Sustainable Building Design: A Brief Overview

Sustainable building is a growing movement. Its goals are to design and construct buildings that are resource-efficient throughout the lifespan of the building, from planning to construction and, eventually, to demolition. Green buildings must also account for utility, comfort and other normal aspects of building design.

Sustainable building may also refer to “natural building,” which takes these things into account. Natural building, often using naturally-sourced construction materials, has, until recently, been relegated to a home scale. Green or sustainable building often uses synthesized materials, as definitions of what is “green” or “sustainable” can be quite subjective. Green building has adopted some industry standards, however, the best-known of which is LEED, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. This is a third-party verified standard that has been around since 1998 that rates a building’s energy efficiency, among other criteria and promotes sustainable design.

Sustainable building design takes many forms, but it always uses natural principles and sustainable building materials

One of the foremost tenets of sustainable building design is to avoid sprawl, a watchword that implicates suburban design. Green building sees its utility and use performing a social function, allowing the people who are using the building to lessen their environmental impacts through their relationship with the space. Sprawl carries the connotation of massive inefficiency. The larger the building, the more space it takes up on-site and the more energy it will take to run it. Green buildings try to be minimalist in this regard.

The other main concerns in sustainable building design are water efficiency, energy efficiency, siting and structure design efficiency, materials efficiency, waste and toxics reduction, operations and maintenance optimization and indoor environmental quality enhancement. All of these most be considered in concert to actualize a good, working, sustainable design.

Energy efficiency may take the form of on-site power generation, whether it’s wind power, solar or hydro. Heating and cooling is also a concern. Sustainable buildings often use passive solar strategies to draw in and trap heat from the sun, as needed. Also, the building envelope, the space between the conditioned and non-conditioned space is often engineered to be as energy-efficient as possible.

One interesting aspect that goes beyond the construction of the building itself is indoor environmental quality enhancement. A LEED criteria, it looks after the indoor air quality, thermal quality and lighting quality of the building and is geared towards the well-being of its occupants.

Operations and maintenance optimization is another factor that takes sustainable design beyond physical construction. Operations and maintenance staff are consulted and educated throughout the design and building process to ensure that the building is running at maximum efficiency and that further environmental quality enhancements may take place. In this way, the use and upkeep of the building are built-in features in its design.

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