The Most Efficient OR Energy Efficient Home Designs


Faisal Nadeem

Efficient Home Design

Before you design or remodel your home, consider energy efficiency. This approach can help you save money while ensuring your house is more comfortable and durable. Proper planning involves looking into a renewable energy system for electricity, water heating, and space heating and cooling. Exploring financing options for an energy-efficient house is also essential.

For an existing house, the first step is conducting a home energy assessment or energy audit. This will reveal how your house uses energy and suggest ways to cut costs. Utilize tools and calculators from resources like Your Home’s Energy Use, Residential Services Network, and Building Performance institute.

What Makes a House Energy Efficient?

Understanding the term thermal envelope is crucial for creating an energy-efficient house. A home’s thermal envelope serves to shield the living space from the outdoors and includes wall and roof assemblies, insulation, and windows.

To ensure a tight thermal envelope, the DOE recommends insulating concrete forms (ICF) for the construction of the home’s walls and roof. Homes built with ICF are not only efficient but also very strong and can exceed code requirements for areas prone to tornadoes or hurricanes.

Incorporating the five basic elements from the US Department of Energy National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) is essential. These elements include a well-constructed and tightly sealed thermal envelope, controlled ventilation, proper size, high-efficiency heating and cooling systems, and energy-efficient doors and windows.

The NREL outlines that the best way to ensure your home is energy efficient is to prioritize energy efficiency during the home building process. This method is more effective than simply installing Energy Star Certified appliances, as it addresses the core elements that make a house truly energy-efficient and comfortable.

What is the most efficient home design?– Short Answer

The most efficient home design includes geodesic dome homes and tiny homes. Tiny homes are smaller overall and energy efficient due to less surface area. Geodesic dome homes are efficient because of their unique shape. Both homes are smart builds using minimal area effectively.

What should know about the State’s new Energy Efficiency Buildings Standards?

California’s new energy efficiency building codes, effective from August 2021, focus on sustainability. These standards mandate solar panels, batteries, and electric heaters in new constructions, including 2 houses on one property and maisonette apartments.

The goal is to reduce reliance on fossil fuels by incorporating renewable energy sources like wind turbines and hydroelectric dams. The California Energy Commission emphasizes environmentally conscious building practices to address the state’s unique climate challenges, such as heat waves, winters, and valleys.

Homeowners and property owners should consider home renovations to meet these standards, potentially reducing energy costs. A consumer survey by Vivint Solar shows a growing trend among Californians for eco-conscious living, aligning with David Bywater’s vision of clean, renewable energy. As highlighted by The New York Times and Ivan Penn, these updates impact both residential and commercial buildings.

Implementing these environmental updates involves transitioning from natural gas heaters to heat pumps, enhancing energy efficiency. The state encourages homeowners and renters to adopt these changes for a more sustainable future. PR Newswire and Environmental reports indicate that California’s commitment to renewable energy sets a national standard, benefiting shoppers and the overall environment.

Whole-House Systems Approach

Designing the most efficient house involves a whole-house systems approach. This means considering all variables like energy use, conditions of the house, and local climate. It’s important to account for the interactions between different elements of the home. Before you start, think about upgrades and work with an energy assessor to get your Home Energy Score.

The Home Energy Score is a rating developed by the U.S. Department of Energy. It gives you a snapshot of your home’s current efficiency and provides a list of improvements and potential savings. The score is based on the structure of your home and its heating, cooling, and hot water systems. The Home Facts give you details about these systems and structure. Following the recommendations can help you achieve a higher score and save money.

Ultra-Efficient Home Design

When considering home renovations or living in a maisonette apartment, achieving an ultra-efficient home design is key. Whether you have 2 houses on one property or wonder should I build a timber frame house in California, it’s essential to focus on state-of-the-art, energy-efficient methods. Construction, appliances, and lighting should be commercially available and paired with renewable energy systems like solar water heating and electricity.

By leveraging the local climate and site conditions, designers can incorporate passive cooling and landscaping strategies to reduce energy use. The aim is to cost-effectively meet the reduced requirements with on-site renewable energy systems.

