. Brightening spaces with small tubular skylights is another growing trend. These small, easy-to-install sun tunnels skylights transform poorly-lit workspaces, hallways and bathrooms without extensive roof and interior alterations.
Of the average household's total annual energy usage, as much as 42% can go to operating heating and air conditioning systems. Air conditioners are among the most inefficient home appliances, requiring up to 14-pounds of coal burned per hour to cool a 2,500-square-foot home, based on Colorado coal plant efficiency reports. Unsurprisingly, homeowners are seeking out ways to maintain a comfortable home environment while lowering energy costs before the summer heat arrives again.
Upgrading an existing air conditioning system with eco-friendly home ventilation fans is among the fastest, easiest, and most affordable ways homeowners are reducing AC usage. Attic fans and vents have become a go-to to make residential AC systems work more efficiently as soon as they are they are installed. Solar attic fans, controlled by a thermostat, and energy-efficient powered vents automatically exhaust superheated air from the attic to prevent it from seeping into living spaces below, reducing the strain on the AC unit to maintain comfortable temperatures throughout the home.
Whole house fans have been used as an eco-friendly AC alternative for decades, but technological advancements have made these products quieter, more efficient, and more powerful than fans in the past. When added to an existing AC system, some homeowners have cut home energy usage by as much as 50-90%, on top of a wealth of other benefits. Whole house fans rely on a sustainable source, cool, fresh air from the outdoors, and a process known as "thermal mass cooling" to completely cool every surface inside the home. With the mass of the home cooled, less energy is used and air conditioners are only needed at the hottest times of the hottest days, if at all.
Speaking of fresh air, backyards, gardens, and other outdoor living spaces have made a huge comeback in the pandemic era, and homeowners have realized their outdoor spaces offer even more eco-friendly opportunities. Spending time upgrading home gardens is a proven stress reliever — not to mention a healthy, organic food source — and can help reduce food waste when compost is used to nurture the soil. Novice gardeners and experts alike are also creating pollinator habitats, planting vibrant native flowers and plants to attract bees, butterflies, humming birds, and other species vital to local habitats. EcoWatch.com says planting a pollinator-friendly garden is not only good for the environment as a whole, it's good for the flowers, fruits, vegetables, and overall home value too.
Homeowners are poised to invest even more into their outdoor spaces, treating patios and other backyard areas as additional living spaces so they can spend more time outdoors throughout the spring, summer and fall seasons. Creating comfortable outdoor spaces can be as easy as picking up some gently-used patio furniture, a box garden, or plants on a small patio, or as complex as building pergolas, outdoor kitchens or other sustainable construction projects. No matter their budget, homeowners are finding ways to enhance outdoor spaces, without increasing their energy demand.
With so much emphasis on sustainability, it's no surprise that the trend has also become a major factor in consumer' purchasing decisions. Reclaimed and recycled materials are a hot commodity for interior design updates, while sustainable designs and building materials are becoming more and more prevalent in renovation and construction projects. Homeowners are also making a point to refurbish, refinish or otherwise reuse items like furniture and clothing first, before buying something brand new, and seeking out and supporting more climate-conscience companies and contractors for their projects.
Businesses are catching on, too. Eco-friendly home upgrades have become more affordable and widely available than ever, and many companies are investing in initiatives meant to lower their own carbon footprint. Company-sponsored road and waterway cleanups, renewable energy product advancements and discounts, and tree-planting campaigns are just some of the ways businesses are attracting climate-conscience customers and offsetting their own climate impact.
At this point, it may not be fair to call sustainable, energy-saving home upgrades a mere "trend." Trends come and go, but with bank accounts and the health of our planet on the line, sustainability is quickly becoming more of a standard when it comes to home upgrades.
"The pandemic forced a lot of people to reevaluate what's most important in their lives and in their homes," says Zillow home trends expert Amanda Pendleton. "For many, 2022 is the moment to start living those values."