DECEMBER 30, 2021, BY JOHN ALEXANDER
It’s more important than ever before to protect and heal the environment, which is why you will start seeing these 13 green building trends popping up everywhere in both commercial and residential spaces.
There is a special and serious focus on sourcing sustainable building materials and discovering new clean energy sources. Check out these hot recent eco-friendly trends that are coming to a building or home near you.
- Net Zero Energy Buildings
One of the best ways to conserve fuel and help the planet is to use less energy. Net Zero Energy Buildings take this to the next level by actually generating energy. This means that the energy they use is replaced almost immediately, drastically reducing or even eliminating their carbon footprint.
Even buildings that aren’t quite net-zero energy are improving over older models simply because they strive to use as little energy as possible. There’s a significant push from the private sector to develop these sorts of buildings, especially with potential new regulations on the horizon.
By creating net-zero energy buildings, developers stay one step ahead of the game and ensure they are totally compliant. There are several different ways that a building can be low or zero energy. Making the most of natural daylight and installing features like cool roofs are two easy and aesthetically-pleasing methods.
- Prefabricated Modular Buildings
Prefabricated homes and buildings have been around forever, but the newer version that combines prefab and modular elements is new and environmentally friendly. Prefabricated modular buildings aren’t just green; they also tend to be higher quality because builders have much more control.
These buildings are created mainly in controlled spaces, away from environmental elements, pests, and other hazards. This means that they can be much more efficient and ultimately better. Modular buildings take the prefabricated model and expand on it by repeating similar modules over and over again.
This duplication of modules helps maximize the raw materials on hand, conserving them and cutting back on waste. In addition, since they’re created in controlled environments, builders do less damage to the actual earth underneath the building.
- Climate-Change Ready Buildings
Climate change seems like it is totally unavoidable, which is why climate-change-ready buildings are one of the top green buildings trends happening at the moment. We need to protect our infrastructure from unpredictable weather and superstorms.
The construction of climate-change-ready buildings will vary depending on what part of the country or world the building is in. Climate experts assess the situation and make recommendations to fortify existing buildings. Builders will take these recommendations into account when constructing new buildings as well.
Some ways that buildings can be climate-proofed are fortifying the lower levels against flooding, improving the ventilation and heating or cooling systems to account for power losses, and installing suitable backup generators.
Elements like green roofs can reduce rain and snow damage too. You’ll start to see this trend cropping up in coastal areas and places where people are beginning to experience more extreme weather.
- Smart Buildings
The intelligent appliance and energy trend has been going strong for a few years, but now we’re starting to see something even more innovative; smart buildings. These types of buildings strive to use the optimal and least amount of energy possible.
Virtually everything in the building is optimized and automated. For example, sensors and controllers automatically alter the lighting, ventilation, cooling, and heating systems, so nothing is wasted. These sensors can also send data back to building managers so they can make adjustments if need be.
These reports can shed light on where waste is happening and give building managers a way to propose new green initiatives like installing solar panels or a cool roof. Over time, smart buildings can reduce their energy usage exponentially, saving their owners money and helping the planet at the same time.
- Distributed Energy Systems
Distributed energy systems refer to diversified ways to collect and use energy. Since you’re getting your power from several different sources, it’s generally cleaner and more eco-friendly.
Many companies are rapidly discovering that they can save time and money by implementing distributed energy systems, or DES. The first thing that most companies do is assess their current energy use and look for areas where they can cut back.
Then, traditional energy sources are supplemented, or occasionally even replaced, with green ones. Popular examples of DES include biomass generators, wind energy, solar units, and electric chargers. If interested, play close attention to the good work being done at the Smart Grid Interoperability Panel (SGIP) which is an organization that defines requirements for a smarter electric grid.
DES can also help offset the damage or inconvenience done by super storms and climate change. More diversified sources of energy mean that companies aren’t just relying on a single fuel grid. So, if the grid goes down, or there’s some other sort of weather-related emergency, they will still be OK.
- Energy Efficiency Design
One of the best and most logical green buildings trends is energy efficiency design. Essentially, companies make buildings as energy-efficient right off the bat or work to make existing homes and buildings as efficient as possible.
With new environmental regulations on the horizon, it makes sense to build energy efficiency into your designs. Often, homeowners and property managers can get serious federal discounts just by making their buildings a little bit greener. Additionally, you might even be able to get tax-free credits to improve your existing home or business.
The idea behind energy efficiency is to maximize the home or business’ energy use by tapping into alternative energies and monitoring gas and electric use. One of the key focuses is using natural design and outdoor elements like sunlight and ventilation to cool and warm the home.
- Renewable Energy Usage
Tapping into renewable energy can cut back on energy costs and help the planet at the same time. So, it’s no surprise that renewable energy usage is one of the hottest green buildings trends happening at the moment. People realize that they can spend less and care for the planet better with just a few simple swaps.
