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

This article was originally published on Christie’s International Real Estate’s blog Luxury Defined.

A luxury home can be traditional or contemporary, ornate or minimalist, functional or fantastical, great or small. But can it also be eco-friendly? It can be all of these things, according to those on the cutting edge of sustainable architecture and environmental design. Earth-conscious does not have to mean “doing without.” Quite the contrary: chic, even dazzlingly beautiful homes around the world are sporting green roofs, drawing power from geothermal energy, and making use of solar panels year-round. Green features also include humidity controlled indoor air, filtered drinking water, LED lighting, HEPA air filters, and “smart home” internet systems and controls.

The technology we currently deem “eco-friendly” will probably be de rigueur in the coming years. Many companies that were founded decades or even a century ago to produce glass, ceramics, chemicals, and electronics are now riding the wave of green design. To mark the 50th anniversary of Earth Day (April 22), we spotlight 10 eco-friendly amenities and a sampling of innovatively designed 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.

Glandwr Hall is a stunning 17th-century Welsh country house occupying a prominent site on the Mawddach Estuary, with superb views over to the Cadair Idris mountain range in Snowdonia. The residence has been extensively restored and improved, with modern amenities and locally sourced Glandwr oak-panelled floors.

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, more than 430,000 homes around the world are LEED-certified. The United States has the most LEED-certified homes. California, Texas, New York, New Jersey, and Georgia are the states with the highest number. Green single-family homes represent approximately 40 percent of the market, and 84 percent of all residential construction will have sustainable features.

One of the most beautiful apartments in the West Village, this two-bedroom, three-bathroom duplex has a premier location in One Jackson Square. The William Pedersen-designed building is eco-friendly and LEED certified and includes 24-hour concierge services, a fitness center, spa treatment room, residents’ lounge, and courtyard garden.

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.

Eco-friendly artificial islands offer a unique habitat for humans and sea life, from reef-building coral to diverse species of fish, marine mammals and birds.

5. Vegetable Gardens and Orchards

The fun and relaxation of tending a garden is a proven way to clear the mind and enjoy some fresh air and sunshine. And there’s an added benefit: vegetable gardens are as good for the planet as they are for the gardener. 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 and Walls

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. Luxury homes have incorporated green roofs and balconies for a mix of efficient, natural cooling and landscaped, aesthetic beauty.

Green roofs are aesthetically pleasing and environmentally friendly. Using vegetation in place of conventional roofing materials also reduces air pollution and absorbs stormwater runoff. They also lower energy costs and even extend the life of the roof’s supporting structure.

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. Solar power is among the most exciting innovations in green design.

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 renowned 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.

This sensational harborfront compound, situated on a private promontory on Grand Cayman Island, offers an impressive 25,000 square feet of luxury living spaces 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 harnesses the forces of nature to provide optimal indoor conditions at any time of year. This technology allows homeowners to make 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.

Geothermal Home Netherlands

This unique contemporary villa in Oisterwijk, Netherlands, is set within nearly three acres of private parkland bordered by the region’s famous forests and fenlands. Inside the sleek façade lies a warm and inviting interior, equipped with luxury lifestyle amenities, including a cutting-edge audio-visual system and geothermal heating and cooling.

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.