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Resource Use & Buildings

Buildings use energy, materials, water, and land to create the right
environment for its occupants. All of these things cost money and all of
them have an environmental impact.

Material Use
Using more sustainable materials, using
less material, and using materials in the
right constructions can improve the
environmental impacts of building
construction, lifetime, and end-of-life.

Why its important

Materials have their own environmental impacts from extraction and production, and they also
hugely affect the thermal, visual, and acoustic performance of the building. The choice of
materials and building products also drives costs on projects.
Materials are also important because they create the physical space that your building occupants
experience. Toxics or volatile organic compounds can negatively affect health. On the other
hand, the right choice of materials can have positive emotional and human health implications.

Embodied energy or embodied carbon can be used as a measure of the environmental impact of a
materials extraction, processing, manufacture, and distribution.
However, over the life of a building and depending on the application, other factors like thermal
and structural properties can be much more important. For example, better thermal properties of

the materials used in a building's envelope can improve the energy use (as measured by Energy
Use Intensity, for example).
The lifecycle of the material is another important factor. Is it recyclable or biodegradeable? Is it
made from recycled material or rapidly renewable materials?

Design Strategies
Material selection is full of trade-off decisions, and effective strategies vary widely based on
your goals and situation. Its often a good strategy to re-use existing materials, source materials
locally, and use recycled/recyclable materials.
Learn more about green building materials, the environmental impacts of
materials, and life-cycle assessment.

Energy Systems
Energy systems produce, use, convert, and
store energy for the building. In high
performance buildings these systems need
to be both efficient and effective.

Why its important

Systems for thermal and visual comfort all use energy in some form.
Energy production and use is the primary driver of greenhouse gas emissions and global
warming. Energy use in buildings is also one of the biggest costs throughout the lifetime of a


Being energy effective means choosing the right technologies and design strategies for your
building systems. This can be measured by looking at the kilowatt hours per year, per unit area
(Energy Use Intensity or EUI).
Being energy efficient means getting the most out of the systems and technologies that youve
chosen to use. This can be measured by the coefficient of performance of the equipment.

Design Strategies
Energy system design should be looked at as a whole system. Depending on your location,
needs, and the available sources of energy, you may choose to get your energy from on-site
photovoltaic and wind, grid electricity, or natural gas. If you cant get good clean energy on your
site, you may be able to purchase offsets.
Generally, the architects work defines the energy demand (their design places requirements
and constraints on how the building works) and engineers define how to supply this energy.
Learn more about HVAC design and clean energy generation.

Water Use
Water is used inside a building for
drinking, cleaning, and sanitation. It is
used outside of a building for
landscaping, and wastewater and
runoff needs to be managed for a
sustainable building site.

Why its important

Water is fundamental to human health and survival, and also plays a vital role in keeping
ecosystems in balance. Shortages in fresh-water in some areas make water conservation even
more important.

Water is measured in terms of both quantity and quality. The flowrate of fixtures like faucets and
the storage capacity of tanks and cisterns are different ways to measure quantity.
Water quality can be measured in a variety of ways, and you need different qualities for different
uses. Whether the water is potable or not dictates how it can be used. Indicators like pH,
dissolved organics, suspended solids, and turbidity help measure quality.

Design Strategies
Being effective with water is all about using the right kind of water for the right uses, re-using
water as much as you can, and economizing use with high-efficiency fixtures as much as
Capturing rainwater can be a great source of water. Also, plumbing systems that separate potable
water, greywater, and blackwater can help get the most out of every drop. You can also purify
the water on-site with living machines or advanced septic systems.