The average building has a lifespan of 50 to 100 years, which speaks to the importance of sustainable design that keeps the future in mind.
Architectural techniques and building technologies continue to evolve with greater sophistication. Construction engineers have the potential to employ environmentally sustainable and socially responsible practices to design structures that will allow for lower energy costs, less water usage, and healthier surroundings.
The Elements of Eco-Friendly Design
How a building is sited can make a big difference in heating and cooling costs. Decisions should be made based on climate, solar orientation and overall building mass. Proper site placement also helps building designers optimize natural lighting and leverage solar energy and/or wind power.
Interest in water conservation as part of sustainable building design is grounded in concerns about water scarcity. There are many techniques to improve water usage including low-flow fixtures, rainwater collection, gray-water applications, storm water irrigation systems, and drought-resistant landscaping using native plants.
Sustainable building design should also have minimal impact to the local ecosystem. Choosing to build in harmony with the natural landscape will reduce excavation and soil removal costs, as well as preserve water features that can be used to support the building’s hydrological needs.
The decision to use low-emitting paints and coatings will reduce the amount of VOCs (volatile organic chemicals) and improve indoor air quality. The same goes for choosing eco-friendly flooring materials that are made from wood or natural fibers and can be installed using water-based glues or chemical-free click-lock technology.
The use of recycled materials can reduce both cost and waste. This can include structural components like steel, sheet rock and blended concrete, as well as ceiling tiles, carpeting and padding. Bio-based products – such as sustainable woods and plant-based plastic alternatives – are also desirable options to consider in green building design.
In addition to low-VOC building materials, proper ventilation and humidity control can also have a positive impact on indoor air quality. Having windows that open to let fresh air in is an old idea that’s new again. Smoke-free buildings have also greatly increased in popularity. Comfortable, healthy workplaces help motivate green practices and better overall performance.
LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) certification defines the global standard for eco-friendly building design, engineering and construction practices throughout the entire project lifecycle.
Since the certification program was first introduced in 2001, approximately 10.4 billion square feet of building space has been rated against LEED standards. Standards are continuously updated, most recently with the creation of LEED v4 as a more stringent and technically rigorous rating system. Currently, an average of 1.5 million feet of space around the world becomes certified each day.
LEED was originally developed by the non-profit U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), and continues to grow rapidly throughout the nation. The principles of LEED have also been adopted around the globe. In fact, at the end of 2012, approximately 40% of all square footage pursuing LEED certification was located outside the United States.
The USGBC offers four LEED categories: Certified, Silver, Gold and Platinum. The category level that a building can achieve is based on a point system that rates sustainable site development, water savings, energy efficiency, materials selection, and indoor environmental quality.
Architects, developers, building designer and construction engineers can also seek individual certification to add to their professional credentials.
William Stevens is a writer who creates informative articles in relation to technology. In this article, he describes sustainable building and aims to encourage further study with a Master of Science in Civil Engineering.