Sustainable architecture has emerged as a pivotal force in contemporary construction. Sustainable architecture prioritizes environmentally friendly practices, such as mitigating climate change, reducing carbon footprints, and fostering harmony between architecture and nature. Renewable energy sources are the heart of this approach, particularly solar power. Solar energy is clean, abundant, and endlessly renewable, guiding architects and builders towards a more sustainable future. In this blog post, we’ll discuss the benefits of solar power in sustainable architecture, a history of green building, Leadership in Energy and Environment (LEED) certification, and more strategies to increase sustainability.
Benefits of Solar Power in Sustainable Architecture
Solar power is a popular aspect of sustainable architecture. While resources such as coal, oil, and natural gas are often used to produce energy, their emissions can be incredibly harmful. The burning of fossil fuels to provide energy is heavily associated with climate change, air pollution, respiratory disease, and other environmental and health hazards. Meanwhile, solar power is growingly increasingly popular because it does not rely so heavily on fossil fuels, leading to a decreased carbon footprint and a generally cleaner environment. Nowadays, many homes and buildings are equipped with solar panels. Solar panels are typically made of metal frames, bus wires, standard wiring, plexiglass, and silicon solar cells, allowing them to harness the sun’s natural energy. The panels are specifically designed to process sunlight into usable energy, and all without heavy reliance on harmful fossil fuels. Research has shown that fossil fuels produce about ten times more carbon dioxide than solar panels, making solar a more eco-friendly alternative. By switching to solar, you can simultaneously power your entire home or building and be kinder to our environment.
There are also long-term financial benefits from investing in solar for your home. Many New England states – such as Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine, and more – offer tax incentives for residential solar users. Massachusetts residents with solar systems are eligible to receive a 15% coverage of the total cost against their Massachusetts income tax (with a maximum credit amount of $1,000). Net metering is another incentive to support the transition to clean energy. Essentially, net metering allows solar owners to “sell” their excess energy to utility companies. Solar panels occasionally produce more electricity than needed, and solar owners can send their surplus electricity to the grid, earning credits that can be used towards future bills. If you are a solar owner connected to the companies Eversource, National Grid, or Unitil, you are able to net meter excess energy and save on your energy bills.
Additionally, studies reveal that residential solar systems increase your home’s value. Zillow reports that homes with solar systems sell for about 4% more than homes without solar systems. Similarly, homes with solar often sell faster. Many buyers are willing to pay more for an eco-friendly energy system, especially considering the many environmental and financial benefits of solar systems.
A History of Green Building
Ecological architecture emerged in the 1960s, gaining momentum with the 1970’s energy crisis. The energy crisis spurred the growth of renewable energy sources – such as solar, geothermal, and wind – alongside the rise of energy-efficient building designs. By 1980, the idea of “sustainable development” became more prominent, leading developed countries to adopt widespread energy-saving building systems. In 1990, the United Kingdom set the world’s first green building standard, and the U.S. Green Building Council was established in 1993.
In the later part of the 1990s, the U.S. Green Building Council introduced the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) green building rating system. Its purpose was to provide a centralized framework for defining and confirming the successful adoption of green building methods. Over time, LEED has become a strong and globally recognized standard, even though it first started and was mainly used in the United States.
What Is Green Building?
Green buildings are designed to minimize environmental hazards, contributing to a healthier environment and space. From planning, to construction, to maintenance, green buildings are comprehensively and strategically planned to conserve resources and protect our environment. When designing green buildings, architects and environmental experts primarily focus on energy and water conservation, as well as preserving air quality. Green buildings capitalize on a site’s natural benefits and combine them with eco-friendly technologies to safely meet energy needs.
Benefits of a LEED-Certified Home
The LEED for Homes certification program aims to encourage sustainable home construction, promoting efficiency, health, safety, comfort, and improved indoor air quality. LEED certification is mainly for new construction, but the guidelines for LEED Certification for Homes can be applied to existing buildings for increased savings and environmental advantages.
Homes with LEED certification are crafted to offer fresh indoor air, abundant natural light, and use safe building materials for overall comfort and well-being. These homes often contribute to reduced energy and water usage, as the LEED rating scale can award additional points to spaces that are designed to conserve these resources. Additionally, LEED-certified homes are built to withstand adverse conditions, with proactive design planning for potential impacts of severe weather. By employing the strategies outlined in LEED, homeowners are making a positive impact on their lives and communities.
