This type of building is also known as sustainable design or green building and started to gain popularity during the oil / energy crisis of the 1970s. It generally costs more than traditional methods, however they usually pay for themselves after only a few years in the way of reduced bills, as well as being a lot better for the global environment.
Energy-saving homes try to use renewable resources both in construction and upkeep. For example, some are built from wood from sustainable forests or bricks made rammed earth. They aim to reduce consumption of all services, most notably water and electricity. Water use can be reduced by low-use appliances but more by recycling water around the household. So-called ‘grey water’ (bathwater, dishwater, etc) can be re-used in the garden for irrigation, and if this is not sufficient then rainwater can also be collected. These practices not only reduce the amount of waste going to the sewage system but of course also the consumption. Even human waste can be recycled using a composting toilet and makes compost which will help your garden grow. A good energy-efficient home should hardly need to throw anything away. It should also watch what it brings in: e.g. avoiding plastic bags, excess packaging, etc.
A good energy-saving home should make the most use of the local environment and be well-suited to the climate. Think of the home as a living organism and you’re heading down the right track. Certain animals and plants either adapt to their surroundings or die off and an energy-efficient home should follow the same principle.
The biggest of these factors to take into account is of course sunlight. Consider where the sun rises and sets and the path it takes during the day. If you live in a hot climate, you will want to reduce the amount of sunlight that can enter the home (e.g. through windows) and shade the house as much as possible either using extended roofs or more natural shade such as trees. Try to maximise the ventilation of the home to make use of breezes which can cool it down. The idea is to keep the house as cool as possible without the need for air conditioning or other energy-sapping machines. In a cold climate you will want to try to maximise the sunlight that enters the house, reducing the need for artificial heating. You can also reduce the need for artificial lighting in such a home.
Insulation is crucial in all climates for maintaining these temperatures on a daily basis. It’s no good having a home that is nicely heated by the sun during the day if you’re going to lose all that heat as soon as the sun sets!
The materials used in construction should come from local sources. This not only cuts down on cost but of course uses far less energy in shipping materials from across the globe, thus cutting down on the “energy footprint” of your home. Another benefit of this is that you will usually find that the style of your house will fit better with its surroundings if it is built from local materials.