Architects and contractors have a unique opportunity to make new homes and commercial buildings more sustainable for less money. Once a home is built, retrofitting it to be more earth-friendly can be difficult and costly. Designers who equip new properties with affordable sustainable features minimize environmental impacts for the life of the home. And, by employing tactics to use less, they end up saving the property owner money on utilities and waste in the long run, too.
What are some sustainable building design ideas you can incorporate into your building without breaking the budget? Here are some favorites:
Your roof is on the front lines of energy waste year round, both during the heat of summer and coldest days of winter.
Thermal radiation from above traps heat indoors, which can spike temperatures in your home by up to ten degrees or more during hot summer days. Thanks to their dark color, asphalt shingles absorb more sunlight than most.
During the winter, under-insulated roofing can lead to heat loss of 25 percent or more.
The roofing materials greatly influence how much heat is gained (and lost) due to thermal radiation. Cheap solutions, like asphalt shingles, often cost more over time in heating and cooling costs. Using natural materials, such as slate, terracotta, and metal roofing offer varying degrees of green benefits. Earth-friendly materials may cost more initially, but over time they recoup their value in heating and cooling cost savings.
Perhaps the most creative natural roofing solution available is a living roof. A modern take on traditional sod roofing, a living roof uses live plants to absorb energy from the sun. They can even be planted to produce fruits and vegetables. During cooler months, soil used for planting helps insulate your roof.
Looking for an affordable way to reduce thermal radiation for a renovation project without replacing the roof? Paint the roof white or choose white tiles to reflect sunlight away from the property.
Passive Climate Control
Another creative solution for minimizing heat and cooling costs is using passive heating and cooling to regulate interior temperature.
The baseline temperature inside a home is affected by architectural features, especially windows and doors. Passive homes are designed to use structural features to heat and cool without using external energy.
Architects can manage temperature easily by considering sun angles and geographic features when designing a home. A home in California’s Mojave Desert should avoid placing windows to the east and west, where they will receive the most sunlight during the hot summer. Alternately, a home build in Stockholm will benefit from the thermal radiation those windows provide during the long winter months. Planning for wind tendencies can help guide a cooling cross-breeze that regulates temperature, too.
For properties designed for all seasons, architects and builders can use shading to regulate thermal radiation to suit the needs of the homeowner.
Modular shading over windows and outdoor social spaces helps manage warm and cool moments throughout the day, no matter what season. High quality energy efficient awnings block sunlight from windows during the hottest summer hours, which helps keep temperatures down inside.
During winter months, awnings and shades can be pushed back during the day to allow for direct sunlight, then closed behind curtains to trap heat overnight. Awnings can be used to deflect wind that draws heat away from the home, too.
Awnings help create comfortable outdoor spaces where people can congregate during hot summer months. Blocking the sun from porches and patios makes them tolerable for work and play alike. Add some Energy Star certified ceiling fans to your outdoor sitting room and you have a breezy and cool alternative to air conditioning.
Sourcing sustainable materials for your awnings is especially important however. Different awnings are produced with different environmental standards. Often, by selecting the cheapest option, you end up with a product that’s built using lower emissions standards. Fabrics that aren’t properly treated for UV radiation can face and crack over time, which makes them unsightly and unsuitable for the kind of rolling and folding that custom modular use requires.
Manage Water Wisely
Water use will become one of the most important sustainable use practices in the coming years. Depending on where you live, it already might be. The average American family uses 300 gallons of fresh water per day, a number that can be greatly reduced by building homes smarter and greener. Contractors can easily promote sustainable water use by installing low-flow toilets, Energy Star appliances, and showerheads standard in new homes and renovation projects.
If you’re looking to double down on saving water without blowing up your budget, you have a lot of options.
One of the cheapest and easiest methods for saving water is collecting and storing rainwater. Rainwater systems take water that runs from your gutters and collects it in large containers. Storage containers are treated to prevent mold and insect growth, which keeps the water fresh for use on gardens, lawns, and more.
Similarly, greywater systems reuse waste water from the showers and sinks to irrigate gardens and flush toilets. Greywater systems operate on the understanding that you don’t need fresh water for everything. Lightly treated and recycled water is great for non-drinking-non-hygiene use.
A popular trend in the southwest today, native plants reduce water use by replacing resource-intensive lawns with plants designed to thrive in the local ecosystem. In many cases, switching to native plans means something as easy as choosing a different kind of grass.
You might have heard that awnings can be used to make a building more energy efficient. But is that true? The answer is yes. Get our free Ebook to learn how awnings can reduce the amount of energy by up to 79%.