For some people, ‘going green’ in the home starts and ends with energy saving light bulbs. But there’s a lot more to sustainable buildings than that. Today, there is more of a worldwide demand for sustainable buildings, and ensuring the structures we’ve already built, are energy efficient. Here we outline the ways we can make our buildings much more sustainable.
Bamboo has been used as a construction material for centuries, mainly in Asia and the South Pacific. There are many houses in Thailand and Vietnam built completely from Bamboo. It’s a very versatile and strong material, and it was used for the structure of the Indian Pavilion at Expo 2010 in Shanghai. It’s currently the largest bamboo dome in the world. As a natural composite material, bamboo is very sustainable. It’s also anti-bacterial, water resistant, fast growing and reusable, as well as being able to absorb large amounts of carbon dioxide. However, the limitations of bamboo as a construction material, are that it can be easily attacked by insects and termites, and it’s very flammable. Also, as bamboo is not native to the UK, the cost of importing it is very high. But bamboo still remains a great construction material regardless, as it regenerates very quickly and can be used both externally and internally.
Timber is one of the most environmentally friendly construction materials. It’s versatile, naturally renewable, highly durable and strong to build with. Wood is starting to take over from steel, with more and more architects using timber. This is a result of a new type of engineered timber, which consists of laminated timber sections, which are much stronger than regular wood. Architect Andrew Waugh, is leading a housing development in Hackney, London that will use more timber than any other project in the world. Timber is ideal for architectural designs because it is aesthetically pleasing, and can blend into landscapes. Also, one of the greatest aspects of timber, is that it has the lowest embodied energy of any mainstream building material and far less than steel, aluminium and concrete. Despite the fact that timber is prone to fungi attacks, and shrinking and swelling because wood naturally absorbs water, timber is a cost-efficient way to ensure structures are more sustainable.
Solar panels trap and covert light into usable energy, and can be fitted into existing structures. Sunlight is a renewable energy source, so it’s ideal for the environment. Fossil fuels pollute the air and aren’t renewable, so solar panels would be a great addition to a structure’s design. One of the other main benefits of installing solar power, is that it’s cost-effective. When focusing on solar power, businesses won’t have to worry about electricity bills. It’s a highly efficient and effective way of supplying power. At present, solar energy is being held back by the high cost of infrastructure investments, and the costs involved in the transmission of solar power. Also, about 40% of commercial buildings are unsuitable for solar panels because of structural limitations. In the future, there will be more technological solutions to these problems. It has been predicted by the director of the International Renewable Energy Agency (Irena), that solar could supply 10% of the world's electricity by 2050.
Most electricity is used inside buildings, but electricity on site reduces the need for transmission. Wind turbines provide clean energy as there’s no fuel. It’s renewable and sustainable, reduces carbon footprint and can be used anywhere and on many different structures, so they have great domestic potential. Bahrain harnesses the power of wind turbines very effectively, as the Bahrain World Trade Centre successfully uses wind turbines. They are expected to supply 11-15% of the building's power needs every year. The limitations of building-integrated turbines, is that the wind is not constant, which means the turbines won’t produce the same amount of electricity all the time. Also, many people believe they are unsightly and could disrupt people at work, due to the noise and possible vibration. However, wind turbines are available in various sizes, so businesses and people can use what’s most appropriate.
Urban Green Space
More than half the world’s population lives in cities, so it’s now more important than ever that we have more green spaces in our urban environment. There are plenty of ways we can ensure that our urban spaces are greener, such as roof-top planting. There is a lack of support from the government for living roofs in the UK due to the high costs of installing them, particularly for large commercial premises as costs can stretch into the millions. There’s also the additional maintenance costs, so the uptake of green roofs in the UK has been slow but this may change in the future. However, organisations such as BREEAM are actively working to help planning authorities reduce the costs of sustainable buildings.
At present, they are most common in Germany, as 10% of houses now have green roofs. Also, New York’s High Line is a clear example of how we can make cities more environmentally friendly. The High Line has plantings and is designed as an aerial greenway. Introducing more green spaces on buildings allows us to create more sustainable cities, which will help combat the growing environmental threats.
We may be a fair distance away from fully integrating these ideas onto our structures, but when put into practice, we can look forward to a greener and much more sustainable future in the world of architecture.
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