Sustainable design reflects growing concerns about the energy use and materials use in modern construction techniques, and in the energy and resources utilization of the people who live or work in the building after construction. It is largely driven by environmental concerns, but has, in the last four years, become a major marketing point in new building construction and retrofits of existing buildings.
Sustainable design starts with construction techniques, including reduction in building and construction waste by shipping pre-fabricated parts, or building homes out of existing materials at hand that would otherwise not be recycled, like steel shipping containers. Just because these are built from sustainable architectural principles doesn’t mean that corners are cut – buildings built on this metric still have full wiring and business needs requirements, including fire escapes and emergency lighting.
Reducing construction waste is only part of the process; making the building more energy efficient and resource efficient is also part of the process; these can include sustainable architecture features like passive solar heating for hot water regulation, photovoltaic cells, in situ wastewater treatment and rainwater collection, as well as more aggressive applications of evaporative cooling and better insulation.
Reducing the energy costs of climate control are a central concern of sustainable architecture. This starts with making better use of insulation, but often includes daylight and interior temperature monitors to regulate items as needed. For home use, the biggest source of energy use is hot water heating, and sustainable architecture for homes starts with solar water heating. (Indeed, the single largest contribution you can make to reducing your home’s energy usage is solar water heating, by a large margin).
There is a lot more than just slapping passive solar and a more efficient HVAC system onto a building; better insulation and better HVAC systems also run into problems with indoor air pollution, and require much more robust ventilation systems. Indoor air pollution is also why emergency lighting is moving away from radioactive materials and more towards sustainable luminescent.
On the longer term side of sustainable architecture comes in situ recycling, from centralized building level composting and sewage treatment, which allows capture of waste energy from hot water streams going out, and keeps a building from overloading its community’s waste management systems.
For new construction, passive solar techniques have put a premium on building site location and building orientation, along with vertical turbines to harness the wind, and using layered construction materials to capture solar warmth during the day and release the heat during the night. This also includes so called ‘smart blinds’ which have solar sensors to open and close automatically to reduce the solar thermal load on the building, and cut down the need for artificial cooling. Most passive solar oriented designs have very low surface area to volume ratios, to make thermal management easier and more efficient.