In terms of physical health, LEED-certified homes prioritize optimal indoor air quality, minimizing exposure to airborne toxins and pollutants for a healthier and more comfortable living environment. The Environmental Protection Agency suggests that indoor air can be two to ten times more polluted than outdoor air. To address this hazard, LEED-certified homes are designed to reduce exposure to airborne pollutants and enhance indoor air freshness through features such as effective ventilation and high-performance air filters. These measures contribute to improved indoor air quality, lowering the risk of allergy and asthma-like symptoms for your family.
LEED-certified homes also contribute to cost savings by using less energy and water, resulting in decreased utility expenses. On average, these homes consume 20-30% less energy compared to non-green counterparts, and some achieve remarkable savings of up to 60%. This translates to lower utility bills, reduced maintenance costs, and an overall more sustainable home for you. With careful planning, constructing a LEED-certified home can be done at a similar cost to non-green homes. LEED-certified homes may qualify for benefits such as discounted homeowner’s insurance, tax breaks, and other incentives, enhancing their overall value.
More Ways to Build Sustainably
Going solar offers several benefits, including reduced electricity bills, a more sustainable energy source, increased home value, and potential financial incentives such as tax credits or rebates. Additionally, solar power contributes to a lower carbon footprint, promoting cleaner and renewable energy use.
Changes in Home and Roofing Practices
Using natural light in your home and implementing a cool roof offers significant environmental benefits. Natural light reduces the need for artificial lighting, lowering energy consumption and associated greenhouse gas emissions. A cool roof reflects more sunlight and absorbs less heat, reducing indoor temperatures and decreasing the demand for air conditioning. This cuts down on energy use and lessens the urban Heat Island Effect, contributing to a more sustainable and eco-friendly living environment.
Gardening provides various environmental benefits, such as promoting biodiversity, improving air and soil quality, and conserving water (mulch is known for reducing evaporation). Growing plants helps absorb carbon dioxide, while also providing habitats for beneficial insects and wildlife. Sustainable gardening practices – such as composting and using natural fertilizers – reduce reliance on synthetic chemicals and minimize environmental impact.
Xeriscaping, or water-wise landscaping, offers environmental benefits by conserving water and promoting sustainability. It involves using native and drought-resistant plants, reducing the need for irrigation and lowering water consumption. Xeriscaping also minimizes the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, preserving water quality. By requiring less maintenance, xeriscaping reduces the negative effects of lawn care machinery and promotes a resilient and eco-friendly landscaping approach.
Lastly, porous pavement driveways offer environmental benefits by allowing rainwater to pass through the surface, reducing stormwater runoff and preventing water pollution. This environmentally friendly alternative helps recharge groundwater, promotes natural drainage, and minimizes the need for complex and costly stormwater management systems. Porous pavement contributes to the preservation of local ecosystems and helps mitigate the impact of urban development on water resources.
Using Geothermal and Electrifying Your Home
Geothermal heating and cooling systems use the Earth’s natural heat, reducing reliance on traditional energy sources and lowering greenhouse gas emissions. Electrifying your home by using renewable energy sources further decreases carbon footprint, contributing to a cleaner and more sustainable energy mix. This transition promotes a shift away from fossil fuels, reducing air pollution and combating climate change while fostering a more eco-friendly and efficient home environment.
Windows, Flooring, and Insulation
If you’ve experienced living in a house with single-pane windows, you probably know about the condensation that accumulates in colder months. This occurs due to the contrast between indoor and outdoor temperatures. Although window condensation might appear as a minor inconvenience, it signals a more significant problem. When cold temperatures penetrate your home through single panes, it leads to inefficient heat transfer within your living space.
This is where double-pane windows come in: the two layers of glass provide better insulation, reducing the need for heating or cooling systems and lowering energy consumption. This increased efficiency helps cut down on greenhouse gas emissions associated with energy production.
Sustainable flooring materials, such as bamboo, offer notable environmental benefits. Bamboo grows rapidly, making it a renewable resource that requires less land and water compared to traditional hardwoods, which typically do not reach maturity for decades and require a lot more water. Choosing bamboo flooring helps preserve forests and promotes biodiversity. Additionally, bamboo typically has a lower environmental impact in terms of manufacturing. Generally, bamboo is able to grow without as much water as other crops, decreasing water consumption. Opting for sustainable flooring contributes to reduced deforestation, lower carbon footprints, and a more eco-friendly approach to interior design.
The rise of sustainable architecture marks a journey toward a more ecologically conscious future. You can support sustainable architecture by investing in solar, exploring LEED certification, and researching other diverse avenues to take care of our environment. As we shape our surroundings, choosing sustainable options is a great way to live in harmony with nature, making positive changes for a better future.