Designing a New Home or Building

Take the first steps towards integrated design

Whole building design or integrated design are terms that describe how all aspects of building and design are interrelated. For homes, integrated design can be as simple as choosing a building material that provides the necessary insulation and then utilizing natural air flow to keep the home cool in the summer without an air conditioner. It's simply a matter of taking the whole picture into account when making smaller decisions.

For commercial buildings, integrated design can save money by reducing the size of systems through careful design and planning. For example, if a building has good natural lighting (called daylighting), the need for electric lighting is decreased. Lowering the use of electric lighting reduces the amount of energy used and also the amount of heat generated in the building from lighting. Lowering the amount of heat being generated decreases the cooling needs for the building, allowing for a smaller air conditioning unit to be installed and saving money.

Working with an architect who is experienced with sustainable design will help you to get the best building for your budget. List of professional databases.

Natural Building: If you are interested in straw bale, cob, rammed earth and other less usual home building materials and practices, this website will give you the introduction you need, recommend related books and link you to other sites.

Whole Building Design Guide: A Building Professional's Gateway to Up-to-Date Information on Integrated Design. Design Guidance, Project Management and Resource Information with special sections on building types. The resource guides are particularly helpful and include a range of topics. The easiest way to find the resource guides is the site map. Two examples of resource guides:

Incorporate passive solar design

Passive solar heating and cooling design utilizes the sun's heat in the winter to warm the building, materials that will help regulate building temperature, and operable windows and shading to provide natural cooling and ventilation in the summer.

Thermal mass, or some substance such as bricks, concrete, ceramic, is necessary to store the sun's heat and release it slowly during cooler hours. Sufficient insulation and ventilation, proper windows and roof, and good landscaping design are other aspects of passive solar design. According to the Passive Solar Heating and Cooling Collaborative in California, passive solar design can decrease a building's heating expense by 75% and can eliminate the need for cooling.

Sustainable Building Design:The City of Austin's Green Building Program offers excellent resources for their builders and designers including these guidelines.

Passive Solar History: Early man chose or constructed dwellings that were naturally heated and cooled. Now you can explore the history of passive solar technology beginning with Ancient Greece.

DOE Passive Solar Design for the Home: Fact sheet by the Department of Energy

NREL Case Studies: the National Renewable Energy Laboratory offers case studies on several passive solar homes.

Determine window placement, size, and energy efficiency

Energy Efficient Windows has information on how to determine the best windows and skylights for your new or existing home.

In addition to purchasing energy-efficient windows, consider different design strategies on the different sides of your house:

South-facing. South windows are great for providing year-round daylight and winter warmth. Consider designing your home with more windows on the south side than the other sides. A small overhang or awning will keep out direct beams of sunlight in the hot summer months.

North-facing. North windows provide balanced, glare-free daylight all year, and don't usually require exterior shading because the sun doesn't hit the north side of the house. If the north light is too bright, use interior blinds or shades.

East-facing: The morning sun on east windows can provide pleasant warmth on cool mornings, but may cause uncomfortable glare. Exterior overhangs aren't much help because the sun hits the east windows at a low angle. Instead, use interior blinds or shades if glare is a problem.

West-facing: It's hard to keep the hot late afternoon and evening sun off of west windows because it hits the house at a low angle. To prevent overheating in the hot months, design your home with fewer west-facing windows, or plant deciduous trees and vines to shade the west side.

Plan for a cool roof

The kind of roof you put on your home or building and the way it is insulated can make a large difference in the inside temperature as well as how much your roof contributes to heating up your surrounding neighborhood. Whether you are planning a new home or re-roofing, consider a cool roof.

For commercial buildings, adding a vegetated roof or roof garden will not only add visual appeal and energy efficiency, but will also reduce heat gain in the surrounding area and control storm water run off. More information is available in our green roof section.

Utilize the sun's energy

In addition to capturing the sun's energy with passive solar design, it can be harnessed to generate electricity with photovoltaic systems and to heat water with solar water heaters. The RecycleWorks solar page has detailed information on PV and solar hot water. If you are designing a new home or building you might want to consider an integrated photovoltaic system, which combines the roof and the photovoltaic system into one product and offers a uniform look. A list of companies selling or manufacturing integrated PV products are available from Source Guides.

National Institute of Standards and Technology: Their building is being used to test the electrical performance of Integrated PV.

Choose less toxic, energy-efficient, resource sensitive, and green materials

The RecycleWorks Green Building Materials Guide and other databases of information can be found in our Green Building Products section. If you are building a new home, your architect may know of other sustainable products. This is a rapidly changing and innovative field. Materials that are locally produced or manufactured reduce energy use for shipping and can provide a market for recycled materials. Choosing salvaged materials makes the least impact on the environment and creates the least amount of pollution. The Jasper Ridge Field School made use of salvaged redwood siding, bricks, and other items.

Indoor Air Quality: information on toxic products found in regular building materials, such as formaldehyde in particle board, and the chemicals you should be concerned with in finishes, paints, and solvents.

Vinyl flooring and siding are used frequently and with the debut of the movie, Blue Vinyl, have become the target of much debate. A safe, environmentally sensitive alternative to vinyl flooring is linoleum, a durable, low-maintenance, natural product made of linseed oil, pine resin, and wood flour.

More information on green materials can be found at Becoming a Green Homeowner.

Recycle construction and demolition debris (C&D) and salvage leftover materials

Making sure that your contractor and his subcontractors recycle all the debris and leftover materials is easy to do and makes a big difference in the amount of waste being landfilled in San Mateo County. RecycleWorks has three C&D Guides and salvage information, and also offers personalized help if you call the hotline at 1-888-442-2666.

Make use of available rebates

The State of California and different agencies and utilities offer rebates regularly for energy efficiency and other environmentally sensitive choices. However, given the current state of the budget, all rebates and incentives are somewhat tentative and you should verify information before making decisions or purchases. In some cases, the rebates may not be currently available but funding is pending.

Visit the RecycleWorks Environmental Rebates & Incentives page.