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Guide to Sustainable Design for Coastal Family Homes

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Guide to Sustainable Design for Coastal Family Homes

Coastal homes are loved for the natural beauty that surrounds them. However, some people don't know that these homes face harsher conditions than most homes do. As a result, they demand long-lasting materials during construction to protect their structural integrity and beauty.

While it's attractive to build a home in coastal regions, it's vital to take into account the design of your home. Many people find it hard to resist the stunning and natural views of sandy beaches and blue waters, but that irresistible beauty comes with environmental factors that can affect your home.

Detailed designing and planning are essential when building a sustainable coastal home. You need to evaluate how your home will withstand humidity, flooding, and storms. Additionally, the design should include options that reduce your use of metered water and utility power.

So if you're planning to build a coastal family home, consider these sustainable design tips to secure your investment.

Use Durable Materials and Systems

The materials you choose for your coastal home need to be tough and durable. The sea, sun, and salty air are usually hard on oceanfront homes, so it's vital to find materials that can withstand such an environment.

It's not uncommon to find waterfront homes with rusting metalwork, chipping surfaces, and failed window systems. When planning your home design, here are the materials and systems you should consider.


Granite is good-looking and durable, making it one of the most preferred materials for coastal homes. It requires little maintenance compared to brick, concrete, and wood, and it's unlikely to be affected by freeze-thaw cycles.

You can use granite to construct your steps, patios, walkways, decks, and pool coping. Since it's durable, you won't need to replace it in the future, thus protecting the environment.


Stone walls act as a functional barrier and a design element in coastal homes. As a material, stone is elegant and chic, and it lends a classic touch to your home.

If you opt to use stone in your home, it's vital to note that no two stones are the same. Therefore, it's advisable to go with one stone type, unless you're trying to create a pattern. Also, aim for differently sized stones to give your wall a rustic yet contemporary feel.

Keep in mind that adding a stone wall to your coastal home helps to protect it from moderate floods. It also helps to prevent soil erosion and weathering. The common types of stones you can use include fieldstone, quartzite, and granite.


You can build your exterior using cedar, a popular, classic material for coastal homes. It's long-lasting, low-maintenance, and beautiful. Cedar is known for its high oil content, which repels water penetration to prevent rotting.

However, it's likely to splinter due to sun exposure. This can be addressed through sealing and straining to protect your cedar. It can be used for siding and shakes.

Concrete Flooring

When it comes to coastal properties, there may be no better choice for flooring than concrete. This is because concrete flooring is the only way to prevent water damage due to floods or long-term moisture exposure.

While hardwood is beautiful, it tends to warp over time as a result of elevated moisture levels. Concrete makes an ideal pick because it requires little to no maintenance, and it's durable. It usually remains cool during hot seasons. During cold seasons, you can always use a rug or carpet.

Metal Roofing

Roof shingles are the typical type of roofing materials in many homes. However, due to strong winds in coastal areas, they don't make an excellent option for your waterfront home. They're likely to crack or loosen.

Instead, you can opt for saltwater-resistant metal roofing for your family home. Steel panels are long-lasting, and they require little maintenance.

Some people opt to paint their roofs white to reflect the sun's heat and to keep their homes cooler.

Impact-Rated Windows

If you have areas of your home that face the sea or ocean, it's vital to reinforce them, particularly if your area is prone to cyclones. In this case, using impact-rated windows is ideal. These windows have solidly sealed hardware, thicker glass, and upgraded frames.

They're designed to prevent the penetration of flying debris during stormy or windy weather. This means you won't need to replace your windows every time there's inclement weather. They also help to prevent seepage of water into your home.

Avoid Materials with Low VOCs

Certain materials emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which are harmful chemicals when breathed. High levels of VOCs in your home are hazardous to your health, and they cause eye irritation, headaches, and damage to body organs, such as the liver.

You should consider finding materials that emit low VOCs, such as sisal, linen, silk, wool, and cashmere. Opt for natural fibers instead of synthetic rugs, carpets, and furniture covers. Other materials that release VOCs in your home include pesticides, aerosol sprays, air fresheners, paint, and paint strippers.

Be sure to increase ventilation in your home to reduce the levels of VOCs. Open-space designs can help make your home airy, eliminating air pollutants and other contaminants for improved indoor air quality.

Open-Space Layout

Open-Space Layout

Designing an open-space layout for your coastal home helps to ensure natural ventilation and improved daylighting. In this case, there are minimal walls and partitions to encourage interaction and flexibility.

Some modern families go for completely open-plan interiors for their homes. While it may seem creative, it limits privacy, unless the occupants are a young family. However, the more natural lighting there is, the more you save on energy costs.

Be sure to ask your designer to find the right orientation for your home without sacrificing cooling or heating. Also, you need to be careful with open designs; otherwise, you risk losing energy.

Room Locations

When designing your home, pay attention to the rooms that will need most heating or cooling. Having the right room in the light place will make a significant difference. Also, the space or size of each room matters.

The design should be such that each room gets optimal sunlight exposure. In this case, working with a designer to create an ideal home orientation for passive sun exposure is vital to the placement of your rooms.

