Environmental awareness has been spreading throughout the construction industry in recent years. As a result, individuals and businesses are increasingly interested in building their homes and offices using local building materials and sustainable technologies.
Architects, contractors and manufacturers of building materials have accordingly developed design approaches and products that improve buildings’ environmental impact. These range from innovative designs that harness the power of nature to provide energy, to building products that are non-toxic and are made using local materials.
There are a number of design and construction techniques that make a building more environmentally friendly. Below we outline just a few basic approaches that help achieve that goal.
First, sustainable buildings need to have superior insulation so that they retain heat in winter and cool air in the summer to save energy and reduce electricity bills. Some of the ways to achieve this involve strategic placement of windows to maximize the influx of heat-creating light while minimizing the loss of heat (depending on the region this may involve installing a higher number of windows on south-facing walls and fewer windows on north-facing walls). Moreover, the use of masonry products with high thermal mass can help retain cool night air in the building throughout the day. Finally, landscaping techniques, such as planting leafy trees around the house, can provide shade in the summer while letting in more light in winter for a natural temperature regulation.
Energy generation is an important element of every building’s life cycle, and sustainable trends in architecture call on a greater use of renewable energy sources. For example, some buildings utilize solar panels, often placed on the roof, for electricity generation and water heating. Wind turbines are another clean energy source that can supply up to 25% of electricity for an individual household in areas with a favorable climate.
Green building materials are also a great way to boost the sustainability profile of a building. Such materials include those that are locally harvested or manufactured using local inputs, as well as recycled materials and products that are non-toxic and biodegradable, especially paints, coatings and flooring.
By adopting all, or a combination of these approaches, a building can significantly lower its environmental footprint, operational costs, and perhaps qualify its owner/s for awards and recognitions, such as Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) ratings.