apartment complex with pool and wood structural support on the walls

As the years pass, the greenhouse gas emissions given off by society continue to increase. At the same time, we create more trash, which collects in landfills and contributes to the pollution of our land and water. Chief among the contributing factors to our planet’s harm is our consumption of resources and our energy use, as well as our disregard for the natural environment. While it’s a formidable goal to completely reverse this trend, we can take small steps towards greener practices by changing how we approach building. Instead of deferring to what is the norm or what is easiest, we can shift techniques to play on the benefits of the organic surroundings rather than trying to work against them. Here’s how to create a sustainable architectural design.

Improve Energy Efficiency

Passive Approaches

The use of energy can be improved in a building in both a passive and an active sense. Passive energy efficiency can come through the positioning of various parts of a structure and is most commonly carried out with regards to lighting. Turning on electric lights is often technically unnecessary during the day, since so much sunlight illuminates everything outside. Yet, many rooms are often quite dark even when skies are clear due to the placement of windows—or the complete lack thereof. Passive approaches seek to ameliorate this issue by maximizing the natural light that comes inside a building. The architect can design a building so that major rooms and their windows face the directions that are right under the sun’s path in the sky, allowing people inside to rely completely on natural lighting on most days.

Another aspect that can be passively optimized, at least to some degree, is the temperature regulation and ventilation inside the edifice. Rather than relying solely on using energy with heating or air conditioning systems to make up for disagreeable internal conditions, you can pay special attention to insulation and couple it with strategic ventilation. Greater insulation will reduce heat transfer when the building is shut so that the inside stays warmer or cooler than the outside. Ventilation will allow for pollutant particles and heat to be released while fresh, cool air reenters the building.

Active Approaches

Active measures to make architecture more sustainable include many energy-saving methods. One such method is the installation of lighting that turns off after an allotted time when there is no activity in the room. Faucets that only turn on with motion sensors are another example. Cooling and heating systems that can be set to turn on or off at certain hours of the day can actively save wasted energy. Even something as simple as switching to LED lights over incandescent lights can have a great impact on energy expenditure over time.

Landscape Conscientiously

Native over Non-Native Plants

Often, the development of a site for construction involves completely clearing it of the flora that exists there. Although it may be necessary to make room for a new building, you can adjust the outside property in ways that will be more helpful to the environment. Namely, you can landscape using plants that are native to that region. This will reduce the maintenance you need to perform to keep the plants healthy, since they are already adapted to living in that climate. To illustrate, if your building is constructed in a hot, dry area, plant native trees and shrubs that can survive without large amounts of water. This will significantly reduce the water you would need to use to keep the plants alive and healthy when they would not normally survive there.

Inclusion of Plants

In some developments, the inclusion of vegetation is skipped altogether. This should also be avoided. As you can see by looking at many urban areas, the combination of high energy use, heat-absorbing materials, and a lack of plants leads to local temperatures that are much higher than normal. In turn, people use up more energy as they artificially air condition the interiors of buildings to stay comfortable.

But how does the presence of plants affect temperature? It is through the process of photosynthesis that they have a cooling effect. Plants take in sunlight and carbon dioxide for photosynthesis. As a result, when a sizeable number of plants are in an area, they can absorb more solar radiation and reduce the greenhouse gases in the nearby air. With less sunlight hitting surfaces directly, they do not become as warm. With less carbon dioxide, not as much of the surface heat is reflected down onto the area again. Plants also release water vapor when they get too hot. This water vapor carries away heat in much the same way that sweat cools humans. Again, the surroundings also become cooler as a byproduct of this. Finally, the physical shade that a large plant, such as a tree, can provide to a building can directly serve to cool that section of the structure’s interior as it blocks and absorbs sunlight.

Use Sustainable Materials

Reduced Footprint

The materials you choose to make your buildings with are another key category in which you can better their eco-friendliness. By looking into suppliers and selecting those companies that take care to leave minimal environmental impacts, you in turn make your structure contribute to sustainability efforts. For instance, you can choose a form of a traditional construction material that takes minimal energy to produce and which gives off fewer emissions as it is created, such as concrete that is composed of slag and glass.

Recycled Materials

Alternatively—or in conjunction—you may incorporate recycled materials into structures, thereby saving materials from adding to dumping grounds when they can be repurposed. When you utilize materials that have already been subjected to initial processing, it often means that you do not have to use as much energy or harmful chemicals to revive them. Materials such as steel and wood, which are quite common in architecture, can be recycled and used in new structures. You can also find creative solutions that innovators have come up with for recycling. There are varieties of insulation made from recycled paper and cotton, as well as recycled plastic building materials with which you can create decking and other outdoor structures.

The hard work of individuals and organizations dedicated to helping the planet continue to open new possibilities for sustainable architecture has made a meaningful impact on the world. Hopefully, more and more people will see the need for such measures moving forward and implement them into their own designs so that the positive effects can multiply.

To take steps toward sustainability in your own architectural projects, contact Bedford Technology. Our recycled plastic lumber building materials are suited for various outdoor applications and are made from post-consumer HDPE plastic bottle and container waste.