Think Sustainably, Design Sustainably, Live Sustainably

BDAV President, Lindsay Douglas, discusses sustainable design, and what you should consider prior to commencing the design of your sustainable building project

BDAV President, Lindsay Douglas, discusses sustainable design, and what you should consider prior to commencing the design of your sustainable building project.

The conversation around climate change is heating up and, as our natural resources diminish further each year, it is quickly becoming apparent that we must act now to save our planet.

Across all industries, sustainability is becoming a key focus and the design world is no different. Buildings make a significant contribution to our global energy consumption in both production and running costs. And now, there is an increasing expectation that all buildings should be equipped with sustainable features to reduce the energy footprint and impact on the environment.

So, what is sustainable design? Sustainable design or ‘green design’ seeks to reduce negative impacts on the environment and lower our reliance on natural resources. It is simply reducing waste and working sustainably within our natural environment as much as possible.

Designing a sustainable building is a complex balancing act.  It requires careful consideration of a multitude of materials and factors including daylight, solar heat gain, landscaping and ventilation, to ensure all elements work together sustainably to successfully fulfil the client brief.

The complexity behind sustainable design incorporates two design principles – passive and active design.

Passive design uses natural energy such as sunlight or wind to achieve a result without electricity, while active design harnesses solar and wind technologies to produce electricity for the home.

These two design principles are the very foundations upon which an environmentally friendly home is created. Through saving energy, producing energy and the collecting of rainwater, the demands placed on the local energy infrastructure can be significantly reduced, which in turn, ultimately reduces energy bills and adds comfort.

So, what should you consider prior to commencing the design of your sustainable building project?

1. Thermal mass

Thermal mass is a material with the ability to absorb and store heat energy, which can be given off later. High density materials such as bricks, tiles and concrete have a high thermal mass as they can retain heat. Lightweight materials such as timber have a low thermal mass. Appropriate use of thermal mass can make a significant difference to the heating and cooling of your home. However, it requires careful balancing, as too much thermal mass can reduce thermal comfort, and increase energy usage.

2. Energy raters

To find the right balance with thermal mass, designers use energy raters to help design thermal mass and window volume, as well as insulation. Energy raters are more than a statutory requirement; they are essential to creating an energy efficient home.

3. Materials

Every material utilised has an environmental impact. There is an environmental cost in extracting raw materials, refining them into building products and transporting them to the construction site. As a result, it’s important to consider using recycled materials where possible in order to reduce landfill and ultimately, the impact on the environment. Insulating your home should also be front of mind, as incorporating glazed windows and effective insulation materials can reduce energy costs and greenhouse gas emissions.

4. Location

Designing a building is not only about how you design it and what materials you will use, but also where the project will be located. Location is a very important consideration – is the site close to public transport, work, schools and shops? Reducing the reliance on transportation vehicles leads to a significant reduction in energy consumption.

5. Lifestyle

Design should reflect the owners’ lifestyle to ensure it meets their needs and avoids wasted resources. For example, is the heater always on when it’s cold or do you prefer to wear an extra jumper? What kind of appliances will you need and how efficient are they? Practical designs and multiple-use spaces are key to creating a home that provides maximum satisfaction with minimal ecological impact.

In Conclusion

My advice? Think carefully about sustainability in the planning phase. We should aim for a six-star energy rating as a minimum, but this should only be the starting point. Instead, we should look at the bigger picture and at how we can significantly reduce our overall ecological footprint.

An environmentally sustainable home is an investment for life so, as design professionals, let’s play our part in the race to save the planet by incorporating sustainable design solutions in everything we do.