Going Green: Start with Design

Building green often focuses on the materials and construction techniques, but building design plays a more prominent role than you may know. It’s called passive design and it can affect a building’s overall energy efficiency.

Location, Location, Location

Like any real estate agent will tell you, it’s all about location. Use the natural landscape to your advantage. Mature trees are a great asset because they’ll provide shade in the warmer months and wind protection in the cooler months. Building with the land’s contours will also help reduce the need for bulldozer use and other power tools. Building into a hill can help create a natural windbreak and insulator. And locating your building near mass transit stops can also help increase a site’s green rating, too.

Take Advantage of the Sun’s Position

Floor layouts should follow the sunlight and maximize solar gain. Positioning most of the windows on the south and west sides of the building takes advantage of the sun’s position throughout the day. South-facing rooms have sunlight for most of the day and should be used for meetings or living areas, while north sides of the building receive little light at any time of the day. Low light areas of the building should be used for storage areas or even theatres or darkrooms. Areas in the eastern portion of a building are usually bathed in light during the early morning hours but stay cooler throughout the day, while western areas take the brunt of heat and light in the afternoon.

Use Windows Create Airflow

Let natural air in by positioning the building to catch the breeze. For example, in the Midwest, winds typically come in from the west. By opening the windows on both the east and west sides of the building, you’ll be able to create a natural airflow and reduce the demands on the HVAC system and the energy bill.

Use Air to Insulate

Using a two-door system creates an air lock. Providing a space between the outer and inner doors helps prevent drafts and heat waves, and reduces the load on your HVAC by helping to maintain a more steady temperature. It can also be a great place where people have room to fold or unfold an umbrella and stamp the snow from their feet.

While green building materials play a definite role in creating a green, energy efficient building, the passive design of a structure is the true foundation of green construction.