Designing and building such homes involve detailed strategies from resources like Building America and Energy-Efficient Homes. Whether you choose to build or remodel, adhering to the rigorous, voluntary Passive House standard ensures an extremely well-insulated, airtight structure with dramatically lower heating and cooling needs.

Homeowners across the country can recoup costs through efficiency upgrades, rebates, and other financial incentives. The Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency provides a current list of incentives available in your area.

Advanced House Framing

Building a new house or adding to an existing one? Advanced house framing uses optimum value engineering to reduce lumber use and waste, improve energy efficiency, and is perfect for a wood-framed house. This method enhances your house design’s efficiency and value.

Cool Roofs

Cool roofs made from reflective materials absorb less heat and reflect more light, which keeps homes cooler in hot weather. This efficient design uses the sun’s light to maintain comfort and reduce energy costs. From my experience, this approach not only enhances cooling but also promotes sustainability.

Passive Solar Home Design

Creating the most efficient house design involves passive solar home design, which uses solar energy. By considering climatic and site conditions, you can achieve natural heating in winter and cooling in summer. This method ensures your home is energy-efficient year-round.

Earth-Sheltered, Straw Bale, Log, and Manufactured Homes

Planning to buy an earth-sheltered or straw bale home? Consider log and manufactured home options too. Here’s some information and links with suggestions to help improve your home’s energy efficiency. I live in a straw bale home, and its energy efficiency has made a significant difference.

Efficient Earth-Sheltered Homes

From my experience, earth-sheltered homes are incredibly comfortable and durable. These homes can be built underground or bermed, offering a unique design that blends with nature. When well designed and built, they become highly energy-efficient.

Straw Bale Home Design

Straw bale buildings were first seen in the United States from 1895 to 1940 and became recognized again in the mid-1990s. Two main construction methods are used today: non-load-bearing, which involves a post-and-beam structural framework with in-fill, and load-bearing or “Nebraska style,” which uses the bearing capacity of stacked bales to support roof loads.

  • Local building code approvals
  • Building loans
  • Mortgages
  • Homeowner’s insurance
  • Community acceptance

To ensure building code standards are met, contact your city or county building code officials or your state energy office for information on energy codes that are recommended or enforced.

Whole home remodel where to start? First, understand the average bedroom size for efficient space planning.

Energy Efficiency in Log Homes

Log homes are unique for their solid wood log walls, which enhance energy efficiency. Proper design, construction, and maintenance are essential to maintain this efficiency. Focus on high-quality logs and proper sealing to ensure your home remains efficient and cozy year-round.

Efficient Manufactured Homes

Manufactured homes are a great choice for those looking to maximize energy efficiency. These homes are built according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Code, ensuring quality and compliance. Unlike traditional homes, they have a chassis that makes them mobile, allowing them to be moved if necessary.

Owners can further improve the efficiency of their constructed homes by using caulking and weather stripping for better insulation, and air sealing to prevent drafts. Choosing energy-efficient lighting and appliances also contributes significantly to reducing energy consumption. These permanent solutions, once known only for mobile homes, now apply broadly to modern, sustainable living spaces

Energy Efficient House designs for your House


Geodesic dome homes stand out as a revolutionary concept in efficient house design. The first geodesic dome structure was cleverly designed by the engineer Walther Bauersfeld for a planetarium after World War I.

Later, architect and author Buckminster Fuller coined the term “geodesic” after collaborating with Kenneth Snelson and other artists at Black Mountain College post-WWII. Fuller not only patented the design but also built many geodesic dome homes across the US with the help of his students.

In an article for BBC Culture titled “The story of Buckminster Fuller’s radical geodesic dome,” Jonathan Glancey notes that Fuller and his wife lived in a geodesic dome house in Illinois until their deaths. Glancey writes that architects of Fuller’s time admired these structures for offering the greatest volume with the least surface area, epitomizing the concept of “doing very much with very much less.”

