You may think that you know green architecture when you see it, but you might be wrong. I hope to expand your thinking. Sometimes the “image” surpasses reality, and the ultra-modern and high-tech costs us more, both environmentally and financially, than simple, old-school rationale.
The truth is we need both new and old, and they need to work together. Existing buildings can be upgraded with modern materials and technology, and new construction can follow time-tested traditions. The trick is to know when to apply these principles, in your unique situation.
Note: This page will be updated regularly to correspond with future posts in Green Heart Town.
Look Back & Move Forward
Green architecture must be first consider the past, and look roots of your area’s vernacular style and it’s historic architecture. Why? Before mass industrialization, electricity, and air-conditioning, buildings were built from renewable, locally-sourced materials, and designed to be naturally comfortable.
Using these strategies, along with our best modern technologies will yield the most energy efficient, and stylistically appropriate design in any location.
Whole Building Design
Green architecture goes way beyond designing for efficiency, aesthetics, or first cost. It is important to consider buildings and their surrounding ecology as a whole.
The whole building design approach begins with a high-level view of your building's context. Along local building traditions, we must consider the building site, available infrastructure, local climate, occupant needs, and budget.
Whole building design examines a building as if it were a single, living organism. Working with an integrated team of professionals, architects assess how each building system can be optimized for efficiency, health, and delight over the life-cycle of the building.
Your Living Footprint
What fits your needs? Do you want to move back into town or live off the grid? Do you see yourself retrofitting an existing property that you love, or building a new home that is just right? My goal is to help you become more conscious today, live fuller lives, and leave a better world for generations to come.
Local Building Traditions & Place-Based Design
Some of today's best green buildings could have been even greener, but they missed something. Something obvious. The historic buildings in your area offer the best insight into the area's original green architecture. Their native design intelligence is something we would be foolish NOT to build upon.
Vernacular architecture is the rudimentary architectural style that developed in your area during original settlement. Clues can be seen in the early buildings still standing in your historic district.
During settlement of the area, local building traditions formed around the materials at hand, labor skills, and the local climate. Traditional construction methods may point to the heritage of your town’s founders, and even traditions of native people groups.
Your town’s vernacular architecture also shares clues on how we stayed comfortable in the local climate, and what materials could be locally sourced. Before air-conditioning, low-e windows, and LED lighting, low-tech, low-energy solutions were used to satisfy comfort. Old school "horse power" and hand tools built places piece, by piece.
It is wonderful to see so many buildings from this time still standing today. Even better is the fact that our modern technology can be used (as appropriate) to boost these buildings’ energy performance well above most new buildings today.
Design with Climate. As part of the whole building design approach, bioclimatic architecture refers to the design of buildings and spaces (interior, exterior, and landscaping) based on local climate.
Designing with climate aimed at providing thermal and visual comfort, making use of solar energy and other environmental sources. Understanding how this works is fundamental to greener thinking.
The New Vernacular
Look back, move forward. Considering the past of any place is important before considering its future. Using simple wisdom from the past, along with today’s best green technology can yield a superior building that “looks and feels” well-suited to its particular place in the world.
The concept of resource efficiency is more important today than ever. Green architecture should consider conservation at the top of the list. It is important to first ask “what do I have to work with?”
Today we can visit a home-center, or online store, and receive manufactured products from all over the world. But doing this may not be the right thing to do.
Sustainable design means that we honor the 3P’s in building activities. We take care of people, planet and profit. Buying products at cheap price from a foreign land, might mean that someone was not paid fairly. Poor quality and/or toxic materials means damaging chemicals are released into the ecosystem - in manufacturing, use, and/or disposal. Buying local insures that the economy stays strong, and local businesses thrive.
Existing Buildings: Remodel, Renew, Renovate
A study by the Preservation Green Lab of the National Trust for Historic Preservation shows building reuse almost always has fewer environmental impacts than new construction. The total energy embodied in a building is important to understand.
