How to Measure and Plan for Energy Efficiency in Your Building

Energy modeling

As climate change becomes a greater issue, architects are under increasing pressure to design sustainable, yet high-performance buildings.

According to Energy Sector Management Assistance Program, about one-third of the world’s energy is consumed in buildings, making up a huge chunk of C02 emissions. This fact has made sustainable building a top priority for governments that are trying to meet carbon reduction targets. As construction standards are tightened, it’s up to architects and builders to rise to the occasion.

Below, we go over some effective strategies you can use during the design process to enhance your building’s energy efficiency.

Unlock the Power of Passive Strategies

Optimal sustainability is achieved when your building minimizes its need for artificial energy. This can be achieved with climate-responsive design: design that is perfectly adapted for the building’s environment.

Asses Your Site

First you’ll want to perform a site analysis. You’ll evaluate the area’s weather patterns, as well as the topography of the site and its orientation to the sun. Any landscape features that may affect the building’s energy needs should be identified and noted (example: sun-blocking hills or patches of shade trees).

Plan Your Layout

Getting a building’s layout and orientation correct is the key to designing for low energy consumption. Based on what you learned in your site assessment, you’ll need to pick the perfect placement of your building and its architectural features (windows, most importantly).

When done well, your resulting design should maximize daylight exposure indoors and regulate temperatures to be comfortable year-round. Hitting these targets will reduce your building’s need for artificial lighting, heating and cooling.

Get Tech on Your Side, Early

More often than not, it will take some experimentation to nail down the most effective design. By drawing up multiple concepts and using energy modeling technology, you’ll be able to zero in on the design that achieves the highest level of sustainability for the site on which you’re building.

In 2015, the American Institute of Architects released a report that identified energy modeling software as an absolute necessity for the design process’ early stages. The report showed that:

  • Over half of projects that met or almost met a 60% energy reduction target made use of energy modeling programs.
  • Conversely, projects that didn’t use such programs rarely met the target.

Using energy modeling tools from the start of your design phase will help you keep efficiency a priority throughout your project’s lifespan. These tools also save you from having to make sustainability adjustments later, which can add extra costs and delays. Sefaira Architecture and Insight by Autodesk are two examples of popular energy modeling tools, ideal for the early stages of design.

Designing a High-Performance Building Envelope

The most sustainable buildings have envelopes designed to regulate internal temperatures. This includes preventing heat loss in winter, as well as preventing heat penetration in the summer.

This is one area where proper material choice is a crucial aspect of sustainable design. If you want to achieve an envelope with optimal R-value, consider using mass walls with continuous insulating materials that have proven their eco-friendliness.

Building Efficiently with ICF

ICF blocks are known for being airtight, with almost no thermal bridging and very low air leakage. This feature is particularly important for efficiency, as anywhere between 20-40% of a building’s heating and cooling load is estimated to compensate for air leaks.

Additionally, the blocks sport continuous insulation on both their outer and inner sides, giving structures two layers of insulation already built in.

This innate level of insulation is often sufficient for many environments. In extreme colder climates, some additional insulation may be necessary. You can either opt to use ICF blocks that have thicker insulation options, or you can add an addition layer of rigid insulation to the wall’s exterior.

When compared to structures that are built just to meet code, the lifetime energy footprint of ICF buildings drastically lower. Their impressive performance makes ICF construction one of the most sustainable structure types today.

Make Energy Efficiency an Integral Part of Your Designs

With sustainability being a top concern in today’s world, architects have an opportunity to distinguish themselves and their projects by making efficiency a fundamental aspect of their designs.

Not only will the structures in your portfolio meet the needs of the modern market, they’ll also contribute to a more responsible architectural landscape. By following these tips, you’ll be well on your way to improving the energy performance of every future building you design.