Despite their visual drama, incredible energy efficiency, and minimal construction costs, geodesic dome homes haven’t widely caught on in the US. Glancey explains that the geodesic dome has been a slow burn in everyday design, but its influence is undeniable and should never be underestimated.

What makes Geodesic Dome Homes Energy Efficient?

As a homeowner, finding a durable and energy-efficient home is key, especially in areas with extreme weather events. The geodesic dome stands out for its unique structure and shape, becoming stronger as its size increases, according to a HomeAdvisor guide.

Michelle Kennedy Hogan in her Inhabitat article explains that a sphere is nature’s most efficient shape, covering the most living area with the least surface area. A dome-shaped home has 30 percent less surface area than a rectangular one, resulting in a third less heat transfer and significant savings on heating and cooling bills.

An article by Ylice Glink for CBS News estimates up to 50 percent cost savings for owners of geodesic dome homes. With such impressive savings, these homes are becoming increasingly popular among homeowners looking for durable and energy-efficient designs in the coming years.


In the US, the Department of Energy and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) highlight ICF construction as one of the top building methods for energy-efficient homes. The DOE emphasizes that ICFs create a well-constructed and tightly sealed thermal envelope that prevents heat and cold from passing between the exterior and interior of a home, thereby minimizing the escape of warm or cool air.

ICFs are insulating concrete forms that are lightweight and hollow, later filled with concrete and laid to form a solid structure. Introduced in the 1960s by designer Werner Gregori, a general contractor, ICFs faced initial skepticism but soon became the gold standard in efficient home construction.

In California, climate change resilient building materials like ICFs are crucial. According to an article in ICF Builder Magazine, the Passive House Movement benefits significantly from ICF construction, providing an easier path to net-zero status and passive house certification.

Builders both in the US and abroad use ICFs to construct net-zero homes due to their airtight nature, which helps eliminate thermal bridging and enhances energy efficiency.

What makes ICF Homes Energy Efficient?

ICF construction, as highlighted by Maria Saxton in Rise, offers exceptional energy performance for building. The insulating concrete forms create a perfect seal, stopping air leakage through the walls. This technology features continuous insulation layers on the inside and outside, avoiding thermal bridges and minimizing heat loss.

Zach Williams from Green Home Guide notes a significant reduction in energy expenditure, typically between 25 and 50 percent. These homes are not only energy-efficient but also sustainable in various ways, using fewer trees compared to traditional buildings. Moreover, as Phillip Palmer from ABC7 points out, ICF technology provides a robust solution to California’s wildfires, making these disaster-resilient homes highly desirable.


Man and his ancestors have lived in earth-sheltered homes like dugouts and caves for thousands of years. This practice isn’t common today, but these homes are incredibly energy-efficient. The movement towards passive house design is growing, making earth-sheltered homes more popular.

These homes have exterior walls and floor supported by concrete or steel, with degree of coverage by earth that varies—some are fully submerged while others sit on a hill. Murrye Bernard in The Spruce article explains Earth-Sheltered and Underground Homes Basics. There are three forms: in-hill, underground, and rare modern US designs.

The Department of Energy Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy sees them as a viable option for homeowners looking for energy-efficient features. Their resource on Efficient Earth-Sheltered Homes highlights these comfortable, tranquil, weather-resistant dwellings as the right choice.

What makes Earth Sheltered Homes Energy Efficient?

Based on findings from the National Concrete Masonry Association, Earth-Sheltered Buildings are designed to be highly energy efficient. These homes have a lower infiltration or air leakage rate due to their sealed thermal envelope. This design minimizes heating requirement and losses that typically occur through windows, doors, and gaps between the roof and walls.

In my experience, living in an earth-sheltered home brings significant cost savings. As Stephanie Marshall notes, the natural insulation provided by the surrounding earth can reduce cooling costs in summer and heating costs in winter by 60-85%. This makes these homes not only economical but also comfortable year-round, providing a sustainable solution for homeowners.


