Buildings all over the world use resources, generate waste and release atmospheric emissions in both the construction and exploitation phase. On the other hand, building owners and investors are often faced with the challenge to meet ever-tightening demands for more sustainable properties that aren’t just environmentally-friendly, but also healthier for the occupants. To this day, sustainable building design has given birth to many iterations and techniques that reduce carbon footprint and operating costs.
Passive building design
Passive strategies include considering the sun orientation and climate when determining the choice of windows and their placement which leads to optimized use of daylight and natural ventilation. In certain regions, the thermal mass of the building can be used to collect solar energy, where thick walls absorb the sun’s heat during the day and release it into the building at night.
Our landscaping decisions make a huge impact on water consumption, which is lately becoming a problem not only in drought-prone areas. Landscape architects recommend using trees, plants, and grasses that are native to the area, as they are well-used to the soil, weather conditions, and the amount of water that is available through precipitation. Native species are also more resistant to pests and diseases, which reduces the use of chemicals. Landscaping features can also be included in a passive energy strategy. For example, planting trees or erecting trellises with climbing vines can shade the southern side of the house, reducing the solar gains during the hottest time of the day.
When rain falls on an empty lot, the amount that doesn’t evaporate filters through the ground eventually replenishing the natural water table. However, when you place a building on the site, with all its access routes, parking lots, driveways, and other hardscaping, rainwater runs off these impervious surfaces into storm drains, only to become a communal problem. A part of the solution includes pervious pavement and the use of grass pavers or stepping stones for garden paths. Some houses even have retention ponds that capture stormwater that can be used for irrigation.
Thanks to tax incentives as well as government funding programs, photovoltaic panels have become a feasible energy-saving option for many homeowners. There are three main types of panels – monocrystalline, polycrystalline, and thin-film. Monocrystalline are the most expensive, but provide the best power/surface ratio. Polycrystalline panels, on the other hand, are a more logical choice if you have a large rooftop at disposal. Both types have claimed their share of the market as an excellent choice for homeowners who want to lower their electricity bills. However, apart from solar panels, you also need a reliable solar inverter to transform the DC voltage generated by shingles into AC voltage that is suitable for household use. Advanced inverters have modular construction, so their power and function can be scaled up and down, for example if you decide to add more solar panels in the future.
The rooftop is definitely one of the least utilized parts of any building. While necessary to keep the precipitation out and house mechanical equipment and insulation, this is where its value stops. However, roofs provide substantial square footage that can be used as a functional space. A flat roof design, for example, allows for a usable deck, outdoor kitchen, or simply a gathering space. It’s important to remember that sustainability is one part saving resources, and one part creating awareness for the natural beauty of our surroundings.
3D printing construction
As 3D printing gains momentum, it opens up new horizons for the possibility of eco-friendly construction. A Chinese company based in Suzhou managed to print 10 full-size houses in just one day. The best part is that each house was created entirely out of recycled construction and industrial waste. Instead of laying bricks and mortar, a huge 3D printer was used to extrude a mix of cement and glass fiber material, calculating paths for insulation, plumbing, electrical lines, as well as windows which can be fitted later.
Green building materials
Back in the day when our grassland ancestors relied on felt and hide tents or erected stilted huts along riverbanks, all construction was green. While there’s hardly a more sustainable building material than dirt, engineers have developed many other solutions that, besides sustainability, offer a range of competitive properties. So, for example timbercrete is a material made of sawdust and concrete. The sawdust component not only keeps it lighter but substitutes many energy-intensive components that are used in traditional concrete.
Sustainable building design aims at eliminating negative environmental and social aspects of our dwellings by relying on design, methods, energy, and materials to create spaces that leave a small impact on the surrounding ecosystems and communities. With more ingenious solutions and resource-friendly materials, we can expect for the sustainable building movement to spread even more.
This post was authored by Lucas Bergman