The notion that tearing a building down and rebuilding again causes major waste in the energy stream. Embodied energy is lost in the disposed building, and it takes new energy for demolition, as well as new construction. Demolition can be very expensive too, and the costs are rarely cheaper to tear down and build again.
There is a lot of joy in making a place that you love - that contains memories - more suited to your needs. The notion of combining old and new is something that must be done carefully so that there is a cohesive feeling when finished.
During remodels and additions, it is important to keep a high standard for materials that are healthy and non-toxic. You many be occupying the space during construction. A good contractor working with your architect makes all the difference.
Retrofitting your home usually means adding something to help improve building system performance or interior comfort. Upgrading insulation, air conditioning, plumbing, and lighting are good examples of retrofit projects.
It is easy to look at the potential payback for proposed equipment upgrades. Once you know what your savings will be you can make a sound decision based on your budget and the return on investment (ROI) that you need.
Green architecture thinks small! Tiny house design has become popular for good reason. Many people love a lifestyle that is free from debt and stuff-overload. Being small in a big world gives you freedoms not imagined before, and truly leaves a small footprint on local ecology.
Downsizing & Rightsizing
The best way to decrease the size of your environmental footprint is to be efficient in the space you build, maintain, and operate. Designing a building where each space has specific and overlapping uses can be a fun exercise with an architect.
High Performance Design
Green architecture should not only look great and be cost efficient. It should get into the nuts and bolts of how a building will function.
Building science is an integral part of the whole building design approach. It is the energy modeling, scientific analysis, optimization, and verification process involved in making green architecture that truly works.
The Athena Institute refers to Life-cycle Assessment (LCA) as “the science behind environmental foot-printing.” Sounds simple, but this is incredibly complicated stuff!
Lifecycle assessment summarizes the overall environmental impacts associated with the many stages of a product's life from raw material, through manufacture, use and maintenance, and final disposal or recycling. Architects, Contractors, and Sustainability Consultants often use this analysis to make more informed decisions about the “greenness”of a product.
In development circles, existing and historic properties are currently being studied for their embodied energy value.
Integrating renewable energy technologies should always be considered during the whole building design process. High-performance buildings have been optimized to require less energy input, and smaller mechanical systems. This can make renewable energy expenses more affordable. Solar hot water, geothermal/ground-source heat pumps, wind and solar power are typical options. With new affordable whole house batteries, going "off the grid"is becoming more practical - even if you are on the grid.
(German: Passivhaus) is a rigorous, voluntary standard for energy efficiency in a building, reducing its ecological footprint. It results in ultra-low energy buildings that require little energy for space heating or cooling. Larry Lucas is a licensed architect and PHIUS Certified Passive House Consultant (CPHC®).
Why Build a Passive House?
The Certified Passive House Design standard is the most energy efficient building standard today. They are efficient, healthy, resilient and very inexpensive to operate.
Passive House Certification
(German: Passivhaus) is a rigorous, voluntary standard for energy efficiency in a building, reducing its ecological footprint. It results in ultra-low energy buildings that require little energy for space heating or cooling. Passive design strategy carefully models and balances a comprehensive set of factors including heat emissions from appliances and occupants to keep the building at comfortable and consistent indoor temperatures throughout the heating and cooling seasons.
Passive building principles can be applied to all building typologies – from single-family homes to multifamily apartment buildings, offices, and skyscrapers.
Passive House certification means that the building is super-insulated and air-tight. They incorporate high-performance windows and utilize heat-recovery ventilation systems. Certified passive house buildings are 90% more energy efficient than the code-minimum construction. Certified Passive House projects offer the best path for achieving a net-zero energy/carbon efficiency, and going “off the grid”.
Net Zero Design
The ultimate in green architecture is a beautiful, healthy, and efficient building that creates as much (or more) that it consumes. There are various types of net-zero buildings, including net zero water, energy, carbon, etc.
Living off the grid, does not mean a solitary existence in the middle of no-where. The ZED-H house study conducted by Georgia Tech, is an urban housing model. As building science and technology continue to advance building “net-positive” homes will be come even more common.