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We often don’t realize how much our homes really affect the environment – both building them and living in them. In 2019, over 185,000 homes were built and another 1,000,000 homes were under construction in Canada (Stats Can). Despite the environmental impacts that may be caused by housing, everyone should have a place to call home. However, the Earth is also all of our homes, and just like our houses, we should be keeping our Earth clean.

The first step to living a clean life is through building a clean life. The KMB Design Group loosely defines a ‘green building’ as one that has minimal impact on the environment, so this could be referring both to the structure itself and the processes of building the structure. Ideally, the by-product of a green building would be the improvement of the surrounding areas, an increase in resources, materials, energy, and water to the environment.

Sustainable Building Design

The National Institute of Building Sciences claims that there are six fundamental principles to sustainable building designs. The six sustainable design principles include the following:

  1. Optimizing Site Potential
  2. Optimizing Energy Use
  3. Protecting and Conserving Water
  4. Optimizing Building Space and Material Use
  5. Enhancing Indoor Environmental Quality (IEQ)
  6. Optimizing Operational and Maintenance Practices

Photo by 贝莉儿 DANIST on Unsplash

With that said, different contracting and design firms possess their own set of views on what depicts a sustainable structure. HMC Architects have a set of their own 6 principles to introduce sustainable design into their work,

  1. Passive Sustainable Design – includes sun orientation and climate for maximizing daylight and natural ventilation to reduce energy requirements.
  2. Design Active Sustainable Design – includes implementing environmentally-friendly high-efficiency electrical, plumbing, HVAC, and other systems.
  3. Renewable Energy Systems – includes systems that harness solar, wind, and geothermal energy sources.
  4. Green Building Materials and Finishes – includes prioritizing materials suppliers that use environmentally responsible manufacturing methods or recycled resources.
  5. Native Landscaping – includes utilizing pre-existing landscape to preserve energy usage or reduce the need for irrigation.
  6. Storm Water Management – includes integrating runoffs and retention ponds that capture rainwater and slowly release them into the ground to reduce the negative impact of buildings.

Over the past couple decades, sustainability habits have been slowly integrated into our lifestyles through minor decisions such as choosing to use reusable straws, mugs, and bags over their plastic counterparts, but to create a much larger impact, we should be focusing on implementing sustainable structures and sustainable design to help drastically reduce our carbon footprint and potentially provide a net positive effect.

What To Look For

To participate in creating sustainable structures or in building a sustainable life, all 6 of the criteria for ‘green building’ do not need to be met. By integrating even one of the principles from the above could create a noticeable effect in your daily life. If we were to integrate ‘green’ design for a pre-existing structure, sustainable energy sources or sustainable materials could be used.

The most common sustainable energy sources include:

  • solar energy, which would be the most feasible regardless of they type of structure,
  • wind energy, which would require a significant amount of land or area, and
  • geothermal energy, which would require the ability to cultivate the land beneath the structure.

Photo by Vivint Solar on Unsplash

Although it is very difficult to implement win and geothermal energy in pre-existing structures, solar energy is quite attainable. The most popular method of capturing solar energy is achieved through installing photovoltaic panels on roofs, and potentially connecting them to the city’s hydro lines. This way, the household could utilize the energy produced by the solar panels and if any, sell the net positive amount to the city.

An innovative source of solar energy is achieved through solar photovoltaic film applied to windows and skylights. This film can be applied to glass yet appear semi-transparent to allow light to penetrate through the window. This method can be implemented for a cheaper solution as it requires less material but will not be as effective as other solar energy alternatives.

Wind energy is often captured through solar farms, which require an immense amount of area to be implemented. These solar farms are often contracted to different corporations for energy usage.

Photo by Matt Palmer on Unsplash

Geothermal energy can be implemented to residential properties via cultivating the land beneath the pre-existing structure. It can be used for heating and cooling purposes through leveraging the consistent temperature derived from the Earth’s sub-surface. Although geothermal energy is often used for heating and cooling in residential structures, it can also be used to extract electricity. By harnessing the steam extracted from underground reservoirs of steam and hot water, they can power turbines which then generate electricity to be stored in batteries or use immediately. This method of energy usage is very popular in Iceland and also seen in parts of the United States such as, Alaska and Hawaii.

Importance of Sustainable Living

By implementing these principles into the practices of contracting and design firms, we can take another major step towards obtaining sustainable life on Earth. Easily accessible housing, and energy are luxuries that we often forget are privileges. These luxuries aren’t always available to many other countries around the world, and as residents of a developed country, we should not forget that.

Photo by Callum Shaw on Unsplash

The technology is present for us to obtain energy through the Earth’s renewable resources, so it should be a top priority for us to continue to research and develop strategies so that anyone on this planet can share the ability to simply flick on a switch and turn on a light at any given time during the day.

As those who are privileged enough to experience these ‘basic’ necessities everyday, we can take steps towards sharing these privileges through educating ourselves about these alternatives, implementing these alternatives, and popularizing these alternatives.

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