These days everyone seems to be talking about ‘green buildings’. What does this mean and why should I care?
You’re right. It is talked about a lot, but there is some misunderstanding about what is green. People talk about being green in terms of constructing environmentally-friendly buildings, but it’s more about how sustainable it is in terms of human occupation and how little damage it inflicts on the planet. There are two very distinct approaches to being sustainable. The first, and what most rating systems measure, is to take a building and analyse the problems it has and then rate the measures taken to mitigate those problems.
However, I think the better approach, and the more sustainable approach, is to mitigate problems before they even arise—by starting to think sustainably before building.
The first thing to think about, at an early stage of design, is how to get the solar orientation right. The simplest way of doing this is to not use glass on the west side of the building. If you do, you’ll increase your air-conditioning load by about 25%. If you consider this early enough, you can put service areas on the west to act as a thermal buffer.
Next, you need to think about water conservation. You can create sewage treatment plants or rainwater-harvesting systems to reuse the water for landscaping, flushing lines for toilets, or even air conditioning.
Also, you should be thinking about the human occupation of the building. So, for example, regulatory advice is to keep the inside temperature at 23°C, irrespective of what the external temperature is. This is ridiculous. As humans, we are linked to the external temperature. If it’s 45°C outside, we are completely comfortable at 28°C.
Finally, you need to choose building materials that will not damage the environment. Creating any material requires a certain amount of energy expenditure. Then there is the second energy expenditure: the transportation, moving it from where it is made to the building site. When you add those two factors, you get the embodied energy amount.
This is true for building materials and mechanical equipment like lighting fixtures, air conditioners, garbage disposals, all the way down to the carpet that you use. It’s an endless process.
Now, why would you want to follow this type of strategy? Other than not wanting to damage the environment, there are plenty of reasons. For example, there are lower operation costs and easier maintainance. Plus, if you design with sustainability in mind, you can actually avoid higher initial investment.
Manit’s firm Morphogenesis believes in sustainable design. Write to him at email@example.com.