The Basics of Sustainable Architecture
Going green is nothing new. We’ve been recycling metal, glass and paper for years; hybrid cars are now commonplace; and we have businesses dedicated to up-cycling and the mantra “reuse, reduce, recycle”. And the building industry is right in the middle of it with green architecture and sustainability at the forefront.
So what exactly are we talking about? Sustainability has become a complex web of confusing terminology so its not surprising clients and builders freak out a little when the terms green, eco-friendly and sustainable start being thrown about. Don’t panic! Green architecture is pretty simple – it’s about designing and constructing a building with the environment in mind. We choose eco-friendly materials and construction practices with the aim of designing an energy efficient, environmentally friendly building.
Green architecture is pretty simple in the scheme of things. Let’s strip it back to basics to see how it works home design.
We want to design a home with the environment in mind so it’s a no-brainer that the design must fit in with the chosen site and its ecology. Design needs to be guided by the building surface – rock, clay, sand, water. The architect needs to think about how the building can be anchored with as little disruption to its surrounds as possible while creating a home that is functional, beautiful and environmentally friendly. The home should be located on the site in such a way that makes the most of light, winds and natural shelter. The architect must also consider rainwater harvesting and renewable energy generation – solar and wind are possibilities and again, the site will help determine which is best for the home and its occupants.
The architect will have considered the overall orientation of the home on the site so that natural light and air flow is maximised. However, consideration also needs to be given to the individual placement of each room in the house to ensure the natural elements are effectively and efficiently harnessed. The strategic placement of doors and windows to enable natural air circulation or passive ventilation is a key green architecture principle as it is cost efficient and carbon neutral. It is also important to consider what type of glazing is appropriate for the home. Large windows allow light in but can also let heat out so in colder environments, double glazing may be warranted.
In Australia’s hot climate, large roof overhangs are an excellent way to manage heat in the house by shading windows and doors. They are also an ideal way to harvest rainwater, particularly in wetter areas of the country and can also help protect living areas from rain downpours. More recently, there is an option to use green roofing systems in certain environments. These are living, growing roofs that provide a number of benefits including thermal regulation of the home and environment, sound proofing, slowing of water runoff, extending roof lifespan, supporting local biodiversity and growing food.
The great outdoors is a big part of the Australian psyche; accordingly, our homes are built with outdoor living in mind. And outdoor space has a green purpose too. These spaces often require less use of lighting, cooling and heating so can be very energy efficient, certainly more so than indoor living spaces. Various materials can be reused and up-cycled to create bespoke, eco-friendly furniture while the use of decorative items such as cushions made from hemp, burlap or other organic materials fit the sustainability bill. Construction of insulated patios or verandas using eco-friendly materials such as aluminium also helps with thermal regulation of the house, improving energy efficiency and reducing cooling and heating bills. What’s not to love?
Don’t forget the landscaping! A sustainable landscape should be attractive, be in balance with the local climate and environment and require minimal resource inputs once established. Planting a few plants about doesn’t make for a sustainable garden but it certainly doesn’t have to be complex. Plants should be suited to local ecology. Choose native species – these will be much hardier in the long term and also attract appropriate insects and wildlife to the garden. Plants that double from a visual and food perspective are also a good sustainable garden choice. Making use of storm-water runoff by encouraging flow into garden beds and green roofs while bio-filtering of wastes through constructed wetlands and gray-water irrigation are relatively simple eco-friendly ways to reduce the home’s carbon footprint. Also consider soil management techniques such as composting to help maintain and enhance soil health and garden biodiversity.
Creating a beautiful, functional sustainable home doesn’t have to be a complex project. I have not highlighted every component that needs to be considered to create a green home but a few basic things can be employed to create a home that is in harmony with the environment. Have you ever created a green space? What worked and what advice would you give to others who were considering going green?
Designing a home that suits the environment and choosing eco-friendly construction materials is just the start to creating a sustainable home. If you’d like to get started down the sustainability path, please give us a call as we’d love to help you create your own bespoke green-house.