When you’re designing your own custom home, you are in the best position to make it energy efficient. Many of the most critical design choices for energy efficient are the hardest to achieve with renovation as they require overhauling the whole home design or changing major elements. While you’re in the design phase, it’s important to have conversations with your designer and builder about how important it is for you to have an energy-efficient home and what kind of designs might help you achieve that. Here is a quick guide to the kind of designs you should discuss.

1. Explore Types and Designs

There are many types of energy-efficient home designs. Some homes look entirely typical but are packed with energy-efficient features. Others look like they have radically different designs to maximize energy usage—because they do. One notable option is a passive home. These are designed to not require electricity, at least to heat or cool itself. When you’re looking through passive home ideas, remember the design needs to work for your climate. Here in California, passive homes need to minimize heat from the sun through most of the year and use low or no-energy options to cool the space. There are many creative designs which achieve this.

2. Building Envelope

The building envelope is the outer shell of the home, the parts that separate it from the external environment. It includes some of the most important elements for energy efficiency, including the insulation, roof, and foundation. In our climate, designers of energy-efficient homes often want to include geothermal cooling, which is best with specific foundation designs. Typically, they also want to include excellent insulation. You can choose more sustainable and unusual insulation options or use the products that dominate the market.

3. Orientation in the Lot and Layout

The overall orientation of the home on your lot can take advantage of natural features to reduce the energy needs of the home. Taking advantage of natural shade from trees or other sources can be especially beneficial in our climate. Other elements of the lot, like slope, also matter.

Then consider the layout of the home in relation to the lot, the sun, and other factors that might impact its energy efficiency. A truly skilled designer will learn about your lifestyle and habits to create a layout that maximizes your comfort in your home while reducing its energy need. That might include designing your bedroom so it will be most comfortable when you sleep, placing your home office to have the best light during your work hours, and more.

4. Consider Home Size

Larger homes are less efficient. Ideally, you’d choose a home that is just as large as you need it to be. This doesn’t mean your home should feel cramped or that every single space needs to be dual-purpose. Instead, a home of the correct size should still feel spacious while not adding unnecessary energy burden.

A talented designer can help you make the right decisions to build an energy-efficient home while also balancing this with your other priorities.