Over the years that we have been designing and building green buildings, we have searched for ways to reduce the tremendous impacts that buildings have on the environment and to live in a way that is sustainable in the long term. We have developed a list of priorities that we focus on in our practice.
Energy Efficiency: Dramatic energy reductions are easy to achieve and cost effective in any climate with time tested passive solar design strategies. Well placed windows and shading, abundant insulation and appropriate amounts of dense materials can virtually eliminate the need for heating or cooling and greatly reduce lighting needs. In remodels, incorporating these strategies (as appropriate to the scope of the project) can easily double or triple energy performance. Further reductions can be achieved with active systems including photovoltaic panels and solar hot water, easily bringing a building to zero net energy use.
Water Efficiency: Simple strategies that are relevant to all projects include low flow fixtures and designing room layouts so that water heaters are close to plumbing fixtures. More complex strategies such as graywater reuse and rainwater harvesting can be adopted as the project allows or can be designed to be incorporated at a later date.
Sustainable materials: The increasing awareness of the relationship of buildings to environmental impacts has led to a growing list of materials that are sustainably managed and produced. FSC certified sustainably harvested wood, bamboo, straw, and clay plasters are examples. Salvage of materials from the waste stream is also an important contributor to sustainable architecture. We are known for our innovative uses of salvaged woods, car parts, street signs, and shipping containers in our buildings. Leger Wanaselja Architecture makes knowledge of all of these materials a priority, providing clients with up to date sustainable options appropriate to their project and budget.
Toxicity: We design our buildings from the start to rely on more environmentally benign materials. For example, we favor design that relies on blown-in cellulose insulation, a material made from shredded newspapers, cardboard and phonebooks to ones that require us to rely on rigid and foam plastic insulations. We also favor natural products that do not use petroleum distillates like wool carpet and natural linseed oil based finishes for woodwork. Many of our projects use little or no interior paint. Our goal is to protect the health of building inhabitants as well as the environment in general—because, we all ultimately live “downstream.”
Durability: We look at how our buildings will fare over a 10, 50 and 100 year time frame. Will the materials and systems hold up in the long term? How easy will it be to change the floor plan or dismantle and recycle the components? How long is the track record for a new material or system? We consider the durability of materials and designs not only from a performance point of view but from an aesthetic one as well. We strive for timeless design choices. Durability limits repairs and future remodels, and saves money and environmental impact in the long term.
Embodied Energy: The embodied energy of a material is all of the energy that went into its processing, manufacturing and transport until it arrives at the jobsite. For example, this includes energy to run the mining equipment as well as the energy to transport the workers to the mine for a material such as steel or stone. Materials with high recycled content, like blown in cellulose insulation, tend to have a lower embodied energy. Concrete and tile have relatively high embodied energy compared to most stones. All other things being equal, we would favor materials with lower embodied energy.
Size: Where there is programmatic flexibility, we look for design strategies that minimize the size of new buildings and additions. Without compromising aesthetics or functionality, we do this by doubling up room functions and minimizing unnecessary circulation space. A reduction in size has a series of environmental benefits beyond the reduced cost of construction: reduced construction materials, reduced heating and lighting, reduced surface area requiring maintenance and cleaning, and reduce floor area for furnishing.
Location: Every site has its particularities, whether an urban interior remodel or a rural new house. In our practice, we carefully consider these unique variables: sunlight, weather patterns, access to the electrical grid or municipal water supply, transportation, views. We also look at the local materials and consider the possibilities for incorporating existing or local materials into a project. We recognize that the set of priorities will vary immensely depending on the nature and location of the project and tailor our focus for each project to those issues that will have the most impact.