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Sustainable Building/Design
Design Principles
• Low-impact materials
• Energy Efficiency
• Reusable/Recyclable
• Local or “bioregional”
building materials
• Reduce total carbon footprint
• Life-cycle analysis
• Balance energy, environmental, cost and social benefits.
Sustainable design for industrial and residential buildings is
an emerging field that focuses on several key design principles to
produce low-impact/ high-efficiency structures. Under the Obama
administration, the Department of Energy (DOE) has re-emphasized the importance of energy efficient buildings and energy saving retrofits to existing buildings. Energy Secretary Dr. Steven Chu
has recently been quoted saying, “home energy audits and energyefficiency upgrades are indeed low-hanging fruit that constitute a
smart investment for individual Americans and government agencies alike”. This concept of “low-hanging fruit” means that a large
portion of our energy savings can be acquired by simply retrofitting
buildings to higher efficiency standards and constructing new buildings to those standards. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has recently released information as to the major causes of greenhouse gas emissions, and residential electricity
accounts for “approximately 11% of total US greenhouse gas emissions. “ A separate study from the National Institute of Building
Sciences reported that buildings account for 39% of the US’s Total
Energy Use, and 68% of the country’s Total Electricity Use. As the
renewable energy sector slowly gains popularity in the US, we will
see a dramatic reduction in the amount of greenhouse gases released from electricity generation and transmission, which currently
accounts for about 35% of our annual emissions.
“Sustainability takes forever. And
that’s the point.”
-William Mc Donough
The question for many people in the US has continued to be “How can I afford to build a highefficiency home or perform an energy audit/retrofit to my current home?” The answer lies in new
emerging technologies and government incentives and tax programs to offset the relatively high
upfront costs. Federal and local incentives exist for people planning on building an energy-efficient
home as well as for those residents looking to retrofit their existing home to meet higher energyefficiency standards. Energy producing and monitoring systems such as solar panels, geothermal
heating units, and residential wind turbines continue to drop in price along with energy monitoring
units such as smart meters, which help individuals track and record their energy use. Another key
aspect to sustainable housing systems is the behavioral trends of the consumer. Responsible energy
decisions are critical to reverse the trend of increasing residential energy consumption we have witnessed in the past 15-20 years.