The expression “sustainable development” was first coined by the United Nation’s Bruntland Commission to describe resource usage that “meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
The commission was dissolved in 1987 but the concept of sustainable development lives on and remains one of the key tenets of the modern environmental movement today.
Sustainability is the foundation of environmentally conscious design with green-minded architects and designers understanding that sustainable decisions are made from the get-go in the design process. Site orientation, material selection, room layout and construction detailing are just a few of a myriad of issues that can be addressed by the concerned practitioner.
Locating a home on a site to best utilize the warming properties of the sun or the cooling aspects of a prevailing wind demonstrates the idea of designing with the environment in mind. And one can take this concept a lot further. By incorporating the principles of “passive house” design into a home, one can reduce its energy consumption by up to 90 per cent over that of an average house, and this by simply reworking the “bones” of the home. In an upcoming article I will profile a new home being built in Vancouver that, through the use of passive house principles, hopes to become the most energy efficient infill home in the city.
Harnessing the passive energy of the sun through the use of solar panels is also a method for providing for sustainable household energy but unfortunately, in our climate, when attempting to provide a complete off-grid household solar system, is financially unrealistic for most homeowners. Solarpowered hot water tanks are very reasonable and efficient option, though.
A geothermal system is very effective and environmentally conscious way to provide for both heating and cooling in a home by the use of a simple underground or underwater thermal loop. It comes at a cost but the carbon footprint is essentially zero and the system will repay itself over time.
Specifying renewable or recycled material in the construction of a home is a great way to be more sustainable and only requires a little research on behalf of the designer to find the most appropriate products. Bamboo and cork are excellent renewable flooring choices just as reclaimed building materials can often be successfully incorporated into a design. A little digging will yield plenty of green-minded options.
Capturing rainwater in cisterns for grey-water use is getting more popular and greatly reduces water consumption. As water needs increase so too will these systems. The design parameters for a house I designed on Bowen Island required the collection and storage of rainwater for gardening purposes.
And, of course, there’s the simple stuff: Upgrading a standard furnace to a high-efficiency variable speed model will make a big difference to yearly energy consumption while installing a programmable thermostat to lower household temperatures during the day when you’re out or in the evenings when you’re asleep will help too. Incorporating weatherstripping to operable windows and exterior doors and applying a sealant or caulk around windows, doorframes, sills and joints will keep the cold air out and the warm air in, and increase efficiency.
Designers and builders embracing the concept of sustainable design are becoming more in demand as society recognizes the benefits of a more environmentally conscious approach to design.