What is Green Architecture Anyway?
There's a lot of talk in today's world about "Going Green", "Being Green" and "Being Environmental Friendly"; what does this all mean? Interestingly enough, these are not new buzz words and have been an active part of the architectural community for years. However, many architects have overlooked the importance of it until our recent renewal and concern over global warming, energy conservation and the environment.
Architecturally, going green can mean many things. Not just meeting the guidelines of "LEED certification" or some other documentation process that evaluates your home or office building as being energy efficient.
As an architect, "Being Green" starts with good site planning and solar orientation. This orientation on many sites might mean as little as orientation of your roof planes, windows, doors and open spaces. This orientation may prove important to limiting solar access to the window openings and creating proper orientation for solar collectors, photovoltaic panels and other energy-saving roof top devices.
"Going Green" also means understanding what construction materials are considered renewable resources. For example, it only takes seven (7) years for bamboo to reach maturity and may take 80-100 years for oak to reach its maturity. From a "Green" standpoint, installing a bamboo floor would be more eco-friendly and "Green" than installing an oak floor. "Being Green" also means understanding how much energy it takes to manufacture a new product, reuse an existing product, or use an alternative product that limits your carbon footprint.
Part of the architectural process is not only good site planning, responsive design, but understanding appropriate use of materials as well.
Resurgence of Passive and Active Solar Architecture
Passive solar architecture has been an accepted element of design for thousands of years. Unfortunately for architects, this specific design element was lost in the 1890's with the advent of mechanical heating and air conditioning systems. It seems that architects forgot how to design buildings that breathe, cross-ventilate, give you the sun's warmth when you need it and keep it out when you don't. Incorporating passive solar elements into your design can be as simple as extending roof overhangs to protect windows, creating optimal window locations for cross-ventilation, solar orientation, natural light and placing the building correctly on site and using materials that absorb and retain heat (or coolness).
Active solar architecture generally focuses on mechanical means to both heat and cool your building. Most common examples in today's world include hot water solar collectors for swimming pools and house needs, photovoltaic panels that can be connected to your existing utility grid to offset your electrical costs with PG&E. Hot water collectors can also be used for radiant floor heating in your home. While initial construction costs for the radiant floor heating will be higher than conventional mechanical means, the long-term benefits reduce heating costs and helps make your house more "green". Additionally, radiant floor heating systems can be used for air-conditioning as well. Roof solar collectors can be used to expel the radiant heat in your floor on summer nights to cool your building during the day. Additionally, cool tubes in the ground below your home can provide air-conditioning as well. While many of these concepts are not new, they are, once again, in the forefront of examples that can be used in creating an energy-efficient home.