I asked green-leaning Berkeley architect Robert Nebolon to make a list of the top green-building innovations from his perspective. Of course, he had to make two lists— architectural and non-architectural — and if you know any architects, you’ll know it’s pretty typical that he did more than was asked for.
Robert also consulted a colleague, Steve Means, a certified energy analyst.
Here are the two lists Robert came up with:
My list of top architectural green-building innovations includes:
1. Site planning — This takes advantage of each site’s micro-climate to assist in cooling and/or heating a house. Arrangement of rooms can strongly affect the comfort of the occupants.
2. Downsizing the house — People have come to realize that a smaller, well-designed house can be as livable and pleasant as a much larger house. Since smaller houses require less energy to operate and make a smaller impact on the environment, smaller well-designed houses with “green” features are becoming popular.
3. Informal floor plans — Informal floor plans tend to have rooms with multiple uses instead of rooms dedicated to one use, like a formal dining room, for example. Building costs being what they are, it is best to merge many activities into one or two rooms. This reduces energy costs since unused areas of the house are not heated.
4. Architectural form — By simply applying some smart architecture, reliance on mechanical systems for thermal comfort (heating and cooling) can be reduced. Use of major architectural elements, such as atriums, courtyards, massing of the building, in conjunction with the local micro-climate, can greatly reduce dependence on mechanical systems for thermal comfort all year long. Simply introducing a breeze can make a hot environment much more tolerable even if the temperature didn’t decrease. Look to structures constructed before there was air-conditioning and forced-air systems to see how they dealt with heat loss and heat gain.
5. Architectural details — Use of minor architectural elements, such as eaves, shading devices, well-placed operable windows and skylights, covered porches, breezeways, all in conjunction with the local micro-climate, can greatly reduce dependence on mechanical systems for thermal comfort all year long.
6. Landscaping — Well-placed trees and plantings can reduce the heat gain by any building.
To see the non-architectural list, click below.
My list of the top non-architectural green-building innovations includes:
3. Tankless natural gas water heaters.
4. High-efficiency and low-water-use appliances.
5. Low-E (low-emissivity) glass, used in double-glazed panes with or without argon gas.
6. Use of pre-engineered wood structural components for construction.
7. Recycling of construction waste.
8. Use of durable materials (with higher upfront costs) that will last longer, require less maintenance (with very low maintenance costs over the life of the building). Materials that are not durable will require more energy in maintenance costs and in their eventual replacement.
9. Photovoltaic systems. And incidentally, the State of California Title 24 requirements for energy efficiency do not give credit for PV systems. When the state begins to give credit for PV systems in Title 24 calculations, expect to see many more PV systems installed on houses.