GREEN BUILDING: Design Efficiency & Principles
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David K. Horvath, GMB, CAPS, CGP, LEED-AP
General Manager, Certified Builder
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Thoughtful design can make substantial improvements in a home’s efficiency and can be summarized into three categories of design:

Resources Design Principle.
This principle includes energy conservation, water conservation, and material conservation. Conservation of resources underlines all of the green building practices. Here are some of the basic principles of resource design conservation:

  • Smaller is better: Reduce the overall building footprint and optimize use of interior space through careful design so that the overall building size—and resource use in constructing and operating it—are kept to a minimum.
  • Simplify building geometry: Building forms that are more compact are more resource and energy efficient than those that are spread out.
  • Optimize material use: Lumber building materials come in 2-foot increments. It makes sense to design outside-to-outside dimensions on 2-foot increments to reduce lumber waste and to maximize the efficiency of the structural frame. Increasingly, we need to consider not only the cost of buying materials but also the cost of disposing of what’s left over— by reducing waste, we save both ways.
  • Design water conservation: Include the use of native landscaping, employ low-flow toilets and lavatory fixtures, rainwater collection and reuse, and the collection and recycling of water at the site.
  • Fireplaces should not be located on exterior walls: They should be totally contained within the conditioned space. A warm chimney drafts much better than a cold one. In addition, masonry chimneys that are located within the conditioned space have thermal mass that store the heat created by a fire and continue to warm the space even after the fire has gone out.
  • Design an energy-efficient building: Use high levels of insulation, high-performance windows, and tight construction.
  • Design buildings to use renewable energy: Passive solar heating, daylighting, and natural cooling can be incorporated cost-effectively into most buildings. Also consider solar water heating and photovoltaics—or design buildings for future solar installations.
  • Design water-efficient, low-maintenance landscaping: Conventional lawns have a high impact because of water use, pesticide use, and pollution generated from mowing. Landscape with drought-resistant native plants and perennial groundcovers.
  • Look into the feasibility of graywater: Water from sinks, showers, or clothes washers (graywater) can be recycled for irrigation in some areas. If current codes prevent graywater recycling, consider designing the plumbing for easy future adaptation.
  • Properly size building systems to conserve energy.

Lifecycle Design.
An energy efficient home that endures saves resources and energy consumption for the life of the structure. We should consider: 

  • Design for durability: To spread the environmental impacts of building over as long a period as possible, the structure must be durable.
  • Design with a durable style:  Classical “timeless architecture” is more likely to realize a long life because people recognize enduring styles in contrast to fads.
  • Design for future reuse and adaptability: Make the structure adaptable to other uses, and choose materials and components that can be reused or recycled.
  • Design for easy maintenance and replacement of less durable components.
  • Assure quality installation that enhances service life and, hence, resource efficiency.

Designing for people.
Human comfort and convenience is an important element in sustainable design. The basic ideas are to provide thermal, visual, and acoustic comfort to building occupants; use non-toxic, low-emitting materials; create visual environments connected to the exterior; provide fresh, clean air and access to operable windows; and accommodate people with differing physical abilities. Other recommendations include:
  • Make it easy for occupants to recycle waste: Make provisions for storage and processing of recyclables—recycling bins near the kitchen, undersink compost receptacles, and the like.
  • Avoid potential health hazards—radon, mold, pesticides: Follow recommended practices to minimize radon entry into the building and provide for future mitigation if necessary. Provide detailing to avoid moisture problems, which could cause mold and mildew growth. Design insect-resistant detailing to minimize pesticide use.
  • Incorporate home offices into houses to permit “telecommuting.”
  • Maximize daylighting: In terms of floor plans, locating the most actively used spaces where they will benefit most from daylighting makes the most sense.
  • Use universal design principles: Homes with less physical barriers can be used by most people and, as a result, lasts for generations, thereby reducing the need for resource-intense modifications.
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