Sustainable Design

Designing Sustainable Buildings

Designing a sustainable building requires taking a larger view of building design, and a different view of the design team than is most common today. Evaluating a building as a whole system that operates in harmony with its natural environment and is as energy, material, and water efficient as possible, requires the participation of architects, engineers, landscape architects, construction contractors, and operations staff, all of whom may be working independently throughout the building design process. Common goals for efficiency and use of the natural space in and around the building site must be conveyed to all team members.

Elements of a Sustainable Building

Credit:Material collected from the Collaborative for High Performance Schools

1. Healthy, safe and secure

Good indoor air quality is essential. It requires minimizing pollutant sources and providing adequate ventilation and air filtration.

2. Thermal, visual, and acoustic comfort

Thermal comfort means that building occupants should not feel too cold or too hot as they work or learn. Visual comfort requires that quality lighting makes visual tasks, such as reading, following presentations, and working on the computer, easier. Lighting for each room should be “designed,” not simply specified. Daylight and electric lights are integrated and glare is minimized. Visual comfort also means providing a connection to the outdoors and visual stimulation through the use of windows at eye level to offer views. Acoustic comfort means that occupants can hear one another easily. Noisy ventilation systems are eliminated, and the design minimizes the amount of disruptive outdoor and indoor noise affecting the occupants.

3. Energy efficient

Energy-efficient buildings save money, while conserving non-renewable energy resources and reducing atmospheric emissions of pollutants and green-house gases. Heating, ventilating, and air-conditioning (HVAC) systems use high efficiency equipment; are “right sized” for the estimated demands of the facility; and include controls that optimize system performance. The building’s lighting system uses high efficiency products; optimizes the number of fixtures in each room; incorporates control devices that ensure peak system performance; and successfully integrates electric lighting and daylighting strategies. The walls, floors, roofs, and windows of the building are as energy efficient as cost effectively possible. The building shell is integrated and optimizes insulation levels, glazing, shading, thermal mass, air leakage, and light-colored exterior surfaces to minimize the use of the HVAC systems.

4. Material efficient

To the maximum extent possible, the design incorporates building materials that have been produced in a way that conserves raw materials. Such materials may be manufactured with a rapidly renewable resource or recycled content, are durable, or can be recycled or reused. In addition, the school has been designed and built in a manner that reduces waste and keeps useful materials out of the landfill.

5. Environmentally responsive

The site is recognized as an essential element of the building’s features. To the extent possible, the site conserves existing natural areas and restores damaged ones; minimizes stormwater runoff and controls erosion; and incorporates products and techniques that do not introduce pollutants or degradation to the project site, or the site of extraction, harvest, or production.

6. Water efficient

Water scarcity is a major problem in much of California and Nevada. Sustainable buildings are designed to use water efficiently, saving money, while reducing the depletion of aquifers and river systems. The building uses as little off-site water as possible to meet its needs, controls and reduces water runoff from its site, and consumes fresh water as efficiently as possible.

7. Commissioned

The building operates the way it was designed to, and meets the needs of the owner and occupant. This happens through a formal commissioning process – a form of “systems check” for the facility. The process tests, verifies, and fine-tunes the performance of key building systems so that they perform at the highest levels of efficiency and comfort, and then trains the staff to properly operate and maintain the systems.

8. Stimulating architecture

Sustainable buildings should invoke a sense of pride and be considered a genuine asset for the community.