Sustainable Design

Sustainability is an attitude. The degree to which a client builds a sustainable structure starts as both a personal and a practical one, which requires the evaluation of cost, aesthetics and future benefits much like other decisions throughout the building process. However, conversations about energy efficiency, and incorporating sustainable materials and technologies are starting to take place in the beginning of the design process. Homeowners and architects are thinking more globally about how to make a difference beginning with their own home. Ultimately, the goal is to design a beautiful building with an environmentally conscious design solution.

There are many aspects to building green. The integration of passive and active solar design strategies is best addressed early in the design process. Passive strategies include consideration of the building’s siting and solar orientation, window glazing and cross ventilation, overhangs and daylighting, heat gain and thermal mass. Active strategies can include photovoltaics, radiant flooring, on-demand water heating, grey water recycling systems, and an evaluation of these and other available technologies and their costs. Green practices also include recycling demolition and construction waste, using wood that’s reclaimed or harvested from sustainably managed forests, specifying energy efficient lighting such as LED’s, and using paints and sealers with low VOC’s (volatile organic compounds.) In the landscape, using grey water and drip irrigation, permeable paving to reduce runoff, and drought tolerant and native species plantings all contribute to building green.

The green movement is changing and developing rapidly. While the LEED rating system is by now a recognizable term to the homeowner, there are other effective rating systems, such as Build It Green, being developed and used to promote the same goals. Net Zero Building certification, given to a building that produces as much as it consumes over the course of a year, is gaining popularity as a way to calibrate sustainable practices. The opportunities for tax credits and rebates are increasingly being made available. While minimum standards of energy efficiency have long been built into the permit process (Title 24 Energy calculations) in California, in January 2011 the state adopted mandatory green building codes known as Cal Green. There is an abundance of green websites, conferences, and blogs to keep homeowners and professionals learning and engaged in the movement.