For decades and decades, the construction industry, especially locally, has continued to build hundreds of thousands of buildings that were likely geared towards profit, and compliance was incredibly easy regarding energy performance and consumption. What we have now is an extensive mass of energy guzzling, leaky building fabrics that cost a huge price to run and due to their basic construction principles are subject to moisture, vermin and mould ingress as well as the uncomfortable outdoor air.
Shore Architects look at each project in a sustainable manner by trying to reduce the carbon footprint of the dwelling and providing a high-quality building envelope that utilises the sun’s natural heat and light and promotes a high level of airtightness in to minimise heat loss/gain through the building envelope and if mechanical heating or cooling is required, less energy is required to facilitate the moderation of temperature given the high-quality is not losing the energy through gaps, holes and breaks.
It often does not take a huge amount of money to provide these higher quality designs. However, sustainable architecture does cost more than providing minimum building code standard construction. With cost often the highest factor in defining the final specification, why are we doing this? The extra money we are spending on high-performance glass, sealed building envelopes, and extra insulation goes beyond making the home more comfortable for the end user, the one likely to reap the benefits of the comfortable, healthy indoor climate.
There are 3 main areas we’ll focus on here:
Less pollution released into the atmosphere
Less material consumption (or consumption of renewables)
Suitability and relevance.
There are several areas we can explore that highlight how sustainable architecture practices help limit the pollution that is released into the Earth’s atmosphere. We’ll start from small scale decisions to larger ones.
Appliances, fixtures and fittings require energy to power, operate and maintain. For this example, we’ll assume there is no renewable energy solutions (solar panels, in-ground systems etc) provided. The operating costs of poor-performance appliances will consume a lot of energy and ultimately affect your ongoing financial commitment to the building. The direct financial relationship of the appliance's efficiency over time is very easy to address at selection time.
Sourcing local materials limits the energy required to get the product and material to the site itself. Building materials are typically very heavy and therefore require substantial fuel consumption and/or infrastructure to move the product around. Locally sourced timbers delivered via trucks are substantially greater than shipping containers of products from overseas.
Construction of these materials also plays a big role in pollution. Materials containing VOCs, adhesives and paints will carry with the selection of these materials a greater impact on the environment than those sourced without.
The poorer the building fabric, building orientation and overall design will likely provide the biggest contributor to energy consumption. Assuming you’ve engaged a skilled architect for the design of the building, modifications to this design, geometry and positioning of the building fabric can be a low- to no-cost item considered during the design that is imperative to the buildings’ performance. Windows in the right location, specification of suitable materials and adequate construction detailing of junctions, walls, insulation, membranes and systems will provide a building that can provide up to 90% reductions in energy costs. With renewable energy sources, the dwelling could be cost-neutral come the time of energy bills.
As we keep growing in scale, the implications become more severe. Council, city, state, country and continent-wide net-zero targets and collaborations such as the Paris Agreement will force all parties to move their daily practice towards minimal energy consumption and ultimately a net-zero operation of the same quality of lifestyle we enjoy today.
How does less pollution help the environment?
Reduces the impact of greenhouse emissions.
Limits the rise of temperature to the Paris Agreement target of 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels.
Maintains climatic equilibrium for our ecosystems to thrive as designed (many ecosystems are extinct and dying from the increased pressure on the environment). If you consider a human fever of 1.5 degrees above normal levels becomes dangerous, the entire planet is heading there.
Less Material Consumption
Going back down in scale we can look at design decisions that impact the suitability and longevity of the building, therefore assisting our sustainable architecture causes.
Material selection must not necessarily be the ‘highest quality’, ‘most intricate’ or ‘strongest’. At a minimum, it has to be suited to the environment. Specification of structural materials must be selected based on the site location and geography to maintain it’s suitability. Should the structure fail, the entire building, including all fixtures, fittings, tiles, kitchens, bathrooms, carpets and more, gets demolished. Therefore, the structural selection of material must be adequate and correct to minimise a complete re-build of a structure that could have been avoided. Species of timbers within certain climates, and protection of steel in proximity to water (salt) and industry (chemical) must be correct.
Regarding external materials, they should be hard-wearing in their given environment and/or require minimal chemical maintenance. Soft timbers exposed to direct sun and water will decay quicker than other species designed to withstand the environments. Regular maintenance with oils and stains containing chemicals within these products could be further minimised should correct specifications occur. The lifespan of products should also be considered. The sourcing and production of very similar materials can have greatly differing lifespans. Consider the zinc roofs of France that have life expectancies well above 100 years whilst more readily used roofing manufacturers have warranties up to 30 years and life expectancies of 40-70 years.
Material consumption should be heavily focused on renewable sources as well. If the material can be sustainably grown, produced, recycled and used again there could be several end uses of the same material before the element has outgrown it’s usable form in the construction industry. If it can’t be recycled and re-used, the sustainable growing of the material will maintain the planet’s sources of other finite alternatives, such as metals and stones.
How does material consumption help the environment?
Maintains the levels of finite material sources.
Less impact on the level of the Earth’s surface that is disrupted for human consumption, helping maintain greater coverage for flora and fauna to thrive.
Materials that are often non-renewables require substantial energy to convert them into usable building products.
Suitability and Relevance
With a bit of forecasting, buildings should be designed with one eye on 20 years’ time. Larger buildings should be designed with building fabric that could easily be altered to adopt a certain change of use, instead of requiring a new building altogether. A ‘forever home’ should be built with several rooms on the ground floor that could easily be adjusted, with minimal effort and material use, to contain space and function of an aging family with a larger bathroom and bedroom for potential wheelchair use. If these decisions are considered within the early design stage it can create a seamless transition for future use, should it be required, and the intelligent planning should require minimal material disruption or demolition to carry out the change. Adaptive re-use of a previous building type can very easily produce stunning current-day uses; consider industrial apartment conversions instead of knocking down the building and starting from scratch. By turning to sustainable architecture and making intelligent decisions now, we can severely limit the unnecessary waste of material and energy in accommodate future needs and requirements.
Sustainable architecture inherently makes continuous decisions during design, construction and building use based upon limiting energy consumption and materials consumption during all stages. On top of providing a significantly reduced impact on the environment, it also minimises energy costs, improves air quality and provides more comfortable internal environments. The extra money is definitely worth investing, and this extra price can be reduced by making the design decisions intelligently at all stages of the project. Please reach out should you be considering any upcoming sustainable architecture projects and wish to discuss how Shore Architects can help you reach your comfortable, sustainable goals.