Kit of Parts
This is a starter kit of options that we will use to help initiate conversation and brainstorming about your particular project. While the list is not comprehensive, it does start to answer the question – “How can I build green?”
When designing a building, there are thousands of options for the arrangement of building materials and components. Each project has its own set of rules, its own identity, and its own function. Similarly, there are also many options available for the integration of green building techniques in each project. Here, too, not all green building techniques or options are available and/or feasible on every single project. It is our practice, in the beginning stages of each project, to generate a conversation with our clients about the varying options and strategies appropriate for their specific project and project needs.
•Passive Solar Heating/Cooling
This method is termed “passive” because it does not employ the use of any mechanical equipment. The goal is to take advantage of the project’s climate and use it to capture solar heat in the winter and reject it in the summer. Through study of the site’s yearly sun path, windows and shading devices can be placed for maximum solar exposure in winter and shading in summer. The following elements, when designed properly, add great value to the efficiency of a project through passive solar heating and cooling:
-insulation on exterior walls
-radiant barriers or thermal walls
-green roof systems
-utilization of natural ventilation
-thermal mass can be used to store excess solar energy during a winter day and redistribute it through the night
Energy savings can be greatly increased by lowering the demand on artificial lighting within the building envelope. The practice of daylighting involves the placement of windows, openings, and reflective surfaces in a manner that allows sunlight during the day to provide effective internal lighting. Particular attention is given to daylighting when the goal of a building is to maximize visual comfort while reducing energy costs. Common components of daylighting include skylights, clerestory windows, light shelves, and light reflectors.
Building products that are made from recycled products and are themselves recyclable serve to further reduce solid waste problems, cut energy consumption in manufacturing, and save on natural resource use. Other options include using salvaged and reclaimed materials such as lumber, millwork, and hardware.
Heavily processed or manufactured products and materials are usually more energy intensive. As long as durability and performance are not sacrificed, low-embodied materials should be chosen. By careful selection of materials, the depletion of our resources for raw materials can be reduced. Fuel and water used in the extraction process and initial manufacturing processes can be reduced. New methods of manufacturing are constantly emerging, and these new methods allow for a product that uses more efficient on-site assembly, minimal waste in construction, and low levels of volatile compounds that can contaminate air quality and increase the demand for mechanical systems.
•Life Cycle Assessment
Also known as a cradle-to-grave analysis, a life cycle assessment is the process by which we can assess the environmental impact associated with a particular product or service throughout all stages of its life: materials processing, manufacturing, distribution, use-repair and maintenance, disposal or recycling. Cumulatively, these criteria allow us to more accurately interpret the true environmental trade-offs associated with a particular product or process. In an ideal scenario, a low-embodied product would be chosen (reduced impact in manufacturing and delivery), it would have high durability (reducing impact in maintenance and repair), and be recyclable (minimizing the impact associated with disposal or recycling). As a design team, along with our client, we can compare a product’s life cycle assessment with its purchase price and performance ratings to select the product or material that best serves the project and client.
There are also many ways outside the building to improve our impact on the environment. Some solutions are as simple as the selection of drought resistant native plants and perennial groundcover. This will reduce the amount of water necessary to maintain a healthy landscape. Water from sinks, showers, and laundry facilities is often called graywater. In most cases local codes will allow this water to be recycled and used in the irrigation of the site. We can design the landscapes to absorb water and rainfall rather than allowing it to be carried off in storm sewers. The landscaping itself (trees and shrubbery) can abate strong winter winds as well as funnel cool summer breezes to the building. Trees on the west and east sides of a building can provide shade that could dramatically reduce cooling loads.
As with everything in life, there are means and methods by which we can push concepts to the limit. This holds true with green building as well. Rather than passively allowing for the above eco-friendly solutions to take effect and reap the benefits, for some, it is a matter of proactively harnessing and storing the elements themselves, including the following:
-Photovoltaic systems are commonly known as solar panels which harness and store energy from the sun. The photovoltaic effect is the creation of voltage or electrical current in a material (silicon, cadmium telluride, copper sulfide) when exposed to sunlight.
-Wind turbines harness one of the lowest cost renewable energy resources, wind.
-Biomass fuels are fuels made from plant and animal matter. More specifically, agricultural wastes, alcohol fuels, animal wastes, and municipal solid waste can all be processed and burned to produce biomass fuels. This process is very much still in its infancy, but using renewable, continually-growing plant material is also becoming a sensible option.
•High-Efficiency Fixtures and Appliances
“Energy efficiency” in appliances and fixtures means a reduction in demand for energy of any kind while providing the same or better quality products and services. Energy efficiency is the most cost-effective energy resource available to us because we can access it immediately. Since it reduces overall energy demand, energy efficiency should be put into place before renewable energy systems are installed, thereby increasing cost-effectiveness of renewable energy systems. High-efficiency appliances also offer economic and environmental advantages over conventional appliances.