Basics of Building Green

When designing “green”, there are a myriad of items to consider. Understanding how to use building components and passive design principles to achieve your sustainable goals is the first step in minimizing your environmental footprint.

Natural light is one of the most valuable design elements in buildings, and has many positive benefits to occupants. However, with natural light comes the additional consideration of solar heat gain. Solar gain can be mitigated via mechanical means (i.e. space cooling), or through thoughtful planning in the form of building orientation, the size of glazing, and solar shading. By properly managing solar gain through passive design principles we can minimize solar gain in the summer when it is unwanted, and maximize it in the winter when needed.

An efficient, well detailed building can never be too airtight, a common misconception. Properly detailing continuous assemblies means controlling the dewpoint and removing thermal bridging, or the ability for connections and geometries to transmit cooler air and surfaces into the building. A continuous airtight building envelope helps to create more stable interior air and surface temperatures and is the building block for reducing the need for expensive and oversized mechanical equipment.

High-performing windows and doors are one of the many tools in an Architects toolbox to deliver both and aesthetically pleasing building, but also an energy efficient one. They are also a couple of the most visibly noticeable ones. Depending on project goals, higher-performing windows and doors can go a long way toward achieving energy efficiency without sacrificing glazing area.

It is easiest to visualize building efficiency as a scale. On one side we have gains, solar, occupant, etc. On the other side we have losses, air leakage, thermal bridging, etc. The scale can tip from one side to other for various reasons, but usually seasonally. To balance the scale, and maintain occupant comfort we mechanical systems or HVAC. HVAC efficiency is very important, but works best when coupled with a high performing envelope. The more efficient the envelope, the small the HVAC system requirements will be because the less we have to balance.

An introduction to sustainable design and some of the rating systems can be found in our Green Building section.