Key components of sustainable architecture for apartments

Market research for the housing industry shows that renters prefer living in sustainable apartment buildings. Taking a sustainable route in apartment construction costs roughly the same as using traditional materials and methods. In addition, sustainable apartment building design can financially benefit landlords by reducing energy costs.

Office buildings, homes, and apartments all take a substantial amount of energy to construct and maintain. However, having a roof over your head doesn’t have to come with a high environmental cost. Keep reading to learn about the key components of sustainable architecture and how you can incorporate them into your apartment.

Sustainable apartment buildings

The goal of sustainable construction is to minimize a building’s impact on the environment. 

There are many ways to achieve this goal, ranging from using non-toxic building materials to improving energy efficiency. Ideally, sustainable architecture should actually benefit the environment.

Sustainable design principles benefit residents and landlords as well. Sustainable materials create healthier environments and energy efficiency reduces the cost of utilities. Eco-friendly apartments also attract good publicity and responsible tenants. Here are five key tenets of sustainable apartment building design.

Passive house apartments

Passive homes are built with a tight outer envelope so that warm or cool air doesn’t easily leave the building. Enhanced insulation means tenants need less energy for heating and cooling their homes. Triple-pane windows can also help keep homes cool in the summer and warm in winter.

Research from the U.S. Energy Information Administration found that between 32% and 44% of total energy use in 2015 apartments went solely to temperature control. Water heating was the next largest category, at 27% to 32% of total energy use. Reducing heating needs alone has a big impact on apartment energy use.

Because passive homes are so tightly sealed, air ventilation can become a problem. Without proper ventilation, mold and other forms of air pollution can build up inside the home. A heat recovery ventilation system will circulate the air without disrupting internal temperatures and requiring more energy.

Architects design passive homes so that their exterior can interact safely with the environment. For example, roofs and balconies should be sloped properly for water run-off. This keeps rain and snow where it belongs – in the surrounding environment rather than leaking into the home. Exterior materials on passive homes are non-toxic and have a low environmental impact.

Renewable energy design

Some apartment buildings are built to achieve net-zero, meaning their total impact on the environment should be zero once they’re up and running. To achieve this, net-zero buildings produce as much energy as they use. This energy is gathered with renewable energy technologies like solar and geothermal.

Heat pumps can significantly reduce the impact of heating water inside apartment buildings. Solar panels collect heat during sunny seasons and store excess energy for rainy days, cold seasons, and dark periods. To reduce costs, building infrastructure is optimized to need as little energy as possible.

Sustainable apartment building design has to consider every detail. Through careful calculations, engineers can balance out the energy needs of a building with renewable energy solutions. Because every location poses different problems, every sustainable apartment building runs differently.

Weather conditions also impact plans for renewable energy. In warmer climates, cooling is more of an issue than heating. Reflective roofs deflect heat and soak up the sun’s energy with solar panels. Apartments in cold, rainy climates may rely on geothermal heating and radiant flooring instead.

Green building materials

Many traditional building materials contain toxic chemicals like formaldehyde and volatile organic chemicals (VOCs). These chemicals pollute indoor air and damage the outdoors when their materials break down.

Because they’re not toxic, green building materials are healthier for people and the planet.

For example, green insulation keeps apartments warm without compromising on toxicity. Some eco-friendly insulation options include rockwool, recycled denim, sheep’s wool, and cork. Construction professionals can also use plywood that’s free of formaldehyde for a safer home.

Building materials like paint, carpet, and wood finishes can all be switched out for products with low VOC levels. Companies that are interested in green building can also find secondhand materials or purchase local building products.

Sustainable apartment buildings should consider the environmental impact of their materials from construction to demolition. Choosing natural solutions instead of chemicals has a positive impact on construction workers, tenants, and the natural environment. It also supports a healthier market.

Energy-efficient appliances

The first step for building passive house apartments is to reduce energy consumption as much as possible. One of the best ways to achieve this is by installing energy-efficient appliances. After heating and cooling, lighting and refrigeration take up the most energy in an apartment.

Landlords can reduce the energy costs for heating water by choosing a heat pump. Tankless water heaters also use less energy to run because they heat water on demand rather than storing it. To maximize energy with lighting, landlords can choose LED models that last a long time and take less energy to run.

Many appliances that use water come in low-flow models designed to reduce water use without impacting performance. For example, landlords can consider low-water washing machines, low-flow toilets, and shower heads that reduce the number of gallons flowing per minute.

For the kitchen, Energy Star appliances maximize electricity for high efficiency without excessive energy consumption. These appliances are certified by a government program designed to help consumers save energy and cut costs for running their homes. Each of these appliances comes with an EnergyGuide label that explains more about its energy use.

Eco-friendly landscaping

Landscaping is another key component of sustainable apartment buildings. Plants can be used to enhance tenants’ quality of life while protecting native species of plants, birds, and insects. The location of plants can also affect indoor temperature, making landscaping a useful design element for passive house apartments.

Landlords can reduce or eliminate pesticides by carefully planning apartment landscapes. Choosing the right plants also reduces the need for constant upkeep. For example, rock landscaping in desert areas means less watering, pruning, and lawn maintenance.

Trees can be planted so they keep apartments cool by shading large windows in the summer. East windows should be left unblocked for cool morning light, while west windows can be shaded as protection from the low, hot heat of the setting sun. Awnings can also help with this.

Apartment landscaping can also be designed to retain water or direct it away from the building. This reduces flooding issues and can cut the costs of watering the landscape. Plants should be chosen for their resilience to local conditions and ease of care. For example, walnut trees aren’t a good choice because their fruit is so messy.

Sustainable apartment building design

Housing has a measurable impact on the environment through the use of building materials and energy needs. Sustainable apartment buildings take this into consideration and are designed to reduce any negative environmental impact. To cut down energy use, you can build passive house apartments.

The initial design, materials, and appliances are what make apartment buildings sustainable for the long term. Although sustainable apartment buildings cost more upfront, these costs quickly pay for themselves through the energy efficiency of the building. The environmental cost is reduced and tenants are able to live healthier, happier lives.

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Emily Newton