Sustainable Architecture 101: Introduction

Sustainable, ‘green’ design seems to be on everyone’s lips these days.

But what exactly does sustainability mean when applied to residential architecture and design?

This article is an introduction to a series that will bring together all the foundational elements necessary for true Sustainable Architecture.

Sustainable Architecture 101: Introduction

The concept of sustainable development first appeared in the Brundtland Report (1987) that defined it as:

“…development which meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

In the context of residential architecture, we believe this definition is best fulfilled through the discipline of Passive Solar Design.

Passive Solar Design aims to maintain interior thermal comfort and to reduce the need of mechanical heating or cooling by allowing the structure of the home itself to collect, store and redistribute heat.

Good Passive Solar Design can result in a house requiring zero energy usage from the electricity grid and in exceptional cases, may even result in excess energy being contributed to the grid.

Sustainable Architecture: The 7 Pillars

The 7 Pillars of Sustainable Architecture are the foundations of Passive Solar Design.

All 7 of the Pillars are necessary and work together – if one element is misapplied it can jeopardize the energy performance of the entire building.

These Pillars apply regardless of whether one is building a townhouse in Melbourne or an apartment block in Alaska.

The 7 Pillars of Sustainable Architecture are:

While reading through this Sustainable Architecture 101 series, you may also find this Sustainable Architecture Glossary helpful.

A brief description of each of the 7 Sustainable Architecture Pillars can be found below.

Sustainable Architecture Pillar 1: Thermal Comfort

Why are some houses always uncomfortably cold even with a heater turned on?

Human thermal comfort describes the state of mind that expresses satisfaction with the surrounding environment and refers to several conditions in which people feel comfortable and is the goal of good Passive Solar Design.

This article will discuss the factors that affect thermal comfort including convection, conduction, radiation and evaporative heat loss.

Read more about Sustainable Architecture Pillar 1: Thermal Comfort

 

Sustainable Architecture Pillar 2: Solar Access

Why do some houses ‘feel’ airy, light and spacious?

The siting and orientation of a building is essential to achieving good solar access and hence good energy efficiency.

This article will discuss how a house needs to be designed in order to respond to its specific site conditions so that it can maximize free solar energy, thus saving energy otherwise needed for heating and cooling.

Read more about Sustainable Architecture Pillar 2: House Siting + Solar Access

Sustainable Architecture Pillar 3: Insulation

Why is having a 5 Star Energy Rated home not the same as having an energy efficient home?

This article will discuss Energy Ratings, Insulation and the new thinking Australians will need to adopt in order to experience true energy efficiency in our homes.

Read more about Sustainable Architecture Pillar 3: Insulation

Sustainable Architecture Pillar 4: Windows

Are double glazed windows worth the money?

The answer is YES, but only if installed correctly.

This article will discuss the correct application of double glazed windows + doors and the process of elimination of thermal bridges.

Read more about Sustainable Architecture Pillar 4: Windows

Sustainable Architecture Pillar 5: Thermal Mass

Why does warmth in one house give you a headache, while the same temperature in another house is relaxing?

The answer lies in Thermal Mass – the ability of some materials to store and release heat.

This article will discuss how thermal mass is an extremely effective way to improve the thermal comfort in a building and play an essential role in saving energy.

Read more about Sustainable Architecture Pillar 5: Thermal Mass

Sustainable Architecture Pillar 6: Thermal Bridges + Air Leakage

When is ventilation good and when is it bad?

This article will discuss how ventilation, thermal bridges and air leakages contribute to the ability of a building to effectively save energy minimising the need of supplementary mechanical cooling and heating aids.

Read more about Sustainable Architecture Pillar 6: Sealed Building Envelope

Sustainable Architecture Pillar 7: Material Selection

What makes a material environmentally friendly?

Choosing materials for a building requires careful consideration of products and materials that have a reduced impact not just on the environment but also on the health of the occupants.

This article will discuss how the origin, manufacturing process and life cycle of a product are just some of the properties that play a decisive role in the selection of sustainable materials.

 

Read more about Sustainable Architecture Pillar 7: Material Selection