Location, Location, Location: How to choose a sustainable place to live or build

Reader Contribution by Miriam Landman
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The sustainability of one’s home depends as much (if not
more) on its location as on
how the house is built. If you’re looking to buy land, or to buy (or rent) a
house, consider sustainability criteria when comparing the locations of
different properties.

The following are some of the key “location efficiency” issues
to consider. (Some of them only apply to buying land that you plan to build
on.) Try to choose a spot that meets at least some of these criteria:

Seek a property
that…

  1. is
    located close to your (and your family’s) jobs and schools; close to shops,
    parks, civic buildings, and other services and amenities your family regularly
    uses; and close to public transit stops–ideally within walking distance
    (i.e.,
    less than 1/4 mile, or 1/2-mile max.). Living in close proximity to such things
    will save you gas, money, and driving time; reduce your stress level and your
    odds of getting in a car accident; and also reduce traffic and air pollution!
  2. has
    been built on before.
    It’s best to choose a property that has an existing house
    or other structures that can be renovated and reused. (If a structure is unsafe
    or beyond repair and must be demolished, have it deconstructed carefully so
    that you can recycle, reuse, donate, or sell its salvageable materials; and
    then rebuild on its original foundation or footprint.)
  3. is an
    infill site
    (i.e., surrounded by
    other developed parcels)
    that is
    already (or can easily be) hooked up to existing infrastructure
    for roads,
    water, wastewater, and utility lines (to reduce the costs, resource waste, and sprawl
    associated with extending or building new infrastructure)–unless you’re planning to live entirely off-grid (with on-site power, water, and wastewater treatment).

And avoid
buying or building on a property that…

  • is
    within a floodplain zone
    ;
    on a known earthquake fault; or on coastal land that’s susceptible to erosion
    or in a tsunami zone;
  • is a
    Greenfield site
    (i.e., land that has never been developed /built on
    before);
  • contains
    sensitive habitat, endangered species, wetlands, or prime agricultural land

    (unless you preserve the key areas for continued agricultural use or conservation,
    whichever is applicable); or
  • consists
    of steep slopes
    (often defined as slopes with a grade of 15 degrees or more),
    which would need to be substantially graded to enable development of the site.
    The grading and development of steep slopes can cause soil erosion and
    increased stormwater runoff, which in turn can cause water pollution, flooding,
    and potentially mudslides.

Living in a sensible and sustainable location has numerous benefits. You can reap
significant financial savings (e.g., by reducing the amount of driving you have
to do; or by avoiding or minimizing the need to build new infrastructure or to
do extensive site grading). Location efficiency can also yield broad,
collective benefits for society and our shared environment, such as:

  • reducing sprawl-related automobile dependence,
    traffic, and air pollution;
  • protecting public health, environmental health,
    and the climate;
  • conserving natural resources, habitat, and open
    space; and
  • contributing to the creation of livable,
    walkable, healthy, and vibrant neighborhoods that enhance your community’s
    quality of life and local economic opportunities.


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Miriam Landman
is an accomplished writer, editor, and sustainability advisor with
expertise in green living, green building, and sustainable communities.
For daily links to sustainable solutions and success stories, connect to
her Facebook page for The Green Spotlight.