Sustainable Architecture: What It Means and How it’s Done

Learn more about sustainable architecture and how it impacts the construction and planning process of eco-friendly homes and buildings.

Sustainable architecture seeks to minimize a building’s environmental footprint throughout its entire life cycle, not just during the initial construction process. When it comes to green building, efficiency is the name of the game – efficiency in heating, cooling, water consumption, overall energy use and waste management. Meticulous planning at numerous levels is required to execute such a project. Site selection, building placement, choice of building materials, selection of appliances, windows and fixtures all play vital roles. The number of factors to consider may seem overwhelming at first, but the long-term environmental benefits and cost savings will make it all worthwhile.

Whether you’re building a home, office complex or commercial structure, site selection is the first step. It’s no different in green building. For obvious reasons, you should avoid breaking ground in flood zones, low-lying wetland areas, and endangered wildlife sanctuaries. Remember, the goal of sustainable architecture is to reduce the negative impact on the environment, so when possible, build on a site where phone, water and sewer lines are already in place. By choosing an existing building site, we’re in essence recycling the home or business that use to be there, protecting green space from being destroyed for construction purposes.

Also, the closer your green building location is to other services and amenities, the better. If shopping, dining and public transportation options are within walking distance, dependence on automobiles is reduced, helping keep harmful emissions out of the air.

The way your building is positioned on the lot is another crucial factor in sustainable architecture. Efficiency means optimum performance through minimal energy expenditure. With this in mind, positioning the structure on an east-west axis allows it to take full advantage of the sun’s natural energy. Sunlight streams through south-facing windows in winter, helping maintain a comfortably warm indoor climate while keeping your utility bill low. This non-mechanical harnessing of the sun’s natural energy is an example of passive solar design.

Another key element of sustainable architecture is the selection of green building materials. Try to use recycled glass, reclaimed wood and recycled plastic wherever possible. From your home’s exterior siding to its final interior finishes, natural, renewable materials are always the way to go. We want our eco-friendly homes and businesses to be as durable and long-lasting as possible, but the truth is they won’t be there forever. When it’s all said and done, Limiting the amount of synthetic, non-biodegradable waste in our landfills is critical in preserving our environment.

Landscaping and outdoor features should also be considered for sustainable architecture. Native grasses and plants that don’t require excessive watering are good choices. Light colors are best for paved patios, walkways and parking areas as well. This is because dark surfaces absorb sunlight, getting dramatically hotter in the process. The heat radiating from these surfaces results in a rise in air temperature, a phenomenon known as the heat island effect. A black rooftop also contributes to this warming trend. In some cases, sustainable construction companies turn to what is called a living roof, where tar and shingles are replaced with hardy plants and vegetation. In addition to its many environmental benefits, the living roof absorbs sunlight without converting it to heat, and serves as insulation for the building.

The interior features of a green building are just as important when it comes to sustainable architecture. Energy-efficient HVAC equipment, low-E windows, and naturally sourced insulation are essential for sustainable heating and cooling. Furnish your green building with Energy STAR appliances, certified by the Environmental Protection Agency for their high efficiency. Low-flow sinks, showers and toilets help conserve water as well.

We owe our children and grandchildren a healthy, vibrant planet. By employing sustainable architecture and construction practices, we can begin building a greener future for them.

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