The challenges and goals for architects, urban designers and owners of buildings are not related anymore with making the most impressive and most challenging buildings in terms of height and complex shapes. Or at the very least, not without targeting the sustainability of the building, such as NZE Buildings.
It is not that there is not a desire to create modern-looking buildings. It is that architecture and urban design are facing the need, and in some cases the demand, for buildings to be built with the environment at their foundation.
As population grows, and there is less space in urban areas for housing and other types of constructions; it becomes even more essential for buildings to provide comfortable spaces to its occupants, while making sure to reduce the consumption of energy, by applying optimisations or building with energy efficiency in mind.
Urban sustainability and the role of buildings
With many major cities around the world facing serious environmental issues due to pollution, long commutes, and other problems aggravated by a lack of urban planning; the need to create new spaces, or to recondition existing ones has increased.
Urban sustainability or sustainable urbanism, is a model of cities development in which buildings and urban areas are designed, planned and built meeting different criteria that ensure long-term quality results with regards to energy consumption, air quality, natural resources consumption, transportation, etc.
Energy consumption alone is a major concern and target of urban sustainability, as reaching energy efficiency can highly reduce the emission of greenhouse gases, reduce energy costs and boost the quality of life of the inhabitants of an urban area.
With this goal in mind, buildings play a fundamental role in the optimisation of energy consumption, as these are spaces shared by potentially hundreds or thousands of people daily.
Luckily, building owners are becoming more conscious of the importance of a proper energy management plan. Actually, many of them are already hiring professional energy managers, acquiring sensors that feed data to a BMS and an Energy Management Software to allow the building to adapt and optimise for improved energy efficiency and sustainability.
There are many challenges involved in meeting energy efficiency for buildings, but technologies such as Machine Learning and disciplines like Data Science and Big Data; as well as an increasing awareness among people in regards to the needs of our planet, can make this happen.
Designing buildings with Energy Efficiency in mind
It might be tempting to say that it is easier for new buildings to use energy more efficiently, as they can be designed with these techniques and considerations in mind. However, there are still many aspects that must be targeted in order to make the most out of new constructions, and to improve the energy use of existing buildings.
Here is a list of 6 Recommendations on how to Optimise the Energy Efficiency of your buildings:
1. First of all, it is more important than ever to get back to the roots of architecture and turn local when it comes to materials. Indeed, one of the main advantages of building with local materials is the reduction of fuel consumption in order to transport the material during the building process.
2. The location of the building is yet another big factor when building with urban sustainability in mind. When talking about the location of a building, it is both its coordinates and its orientation; as both are factors that can make a huge difference on their own.
- Where to build is an essential question in sustainable urban planning. It is common to build large, modern residential buildings in suburban areas; which makes it even more necessary for inhabitants to make long commutes, often in their own cars, consuming more gas.
- The situation with commuting times and the distances from the existing buildings can be improved with further urban planning and some intervention of the state or local government to ensure proper public transportation availability: Reducing traffic by promoting walking and cycling, eliminating polluting vehicles with limited access zones, decreasing unnecessary road building and reclaiming space for public parks, pedestrians and cyclists.
- Sustainable cities must think about reusing spaces, and getting the most out of the space available. This not only guarantees the preservation of natural areas, but it also reduces the need for inhabitants to move long distances.
- Orientation is yet another important factor to take into account. Getting the most out of sunlight, increasing natural lights in the building, as well as increasing natural heating are measures that can yield great results if taken by a large number of buildings.
3. Adopting renewable and high-efficiency energy sources is yet another big step towards sustainability, and one that can be taken by existing buildings. Reduce lighting loads by choosing energy efficient light bulbs ; install wind-turbines, solar panels (photovoltaic – PV), micro-hydro systems, geothermal energy or biomass among other sources of renewable energy, to make a building more sustainable by reducing the need for energy.
4. Reduce cooling/heating through climate-responsive design and energy conservation measures, using energy efficient HVAC equipment and systems.
New techniques have been developed to help a building to slow the movement of heat inside, which in turn can help to naturally cool or warm a building, using high-performance building envelopes. The most used technique is long-term insulation, as thermal insulation, and this can be applied even in existing buildings.
5. Integrate landscape design that provides trees for summer, appropriate planting for wind, and attractive outdoor spaces so that occupants want to spend more time outdoors, thereby reducing the occupants’ driven additional heat load to the building.
6. Other resources such as waste management, water retention and planting green rooftops are also fundamental to contribute to urban sustainability. For example, increasing the impermeable surfaces in cities, with an appropriate and more efficient collection and drainage of rainwater can get positive results.
Energy Efficiency in buildings beyond the physical optimisations
The ways we consume energy, and how we can make our consumption of it more efficient are very varied, and depend upon a great variety of factors, such as where we live, the price of electricity and other services, our health conditions; among many others.
We have explored several ways new and existing buildings can improve their consumption of energy by using alternatives as well as taking the most out of natural and outside conditions. However, there’s one factor that remains the most important: Ourselves.
No energy efficiency or sustainable urban planning can be optimal enough if we, as inhabitants and occupants of buildings, don’t understand the situation, and how we can collaborate through the adoption and development of more sustainable and healthy habits.
Check out our Webinar Recording about the Human Factor in Energy Efficiency:
In this sense, it is more important than ever to learn how to effectively communicate the needs of the environment, and how we can reduce our negative impact to it, in a way that can get to more people without using an intimidating speech, or trying to convey a message by negative reinforcement.
There is a long list of habits that we can start developing right now that, if adopted by everybody, can really reduce the use of energy, optimise the consumption of natural resources, and even generate positive, long-lasting effects to help us reach a friendlier and sustainable tomorrow.