The Top 10 Eco-Friendly Features for Today’s Luxury Homes

In honor of Earth Day, we discover that for the world’s most innovative designers and architects, green is the new black

April 22 marks the 51st anniversary of Earth Day. This year’s theme, “Restore Our Earth,” is altogether fitting as we emerge from the pandemic, a year in which our homes, great and small, became our refuge, our solitude—and our solace. Luxury homes, in the era of Covid-19, are more than well-appointed safe spaces: Designers and builders have taken the cutting edge of new, “eco-friendly” technologies to create and to renovate houses that embrace green architecture and green design. They are building homes with locally sourced materials and are powered by sunlight, wind, and geothermal energy. There is an array of technologies that help offset our carbon footprint, such as humidity-controlled indoor air, filtered drinking water, LED lighting, HEPA air filters, and “smart home” internet systems and controls. Herewith, we spotlight 10 of the latest eco-friendly features and a sampling of innovatively built homes that offer the ultimate in luxury and sustainable living.

1. Sustainable and Locally Sourced Materials

This eco-friendly practice is actually not at all new: before international shipping became commonplace, “locally sourced” was simply the method all builders used to construct houses as they chose from stone, wood, thatch, or local clay, depending on which resources were abundant in a particular region. To reduce the carbon footprint of today’s construction practices, architects and contractors are seeking local solutions to new design challenges.

This 17-acre waterfront compound sits on 520 feet of shorefront on the Fox Islands Thorofare in Vinalhaven, Maine. Modernist architect Don Hisaka designed the main residence with a traditional Shingle-style exterior, locally sourced granite fireplaces, Red Oak wood floors, and large windows that bring the coastal views inward. The compound also includes a guest house, a waterside gym, recreation barn, landscaped grounds with flower gardens and fruit trees, and a deepwater wharf.

2. LED Lighting

Electricity drastically transformed the nighttime look and feeling of interiors, replacing the soft flicker and glow of candlelight, of gas and oil lamps, with the hard, bright, on-demand illumination of incandescent bulbs. Lighting is undergoing a radical change once again thanks to advances in LED technology. LED bulbs are vastly more energy efficient than the filament bulbs of the 20th century, which means the carbon footprint of a home can be greatly reduced without switching off the lights. The Dutch multinational corporation Philips, founded in 1891 and a global leader in LED lighting, even produces LED-powered luminous textiles called Kvadrat Soft Cells that can add an atmospheric glow to any interior without the need for a single fixture. And, of course, software, smart phones and their virtual thumbwheels can instantly change the intensity, temperature, color, and even the very moods of light—restoring the soft, romantic flicker and glow of ancient lamps and candles.

This gated waterfront estate is a private oasis in Southwest Florida. The Palladian-inspired main residence is appointed with bespoke furnishings and contemporary fittings, including custom LED lighting. Botanical gardens, a car collector's garage, 65,000-gallon swimming pool, and two boat docks with access to the Gulf of Mexico are further highlights.

3. LEED Certification

LEED certification has become a byword for eco-friendly construction practices. LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) is a green building certification program from the U.S. Green Building Council that recognizes a project’s efficiency standards. It is the most widely used green building rating system. According to the council, LEED-certified homes have grown 19 percent since 2017. There are currently more than 550,000 LEED-certified residential units globally, with more than 400,000 located in the United States. California is the state with the most LEED-certified homes, followed by Texas and New York. LEED-certified homes can be built for the same cost as conventional homes. In addition to improving energy efficiency, resulting in approximately 20 to 30 percent savings in utility bills, green homes require less maintenance than conventionally built homes.

This sleek contemporary home in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, received the highest certification from the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC): LEED Platinum. Young & Young architects designed the 7,200-square-foot main house with eco-conscious materials and amenities, including solar panels, geothermal heating and cooling, radiant heated teak floors, and a Savant “smart home” system. The Earth-friendly features extend to the idyllic grounds, which include sustainable gardens with a greenhouse and natural pond.

4. New Habitats for Sea Life

One of the most exciting trends in eco-friendly building isn’t happening on land, but on the ocean, where innovative new projects such as eco-friendly artificial islands are creating stable habitats for human beings and for the sea life below. Coral, fish, anemones, and all manner of microscopic creatures can carve out a home using the base of each island, as though it were a natural rock formation. Smart ecological designs are applied on both land and sea, reducing the impact on marine life and even creating an underwater sanctuary for native species and “climate migrants,” aquatic animals on the move due to lost habitats.

Bonefish Cay offers a first-class, turnkey experience in the Bahamas’ Abaco Islands. The 13-acre private island paradise has two long, sandy beaches, a mile-long nature trail along the perimeter, and a shallow bay with a nursery for turtles, fish, and conch. The mangroves, silver buttonwoods, and sea grape trees are home to many bird species. The Sea of Abaco is a habitat for bottlenose dolphins and is a world-class destination for deep-sea fishing. A main lodge plus three bungalows can accommodate 14 guests and staff, while leisure is catered for with several boats, watercraft, and scuba-diving equipment.