Homeowners and property managers are assessing their existing structures and seeing where they can cut back on traditional energy. They’re realizing that things like cool roofs, strategically placed windows, and skylights can naturally heat and cool the home while making it look beautiful at the same time.
Water conservation systems and solar panels are also rapidly rising in popularity. Since green options are so prevalent and cost-effective, many people are seeing the true benefit of embracing renewable energy.
Biomimicry can add a lovely natural element to your home while simultaneously lending a helping hand to our planet. Essentially, biomimicry refers to using natural inspiration to dictate design. Frank Lloyd Wright famously incorporated biomimicry into some of his most cherished plans.
Today, biomimicry can both bring us closer to nature and help to preserve it. There are countless examples of biomimicry in design, including screens and windows that use flowers as inspiration for getting enough sun. Some of these more intuitive screens can even close and open based upon the sun’s rays.
Engineers are even using biomimicry to produce sustainable building materials. The idea that the natural world can create better products and systems than we can is at the heart of this new trend, that’s only expected to take off more in the next few decades.
- Water Conservation
Water is our planet’s most valuable resource, making water conservation a hot-button topic and one that engineers are taking very seriously. One of the primary reasons we need to conserve our water globally is the increased human population. Everyone needs water, and a global shortage would be nothing less than a nightmare.
Fortunately, there are many ways to build water conservation into our existing and new buildings in a top-down manner that ensures that we’re using as little water as possible. Some good examples of water conservation include water-efficient taps that use sensors to turn on and off, energy-efficient toilets, and low-flow appliances.
There’s even a push to go a little bit further, using recycled or gray water for toilets and harvesting rainwater for indoor usage. Rainwater collection systems are prevalent, especially in rural areas, and can provide homes with tons of fresh, natural water.
Turning waste into fuel is a great way to be as sustainable as possible. It’s also booming in popularity and easily one of the top green buildings trends happening at the moment. Waste to fuel uses organic waste from our bodies, food scraps, or pet waste and converts it to energy.
Organic waste is a highly effective fuel. You can turn your waste into heat, hot water, or even fuel for preparing food. Builders are implementing this system in homes and buildings. It’s relatively simple to install one of these micro waste-to-fuel systems in your home, and it can save you a lot of money in energy costs.
- Sustainable Building Materials
Using sustainable building materials is one of the top new green trends in the construction industry. Simply selecting your building materials with the earth in mind can significantly reduce your carbon footprint and even help you save energy overall. Plus, sustainable building materials tend to be reasonably cost-effective and easy to get.
One of the best sustainable materials is bamboo. Bamboo grows rapidly and is abundant all over the world. It’s cheap, easy to get, and makes an excellent building material. Many people also like the look of bamboo, so it’s great for floors, cabinets, or even as wall decoration.
Builders are also looking at recycled plastic products. By using recycled plastics, they are giving this material a new life and saving money. Other sustainable materials include solar panels, recycled roof shingles, steel buildings and energy-efficient windows.
Even swapping out just one or two traditional materials for these sustainable ones can save lots of money and help lower your carbon footprint.
- Low-Emitting Windows
Our windows can help warm our homes during the summer, provide a lot of Vitamin D and natural light, and give us an aesthetically-pleasing interior that can improve our mood. Light is vital to our happiness, and low-emitting windows can provide us with the light we crave without overpowering us with the sun.
These windows have a thin coating of metallic oxide on them. This coating protects us from overheating or freezing. The metallic oxide blocks some of the sun’s rays during sizzling summer days. Although some warm sunlight is good, too much can be unpleasant and prompt us to turn up the air conditioning.
This coating can also keep heat in during the winter months, so we don’t have to use as much gas. The coating is transparent, so you won’t even notice it. What you will see is that your energy bills will be a whole lot lower.
- Cool Roofs
Cool roofs can reflect sunlight, keeping your home a lot cooler during the sweltering summer months. Although this trend is gaining popularity worldwide, cool roofs have been used for decades in hot parts of the world. They’re especially prevalent in places in the Middle East.
Traditional roofs tend to be excessively hot, trapping the sun’s heat and radiating it down into your home. Cool roofs don’t have this problem.
These thirteen green buildings trends are significant for both the environment and your wallet, and you can expect to see more and more examples of them.
Chief Building Officer at Green Building Elements and joined us after successfully running the building design website InformeDesign and as a business owner and architect at Alexander Architecture, which served the New York City Metropolitan area. Prior to running his own firm, John was an architect at Gensler in Boston which is the largest architecture firm in the United States. John holds both a bachelors and masters degree in architecture from the Rhode Island School of Design. John currently runs The 1 Percent program of Public Architecture. You can connect with John on LinkedIn.