Sustainable building design: the key principles

When we think of sustainable building design we usually think about goals in three main areas: environment, people and costs.

Firstly, the environment goal – to reduce the consumption of natural resources such as water, energy and raw materials and to prevent environmental damage that can be caused by the construction process.

Secondly, to provide a comfortable, easy, safe and productive environment for the people living and working in the building.


A wooden residential building

Finally, to optimise the construction and operation of the building to reduce costs.

To achieve these goals, each must be considered with equal importance in the design and construction stages.

Six major sustainable building design principles

The sustainable framework is the product of evolving technology and environmental awareness over the past few years. Buildings have long been thought of as ecosystems and, as with all living ecosystems, buildings use resources and generate waste. But, through recent advances in sustainable building design, energy efficiency technology, and construction and facilities management software, resource usage and waste can be reduced.

Although there are no enforced regulations around sustainable building design in the UK, many groups are championing this cause and developing mechanisms for UK construction firms and architects to focus on creating sustainable buildings. Organisations such as BREEAM and the UK Green Building Council are leading the way in voluntary accreditation and code schemes.

The National Institute of Building Services, based in the United States, developed the Whole Building Design Guide (WBDG) to advance the communication between industry and academia and progress the construction of high-performing facilities. These guidelines bring useful learnings for sustainable construction, no matter the location.

The WBDG highlights six sustainable building design principles:

  1. Site optimisation

Sustainable building design starts from the site selection, including the location, orientation, landscape and parking areas. These parameters affect the local ecosystem and the energy consumption within the building. Above all, site optimisation and building design must be complementary.

  1. Energy efficiency

The term sustainability is often closely associated with climate change and energy dependence. Designing and operating net-zero energy buildings is an important step towards sustainable building design. A major aim is to reduce dependence on fossil fuels. Improving the energy efficiency of existing buildings can play a big role in reducing energy consumption but new buildings must be created with long-term energy efficiency in mind.

  1. Water Conservation

Many areas of the world are facing increasing freshwater scarcity and sustainable building design should seek to minimise the construction of ground layers that affect the freshwater stock. Accordingly, new buildings should encourage water efficiency and reduce and recycle waste streams wherever possible.

  1. Material optimisation

Natural resource consumption is increasing in line with the rapid growth of the world’s population. Integrated and intelligent material use is crucial when supplies are limited. Sustainable building design should look to reduce the use of resources and minimise toxicity to reduce environmental impact.

  1. Indoor environmental quality enhancement

A building’s indoor environmental quality has a significant impact on occupant health, comfort, and productivity. Sustainable buildings consequently maximise natural light, facilitate natural ventilation, control moisture levels, optimise comfortable acoustic levels and avoid materials with high volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions.

  1. Operational optimisation

Architects and designers can specify materials and systems that reduce maintenance requirements, require less energy and water, and produce less waste. Planning for operation and maintenance during the design phase will improve the working environment, increase productivity and prevent breakdowns.

Building designers, contractors and owners each face unique challenges to meet the demand for new or renovated sustainable buildings that are balanced with secure, healthy and productive environments.

Sustainable building design and construction requires collaboration and clear communication. Strict guidelines also need to be established for the design and construction phases to achieve clear and unified goals. Construction software, such as PlanRadar, can provide the common landscape for effective communication between all project members as they meet daily construction challenges.

The sustainable building design life cycle

Build Up, the European Portal for Energy Efficiency in Buildings incorporates sustainable building design into a life cycle assessment (LCA) methodology. It considers the environmental impact of a building throughout its lifecycle, in terms of the processes and materials used within the construction and operation of a building and its energy use. The methodology also considers three areas of protection: human health, the natural environment and natural resources.

The methodology includes many objectives, such as:

  • Saving energy and water
  • Protecting the climate
  • Protecting natural ecosystems, such as forests, rivers and lakes
  • Improving air quality
  • Reducing waste.

The LCA methodology created by Build Up has led to the German Sustainable Building Council (DGNB) putting together a guide on how to use the LCA. It focuses on the benefits of taking a life cycle assessment approach to sustainable building design. It also explores how these approaches can be employed in the planning stages and how the results of this planning might be communicated.

Sustainable buildings in the UK

The main sustainable building design initiative in the UK is the BREEAM assessment method, delivered by the BRE group. BREEAM evaluates assets throughout a building’s lifecycle and also provides third-party certification of its environmental, social and economic sustainability performance. BREEAM certification is available for all buildings and incorporates key sustainability issues in nine categories:

  • Energy
  • Waste
  • Water
  • Materials
  • Health and wellbeing
  • Transport
  • Pollution
  • Land use and ecology
  • Management

BRE Group also operates the Home Quality Mark (HQM) for the certification of new homes. Once a compulsory certification, homebuilders now apply for this certification voluntarily. The HQM awards homes with a star rating based on the standard of the home’s design, construction and sustainability. Additional indicators also evaluate a home’s cost, contribution to wellbeing and carbon footprint.

How can PlanRadar help with sustainable design?

While current sustainability strategies and initiatives focus on the global view and high-level objectives, they omit the project detail, the practical considerations around decision making and the impact of the complex operations that exist within the construction process.

Previously, quality assurance was often difficult to manage, with inconsistencies and information gaps preventing clear communication between internal and external project teams. Inefficient data recording and defect management, using digital cameras, voice recorders and written plan notes, also often resulted in a confusing flood of information. This information was communicated and documented via different channels resulting in various versions of documents and, in the worst case, the loss of information.

With PlanRadar, these scenarios are finally a thing of the past.

PlanRadar simplifies the interconnected roles and duties that exist on modern construction sites, helping teams to achieve faster workflows. Digital documentation for defects is easy to create, access and track through this smartphone-based app. PlanRadar saves teams on average up to seven working hours per week, the equivalent of £8,925 per construction manager per year, based on average salaries in the UK in 2020. Considering the cost of the PlanRadar license, this results in a return on investment of over 397%.

 

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