5. Vegetable Gardens and Orchards

Tending a garden is a proven way to clear the mind and enjoy some fresh air and sunshine. And there’s an added benefit: You can eat the fruits of your labor. Vegetable gardens are as good for the planet as they are for the gardener and the dining room table. With increasing interest in organic produce, home vegetable gardens have become a feature of luxury estates, where a scaled-down version of the “farm-to-table” concept can be brought right into the kitchen. Gardening promotes the cycle of growth and decomposition that maintains healthy soil, and growing plants produce oxygen—as well as the ingredients for a farm-fresh salad. With enough space, an avid gardener can tend a grove of citrus or apple trees or even produce wine from a small vineyard. Like vegetable gardens, orchards surround a home with fresh air and greenery, offer natural shade, and perfume the air with the subtle fragrances of fruit and flowers.

An architectural masterpiece in nature’s finest setting, Green Gables is a 74-acre private estate with a historic legacy dating back to California’s pioneering families. The property offers an unparalleled breadth of homes, natural habitats, and lands for enjoyment, relaxation, and development in the heart of Silicon Valley. Green Gables is celebrated for its expansive grounds, a mix of formal gardens, natural woodlands, and large flower and vegetable gardens, which provide a wonderful bounty for the estate.

6. Green Roofs

Green roofs aren’t just aesthetically pleasing, they’re environmentally friendly. Using vegetation in place of conventional roofing materials reduces air pollution and absorbs stormwater runoff. They also lower energy costs and even extend the life of the roof’s supporting structure. The earliest “green roof” might have been the famous Hanging Gardens of Babylon, but it was not until the early 1970s in Germany that technology caught up with aesthetics and green roofs became a viable design option. Today, green roofs are so practical and effective that mainstream, design-focused authorities like HGTV are offering primers on how to install your own.

Villa La Coluccia is a contemporary waterfront villa on Sardinia’s Costa Smeralda. Architect Pietro Giordo designed the home with locally sourced materials. The green roof isn’t just aesthetically pleasing, it’s functional, providing insulation, solar panels, and a photovoltaic system. Large windows flood the home with sunlight and capture unobstructed views of La Coluccia marine park and the Archipelago of La Maddalena. The villa is surrounded by private gardens with an infinity pool and access to a beach and pontoon.

7. Solar Panels

Using the inexhaustible energy of the sun, solar rooftop panels can provide a lightweight, long-term, cost-effective way to boost the passive energy of a home. Solar panels are on-trend and can be an attractive and artistic addition, whether the home is brand new or centuries old. Sweden’s SolTech Energy produces beautiful glass roof tiles that allow builders to create energy-efficient, solar-powered homes that draw design inspiration from a classic architectural style.

Casa de Luz, Spanish for "House of Light,” is a private beachfront estate on the white sands of Playa Langosta on Costa Rica’s Pacific coast. The main residence, designed by architect Abraham Valenzuela, offers 7,200 square feet of living space. Multiple outdoor spaces include an ocean-facing infinity pool, palapa bar, tropical gardens, and tide pools. A solar power system and a power plant guarantee the entire property’s electrical needs. The high-tech features include high-speed Internet, whole-house audio, security surveillance, backup water system, and air-conditioning throughout.

8. AMX Technology

Today’s eco-friendly houses aren’t just sustainable, they’re smart. AMX, part of Samsung’s Harman Professional Division, de​​signs ​and engineers the Internet of Things. AMX smart-home systems control light, heat, sound, and even irrigation at the touch of a button. Ideal for homeowners who split their time between several residences, each home-automation system can be programmed remotely so that energy is not wasted when the property is vacant. Smart technology can also help protect the home. There are many apps with remote, one-touch security notifications, such as surveillance cameras alerts, presence detectors, and live-stream audio-visual transmission.

The Peninsula Estate is a sensational harborfront compound situated on a private promontory on Grand Cayman Island. Encompassing 25,000 square feet, the living spaces are innovatively designed with every conceivable amenity: from the AMX sound system to the waterfront amphitheater, and the largest residential swimming pool on the island, complete with swim-up bar.

9. Geothermal Heating and Cooling

Like solar panels, geothermal heating and cooling harness the forces of nature to provide optimal indoor conditions at any time of year. This technology lets homeowners keep the most luxurious home’s environmental footprint relatively small, even as its design makes a big aesthetic impact. An efficient geothermal system can provide 20 years of reliable heating and cooling with minimal maintenance, so the benefits of installing one may outweigh the costs, especially if it’s for a new-build or to replace an old system.

The River House Estate is a nature lover’s paradise on 293 forested acres in the northern British Columbia wilderness. The main residence, the River House, is a beautiful, custom-built log home equipped with geothermal heating and cooling. There are also river and lake cabins, an angler's inn, a workshop, outbuildings and garages, a helipad, hiking trails, a 15-acre private lake, and a mile of frontage on the Bulkley River.

10. Private Eco Preserves

And, finally, there is the eco preserve, where the owner is not so much landlord as steward of the earth and water, living in serene harmony with nature. The concept of an eco-friendly lifestyle is evolving to include health and wellness. Add nature conservancy and outdoor recreation to the mix, and the solution may just be a home on a private preserve. Those in search of greener pastures will find the perfect balance: living mindfully within nature.

Hacienda Pucheguin is one such eco preserve. Encompassing 348,000 acres in North Chilean Patagonia, 68 miles from Puerto Montt (which is an hour and a half by plane from Santiago), this one-of-a-kind property is composed of breathtaking, pristine forests, rivers, lakes, and granite peaks in a region of untouched wonder. The property provides boundless possibilities for hiking, hunting, camping, fishing—and conservation.