The bedrooms and bathrooms can be placed on the north side if you don't want glare that disrupts your sleep. Your living, family, dining, study, and recreation rooms need moderate sunlight, so it's reasonable when they face southeast to southwest.

The kitchen, garage, and breakfast room can face the east for a relaxed and bright atmosphere.

Opt for a Small Footprint

One thing to note is that, the more land your coastal home takes up, the more change it makes to your landscape. This means you're likely to affect certain flora and fauna. Also, bigger houses are likely to wipe out your energy-efficiency gains.

Keep in mind that larger homes require a lot of stuff to be filled, so more stuff results in a larger carbon footprint. Everything that's made requires energy, and this contributes to the ever-growing carbon footprint.

When designing your home, it's vital to have a smaller base. You can then build more space upward. If there are trees in the land where you want to build, ask your designer to include some of them in your design. You don't need to cut all of them.

Smart Devices

The smart home is becoming quite popular, and many homeowners are reaping the benefits of incorporating technology into their home designs. Automating your home can really add value to your house and cut on energy costs.

Some people may feel that this is an unnecessary expense, but home automation helps eliminate energy-wasting processes. For example, a smart thermostat can adjust the indoor temperatures accordingly to ensure a comfortable temperature while minimizing power use.

You can also install smart blinds that automatically close to prevent excess sunlight penetration into your space. This helps to avoid overworking your air conditioners.

Smart Landscaping

Gardening and landscaping by the sea are not always easy. Salt spray and breezes usually affect most plants. During stormy weather, these elements are intensified. Also, the soil in the coastal area is generally salty, sandy, or both.

Despite these conditions, it's still possible to be smart about your landscaping. You can consider planting trees to provide natural shade in your home. There are great trees that can grow near saltwater, including cabbage palmetto, American holly, Canary Island date palm, Italian cypress, and manna ash.

You should design a garden and lawn that will blend in with the natural surrounding. Use succulents to fill spaces as they're adapted to salty environments. Meadow-like grasses can be great for your yard, and their wavy look mimics the sea.

Use Renewable Resources

One of the most effective ways of building a sustainable coastal home is by using renewable energy sources. Depending on your energy needs, you can completely replace your power company or cut the bill significantly.

As a homeowner, you have several options for powering your home:

  • Solar electric system

  • Wind-power systems

  • Microhydropower systems

  • Hybrid power systems

When considering installing any of these systems, you need to know your local codes and requirements. You also need to consider your electricity use and technology options. Incorporating a renewable energy system into your house design is even easy when designing a new home.

The above mentioned options can be used alone or combined with other systems to meet your electricity needs.

Energy-Efficiency Tips

Some people may find investing in home renewable-energy sources costly and unmanageable. For that reason, there are several changes you can make to reduce your power consumption:

  • Replace your fluorescent bulbs with CFL or LED bulbs.

  • Air-dry your clothes instead of using the dryer; it's often sunny in coastal areas.

  • Install smart power strips.

  • Use cold water during the laundry.

  • Invest in blinds or curtains for window insulation.

  • Draft-proof your windows and doors to eliminate gaps.

  • Opt for energy-efficient home appliances.

These are some of the measures you can take to keep your energy cost down. You can also use solar energy for heating water or get a solar oven to prep some of your meals.

Build a Place for Compost

While about 80 percent of coastal pollution originates from land sources, beachgoers and activities along coastlines still significantly impact the coastal environment. While designing your home, it's advisable to factor in a compost bin.

As more people are attracted to coastal areas, garbage and waste are becoming an issue. In the face of changing climatic conditions, everyone is responsible for reducing waste and carbon emission through everything we do.

Creating compost for organic waste disposal is better than having it in the landfill. This is because landfills don't have adequate oxygen to allow for optimal aerobic decomposition for such waste.

Composting helps to do the following:

  • Improve soil health around your home

  • Return essential nutrients to the soil

  • Reduce methane-gas emissions

You can compost bones, meat, dairy, produce, seafood, paper, and cardboard. If possible, be sure to cut these waste into small pieces before composting them. You can crush the bones with a mallet.

Final Thoughts

Coastal homes are usually beautiful and attractive, particularly when built against sandy beaches and blue waters. Unfortunately, this beauty can easily hide the challenges that most homeowners experience.

If you have the opportunity to design your own coastal family home, it's wise to take the time to consider every aspect of homebuilding. This includes everything from building materials to the finishing touches.

It's also important to note that building a sustainable home can be costly, especially when going for durable materials. However, this is beneficial in the long term. You won't need to repair your home regularly, and you'll also be protecting your investment from the somewhat-harsh coastal elements.

Most importantly, work with a designer and contractor who are well versed in sustainable and eco-friendly ways and options for building a home.


Queensland Government. (2019, November 25). Sustainable Housing.

Smith, R. (2018, September 20). How to Design an Eco-friendly Sustainable Home. Homes to Love.

Wellington City Council. (n.d.). Make Your Home More Sustainable.