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N.C. architects share their tips for building or improving a house to be more eco-friendly

Post Time:Jan 07,2009Classify:Industry NewsView:437

As worries over climate change and energy costs grow, so does interest in green building practices. Five N.C. architects agreed to share some of their favorite strategies for sustainable home design. Whether you are building from scratch, considering an addition, or simply looking to improve your existing house, you'll find good tips here.

Spaces for outdoor living

Porches, decks, balconies, patios, courtyards and screened porches connect our homes to the environment. They create places to socialize or be alone, work, play, read, sleep, cook and eat, while enjoying the outdoors and forging a stronger connection with the natural world. Outdoor rooms are more economical to build than conditioned spaces. They allow us to build smaller homes and encourage us to spend time outside. We save energy by reducing building costs and utility bills.

Brian Grant, AIA, Bizios Architect, Durham

Passive solar design

Passive solar design uses architectural strategies to harness the sun's energy to warm buildings while guarding against excessive heat gain. Appropriately sized, south-facing windows, in partnership with shading devices and roof overhangs, are especially important. High thermal mass materials such as concrete, stone or brick can be used inside the house, usually on the floor. These materials absorb the sun's energy and then slowly release the heat to the home's interior. The free heat from the sun reduces demand on your heating system, saving energy and money. Landscaping may also support your passive solar design. Passive solar techniques are most easily used when designing a new home. However, existing buildings can be adapted to passively collect, store and distribute solar heat. -- Alicia Ravetto, AIA, LEED AP, Carrboro.

Efficient floor plan

“Simplify, simplify, simplify.” An architect can help you design a home that follows Henry David Thoreau's advice. A simple, compact floor plan reduces impact on the land, increases energy efficiency by minimizing exterior surface areas that are exposed to the environment, and saves money. An efficient home design can also take advantage of standard-sized building materials to minimize waste. -- Brian Grant, AIA, Bizios Architect, Durham


Making sustainable housing choices begins with where you choose to live. Building within an existing neighborhood or town benefits you and the planet because you spend less time in the car. Adults and children can bike or walk to work, school, shops and downtowns. Creative renovations of existing homes, as opposed to building from scratch, use fewer raw materials and more of the existing infrastructure such as roads, utilities and public transportation. -- Tina Govan, Registered Architect, Raleigh


Daylighting, or the use of abundant, properly shaded sunlight to illuminate an interior space, provides warm light to the interior of a home. Windows placed high on exterior walls allow the light to reflect off the ceiling and travel deep into a home to give balanced lighting levels throughout. Windows used for daylighting can provide views to the trees and sky, while helping you save energy by leaving the electric lights turned off. -- Jay Fulkerson, AIA, LEED AP, Chapel Hill

Cross/stack ventilation

Adequate ventilation is crucial to maintaining fresh air in a home. Cross-ventilation through operable windows on opposite sides of a space can provide fresh air without the need for electricity to power fans. Stack ventilation allows hot, stale air to naturally rise and escape through high windows while drawing cool, fresh air in through low windows. Using window ventilation to cool your house helps you save energy by using the air conditioning much less frequently. -- Jay Fulkerson, AIA, LEED AP, Chapel Hill

Solar panels for hot water

Solar hot water panels are typically mounted on a south-facing roof and collect solar energy to heat water for household use and/or radiant floor heating. The hot water supplements electric or gas water heaters and space heating needs and can reduce heating bills up to 80 percent. Federal and state tax credits significantly offset the up-front costs of solar heating systems. Energy savings can offset the initial investment in two to five years -- Erik V. Mehlman, AIA, Studio B Architecture/BuildSense, Durham

Source: charlotteobserver.comAuthor: shangyi

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