Tiny homes are becoming increasingly popular due to their energy efficient nature. Compared to other builds, tiny homes have less surface area, making them more efficient. According to Brittany Chang in a December 2020 article for Business Insider, 58% of Americans would now consider living in a tiny house.

These homes, typically with a maximum four hundred square foot size, were once considered incompatible with the average American lifestyle. However, of the 2,006 Americans surveyed, 86% said they would contemplate purchasing a tiny home as their first home, and 84% would consider it a retirement living option.

In California, tiny homes have emerged as a viable alternative to stick-built ADUs or accessory dwelling units, rather than as primary single family homes. This shift highlights a change in how Americans view housing, with many now preferring smaller, more efficient living spaces. The unique shape and compact design of tiny homes make them a practical choice for reducing environmental impact and simplifying life.

Waht makes Tiny Homes Energy Efficient?

Living in a tiny home can significantly reduce energy use and waste. Experts like Stephanie Osmanski from Green Matters highlight that tiny houses use less energy compared to an average American home.

Typically, an American home is larger than 2,500 square feet, while tiny homes range between 100 and 400 square feet. According to iProperty Management, a tiny home uses only about 7% of the energy that a traditional house does, greatly lowering the household’s ecological footprint and carbon emissions.

The loftier the ceiling and larger the room, the more energy is needed to heat or cool the space. By reducing the built space, tiny homes offer substantial cost savings for homeowners. Some efficient tiny homes, like those designed by Matt Impola, have electricity bills as low as $15 per month, making them extremely sustainable and economical for their residents.


Mediterranean style homes are a timeless choice, especially popular in California. As noted by ElleDecor writer Monique Valeris, a Mediterranean house captures the essence of California living. These homes use traditional materials like limestone, wood, terracotta, and stucco.

Although they have been built for centuries, today’s homeowners find them surprisingly energy efficient. These natural materials make Mediterranean style houses ideal for the climate-conscious homeowner.

What makes Mesiterranean Style Homes Energy Efficient?

Mediterranean style homes stand out for their energy efficiency due to their unique structure and materials. Clay tiles on roofs, as noted by Garrett Callahan, are highly durable, lasting for decades without the rot and leak issues found in wood or asphalt.

These tiles disperse warmth evenly, significantly cutting the transfer of heat. Terracotta floors and stone elements, as Sue Dario highlights, keep interiors warmer in winter and cooler in summer. Stucco walls, explained by Juan Rodriguez, combine cement, sand, and lime to form a durable, low-maintenance exterior that offers excellent insulation.

According to HomeAdvisor, these features make it easier and cheaper to maintain a constant temperature, especially in regions like the American Southwest, known for extreme heat and high electricity bills.


As a local design-build firm, Element Homes is qualified to help Californians build disaster resilient and energy efficient homes. Having worked all across California, from Los Angeles to San Francisco, Element understands how climate-conscious West Coast residents are.

The Element team is well-educated on the latest building codes, focusing on safety and efficiency. You can learn more about building an energy efficient home in California with Element.


What is the most cost efficient house shape?

To save on building costs, choose a simple rectangular layout. Avoid bump-outs, dormers, and ornate details to reduce material and labor expenses. A basic home design with a straightforward roof and minimal shapes is best.

What is the strongest house design?

In designing an efficient home, triangles stand out as the strongest shape. This concept is evident in the world’s most famous architectural marvels like the Louvre Pyramid, the Great Pyramids of Giza, and the Eiffel Tower. These structures demonstrate the remarkable stability and strength of triangular designs.

How to build a high efficiency home?

Start with Smart Design. …

Use the Sun for Solar Tempering. …

Optimize with Energy Modeling. …

Super-Seal the Building Envelope. …

Super-Insulate the Building Envelope. …

Use Highly Insulated Windows and Doors.

What is the most economical house to build?

  • Ranch-style homes.
  • Colonial homes.
  • Tiny homes.
  • Kit homes.
  • Off-grid homes.
  • Prefabricated homes.
  • Shipping container homes.
  • Barndominiums.