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Underrated Green Design Strategies

Updated on July 27, 2012

Design strategies that are often overlooked

It's easy to be caught up in the sustainable hype and believe that it's all about solar panels and wind turbines. In contrast, there is a whole host of underrated green design strategies that don't get that much attention but deserve their day in the sun.

For starters...

In sustainability talk, first and foremost, the golden rule should be to REDUCE consumption before increasing production.

Rule number 2: Get what you can maintain. It's no point getting the most expensive technology which is all so cool but you have no idea how to maintain or operate it properly.

In the present hype, these basic green design strategies are often not discussed, but are critical to how your building will perform, and how it'll affect your bottom line. Instead, people opt for more visible and instant gratification that they are "saving" the environment, with superficial efforts like installing wind turbines and solar panels. Yes they are great and good to have, but they shouldn't be your first priority.

Solar Orientation

In any new project like your home or a building, the most fundamental thing that will stay with the project is how the building is sited. Green design, especially passive design, starts with orientation. You CANNOT run away from the sun. Thus, it is imperative to get the most favorable orientation for your site if it's possible.


Insulation sounds like a really boring thing, but this humble stuff (eg. polyfoam, rock wool) is really critical to the performance of the building. In cold climates, the outdoor temperature may be freezing or below freezing. Indoors, it may be 24 degrees with heating. That is a whooping 20 odd degrees difference in temperature.

Insulation is going to keep that warmth in, and reduce your heating bill. Ignore it, and you'd be burning your cash to stay warm. Well insulated buildings are like buildings with a good solid set of protective armor on. Now that sounds better right? And as insulation is comparatively so much cheaper, half a foot thick of insulation can save you the equivalent energy output from a whole array of solar panels are a fraction of the cost!

Very neat.

Stop the leakage

It's no use having the best armor in the world if it has holes. Thus, hand in hand with insulation, the building must be airtight. This means that you can keep that warmth in, and the cold out, or vice-versa. The primary locations where buildings leak are through the gaps in windows and doors. As a result, you incur higher heating/cooling costs.

Get a builder to check that they are sealed properly to reduce leakage. Think of it as money flowing out of your doors!

Sun shading

Sunshading, along with insulation, are the two main protective features of the building's outer skin. In the case of sunshading, it is critical in hot climates to shield the heat away. Without it, the temperature of the spaces within would increase and this would translate into higher air-conditioning costs. Moreover, sunshading cuts out glare from direct sunlight.

There are many examples of buildings in hot climates that are a glass box without a nary of a sunshade. These buildings often consume huge amounts of energy in cooling, and are highly unsustainable.

Natural Ventilation

It sounds stupid but yes, some buildings are fully sealed with no operable windows. They are fully dependent on mechanical ventilation systems which is terrible from a sustainability point of view. This occurs when the aesthetic requirement overpowers common sense.

Natural ventilation is cheap, and in areas with clean, unpolluted air, it should always be a given. Design for natural ventilation, WITH the option of mechanical controlled systems should be the way. Sadly, most designers start out on mechanical, and totally forgot about the outdoor environment.

Energy efficienct appliances

Energy efficiency is the low hanging fruit in green design. It is comparatively easy to attain, especially with regards to appliances as their life cycle is so much shorter. The structure of a building would be designed to last say 100 years. The walls and partitions maybe would last 20 years before a new tenant moves in and reconfigures the whole layout. The doors and windows would last perhaps also 20 years before they are replaced. Appliances? A light bulb would last at most 5 years. Same goes for a computer before it is obsolete.

Selecting an energy efficient appliance has 2 advantages. Primarily, it uses less energy. Second, it gives off less waste heat within the space, hence for hot climates, it reduces the cooling load. In fact, cooling electrical appliances like computer servers that power the internet takes up a significant chunk of energy consumed in America annually and shouldn't be overlooked.

Time to switch to that LED light.


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