Sustainable Building: A guide to creating sustainable, eco-friendly, energy-saving residential architectural projects

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Whether you are looking to refurbish, renovate, extend or start from scratch, the sustainability of new buildings, and improving the environmental performance of existing ones, is key to limiting our impact on the environment, and has an important role to play in safeguarding people’s health and wellbeing, and in tackling climate change.

Sustainability in architecture addresses the negative environmental impacts of buildings by utilising design methods, materials, and energy sources that have the least detrimental effect on the environment. In an ideal world, actions taken today should not have negative consequences for future generations.

It’s vital that buildings are designed with sustainable, eco-friendly, energy-saving principles and technologies in mind from the outset. However, there are various key sustainable measures to consider when undertaking residential refurbishments too. For example, solar panels, insulation, and newer, low-energy heating systems are all simple and effective ways of making a property more ‘green’ in design and operation.

The environmental integrity of a building (ie how it is designed and operated) is now a key consideration in the design of new buildings and the renovation of existing ones. Increased awareness of environmental issues has resulted in the realisation for a growing number of architects and designers that good design improves quality of life, reduces operating costs and has significant health benefits too.

Clients are seeing the advantages of more environmentally responsible buildings and, as a result, we are seeing more ‘sustainable architecture’ projects which aim to minimise the negative environmental impact of buildings.

So, what are the main characteristics of a sustainable architecture project?

Energy Efficient Design

Right from its inception, there are many sustainability and efficiency specifications that can be designed for a building to ensure it has the least possible negative impact on our environment. For instance, rethinking the orientation of your house to optimise for natural light and heat is important for sustainable homes. Incorporating as many south facing windows as possible will help to maximise direct sunlight in the winter months which will help heat your home as well as bring in natural light. When looking at energy efficient house designs reduced surface area is also important as it lowers interior heat loss.

When it comes to refurbishments and renovations, it is important to consider all available opportunities for improved performance such as careful specification of materials, selection of construction technologies and creating a renewable energy strategy for the building.

Of course, cost is also a major factor which is why it is so crucial to consider these aspects as early as possible in the design process.

Use of Environmentally-Friendly Building Materials

Today it is very cost-efficient to incorporate locally recycled and sustainable building materials into any construction project. Choosing building materials that are recycled, reclaimed or reused is very important when designing a sustainable house, but should also be balanced with availability. When using local construction materials to reduce transportation distance and costs it is essential that those materials are renewable, non-toxic and, therefore, safe for the environment. Ideally, they will be recycled, as well as recyclable. In addition, consider using durable materials and construction techniques – a house that constantly needs repairs is not sustainable.

The most popular sustainable materials used in green buildings include recycled metal and stone, certified third-party forest wood, copper, bamboo and straw, to name a few. Use materials that avoid Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) such as low VOC paint or glues and select building materials that require little maintenance and have minimal environmental impact.

Energy and Resource Efficiency

Energy efficiency is one of the most prominent features of a sustainable building. Choosing renewable energy sources that naturally replenish and do not contribute to the declining condition of our environment is vital for efforts to tackle greenhouse gas emissions and reduce air pollution. Incorporate solar power, a domestic windmill or use the earth’s heat to warm your home to save on energy costs.

Smaller measures can be implemented such as sealing air ducts, preventing air leakages and the use of energy-efficient LED lights. You can make a serious dent in your energy consumption with the easy addition of more efficient lighting such as LED light fittings.

Other ways of lowering your homes overall energy consumption whilst reducing your carbon footprint is to employ energy efficient elements in your home design such as double or triple glazing and more comprehensive insulation. Good insulation is one of the most important energy efficient house ideas to implement – the better insulation you have the less energy you will use.

Healthy Living

Green buildings are built for sustainability and go far beyond energy and water efficiency to improve our daily lives. A more holistic approach is being embraced that incorporates how buildings affect the people in them. The goal is to make our built environment more physically healthy for people. Efforts to create a healthy indoor environment include improving indoor air quality, better water quality, reducing noise, regulating temperature, maximising light and using materials that do not emit toxic gases.

Green living also incorporates the philosophy of planting intelligently. That means planting the right types of plants in the right location, so they don’t require lots of water and maintenance. Sustainable homes need sustainable landscapes and planting.

Another option is to install a living green wall, either inside or outside. These are not only natural and beautiful to look at but can also improve air quality and provide health benefits.

Using a combination of energy-efficient technology, renewable materials and innovative design, homeowners have a whole host of eco-friendly, sustainable options at their disposal which can be applied to both new build properties and existing buildings. There are also several government schemes available that make these sustainable upgrades more attractive and affordable – you can make a big difference with just the simplest of changes.

Here at Malone Architecture, we are passionate about designing and building sustainable, high performance buildings. Innovative and eco-friendly designs can be implemented into practically every stage of the construction process, allowing us to create or renovate buildings that consume little energy and minimise damage to the environment.

If you are thinking about building or extending your home and want to find out more about how to do this in a sustainable, eco-friendly, energy-saving way, download our Sustainable Building Design Checklist for ideas on building or renovating a sustainable ‘green’ home for now and the future.

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