top of page

How to Create a Sustainable Outdoor Living Area

6 Nov 2023

With thoughtful planning and materials choices grounded in sustainability principles, you can create an eco-friendly outdoor living space that supplies decades of balanced enjoyment integrated into the surrounding habitat.

Outdoor spaces are a great way to extend your living area and enjoy the outdoors while being environmentally friendly. With the right design choices, you can create a low-impact outdoor living area that improves your quality of life while reducing your carbon footprint.

Consider Natural Materials

When designing and building an outdoor living area, choose natural and sustainable materials whenever possible. Wood, stone, bamboo, and recycled plastic are all excellent options that integrate well into the landscape.

Natural materials age beautifully outdoors and require little maintenance over time. Wood is very durable and will develop a lovely weathered patina with exposure to the elements. Stone is highly durable and timeless. Bamboo is one of the fastest-growing plants on Earth and a renewable resource.

Look for locally sourced materials to reduce the carbon emissions from transportation. Reclaimed, salvaged, or certified wood is preferable to new wood from unsustainable forests. Concrete and mortar have a large carbon footprint from the cement production - consider alternative options where possible.

Maximize Natural Light and Ventilation

Natural Light
Natural Light

Maximizing natural light is not only more sustainable by reducing energy usage, but it also enhances the outdoor experience. Incorporate as much glazing as possible to bring light into the space while still providing adequate shade and ventilation.

Operable windows and doors create a seamless indoor-outdoor flow. Overhangs, pergolas, and shade structures allow natural ventilation while blocking the harsh sun. Living roofs help insulate the space and provide habitat. Strategic plantings can provide shade and wind barriers where needed.

Proper ventilation is also important to allow dampness and moisture to dissipate naturally. This prevents mold and rotting of materials without the need for power-hungry dehumidifiers or fans.

Incorporate Water Collection and Reuse

Harvesting rainwater for reuse is a simple yet impactful way to save water. Install gutters and direct the runoff into a rain barrel for watering plants and landscaping. A cistern allows the storage of larger volumes.

Other water reuse options include installing a greywater system to capture water from showers, sinks and laundry for subsistence irrigation. Composting toilets further reduce potable water usage.

Choose Energy Efficient Lighting and Appliances

Energy Efficient Lighting and Appliances
Energy Efficient Lighting and Appliances

Consider using solar powered lighting such as solar path lights, wall sconces and pendant fixtures. This avoids consuming grid electricity for illumination.

If using mains-powered lights, LED bulbs are the most efficient option using up to 90% less energy than incandescent alternatives. Motion sensors ensure lights are only on when needed.

Any appliances such as a small refrigerator should be Energy Star rated for low energy use. Solar panels can provide power off-grid or supplement the main system.

Plant Thoughtfully for Multiple Benefits

Beyond aesthetics, plants play a key role in sustainability through carbon sequestration, pollution mitigation, habitat provision, temperature control, and more. Choose a variety of native species suited to the climate that require little watering once established.

Edible landscaping integrates berries, herbs, and vegetables into the design for fresh produce. Vegetated walls and terraces offer insulation. Groundcovers suppress weeds reducing maintenance needs. Strategic canopies and vines provide dappled shade beneath.

Planting in beds rather than turfgrass conserves significant amounts of water, eliminates mowing, and allows for a more natural style. Consider consulting with a landscape expert. Overall, landscaping should aim to mimic and enhance the surrounding habitat.

Incorporate Multifunctional zones

Incorporate Multifunctional zones
Incorporate Multifunctional zones

Rather than standalone pieces of furniture, design multi-tasking outdoor rooms that serve as comfortable living, dining and work spaces seamlessly connected to the landscape.

A covered seating area can double as a casual dining nook near the kitchen. A reading nook tucked amongst planters transitions between zones. Hammocks or daybeds placed under tree canopies combine nature and lounging.

Integrate benches, chaise lounges, and daybeds into planters or garden walls for built-in seating. Allow spaces to overlap for a fluid layout, minimizing the footprint compared to segregated uses. All-weather furniture makes the spaces usable year-round.

Final Touches for Low-Maintenance Enjoyment

Designing for sustainability demands thinking long-term to reduce future resource consumption and costs. Some finishing considerations:

Drainage and Foundations

Proper drainage prevents mud and pooling with heavy rains. Gravel, perforated pipes and swales efficiently direct excess water away. Solid foundations like stepping stones, pavers or decking prevent damage from subsoil erosion or plant roots.

Low-Care Plant Selection 

Low-Care Plant Selection 
Low-Care Plant Selection 

Once established, many native plants demand little care beyond occasional trims. Species like ornamental grasses, agaves, and succulents have structural interest yet are naturally drought tolerant. Mulching smothers weeds and retains soil moisture.

Practical Layout and Access

Factor in equipment access for installations and maintenance over the long haul. Leave buffer zones between use areas and encroaching vegetation. Clear pathways enable safe movement without trampling plants. Storage for tools and supplies keeps items readily at hand.

Simple Furnishings

Weatherproof, easy-clean furnishings like teak or aluminum endure heavy use with minimal upkeep. Cushions may need an occasional hose-down or spot cleaning. Simple is sometimes best for low-fuss enjoyment season after season.

With thoughtful planning and materials choices grounded in sustainability principles, you can create an eco-friendly outdoor living space that supplies decades of balanced enjoyment integrated into the surrounding habitat. With minimal inputs over time, this type of design achieves the ultimate goal of low-impact living in harmony with nature.

bottom of page