Currently Reading

A harmful trade-off many U.S. green buildings make

A harmful trade-off many U.S. green buildings make

The last time buildings were as poorly insulated as they are today was 500 B.C.

By BD+C Staff | July 17, 2014

“Green” construction in the U.S. has mostly been on a fad diet – one where trimming energy consumption is focused on the present but not the long run. That is the conclusion that New York-based nonprofit Urban Green Council found in their research on “high cholesterol buildings.”

The research is aptly named because how many buildings are insulated today focus more on how aesthetically pleasing the building will look, and all the green technology is clustered into what HVAC and other mechanical systems will the building be equipped with.

One example of such a trade-off of aesthetics and actual sustainability is in the selection of a building’s envelope: subpar walls, windows and roofs. “Unlike mechanical systems like air conditioners and ventilation fans, a building’s envelope is one of its longest-lasting components,” the report says.

A curtain wall made out of, say, glass, a notoriously poor insulator, has been a popular material to design and construct a building. The final building with all floor-to-ceiling windows, as the report boldly says, is as poorly insulated as a building from over a millennium ago.

However, the envelope of a building outlives all the other components; as lighting and HVAC systems are replaced with new, more efficient ones, a poorly insulated envelope will drag down the building’s potential of being at its most energy-efficient (see chart below).

The research pushes for loopholes in building codes to be closed. Currently, most green standards focus more on reduction of net energy consumption, hence, they make a trade-off where “they add more glass and make up for it with superior mechanical systems,” because floor-to-ceiling windows are a great selling or renting point and are in high demand.

Other recommendations the Council makes are for better glass, better design, and better training of contractors and subcontractors to stress on air sealing and elimination of thermal breaks.

The full report can be read in PDF here.

Related Stories

Multifamily Housing | Sep 22, 2021

Designing for the ‘missing middle’ in multifamily housing

Multifamily housing expert Patrick Winters, AIA, discusses a neglected segment of the market: the "missing middle."

Multifamily Housing | Sep 22, 2021

11 notable multifamily projects to debut in 2021

A residence for older LGBTQ+ persons, a P3 student housing building, and a converted masonic lodge highlight the multifamily developments to debut this year. 

Data Centers | Sep 22, 2021

Wasted energy from data centers could power nearby buildings

A Canadian architecture firm comes up with a concept for a community that’s part of a direct-current microgrid.

Hotel Facilities | Sep 22, 2021

Will hotel developers finally embrace modular construction?

Last May, MiTek, a construction software and building services company that’s part of Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway conglomerate, formed a partnership with Danny Forster & Architecture to promote modular design and construction.

Arena | Sep 20, 2021

LA Clippers unveil $1.8 billion Intuit Dome

AECOM is the lead designer for the project.

University Buildings | Sep 7, 2021

Gateway to the West: Kansas City University Center for Medical Education Innovation

Kansas City University Center for Medical Education Innovation uses GKD Omega 1520 metal fabric.

Architects | Sep 2, 2021

Remembering architect and author Lance Hosey: 1964 - 2021

Architect, sustainability expert, author, and public speaker Lance Hosey passed away unexpectedly on August 27.

Multifamily Housing | Sep 1, 2021

Top 10 outdoor amenities at multifamily housing developments for 2021

Fire pits, lounge areas, and covered parking are the most common outdoor amenities at multifamily housing developments, according to new research from Multifamily Design+Construction.

Architects | Sep 1, 2021

Design unveiled for Copia Vineyards Winery and Tasting Room

Clayton Korte designed the project.

Giants 400 | Aug 30, 2021

2021 Giants 400 Report: Ranking the largest architecture, engineering, and construction firms in the U.S.

The 2021 Giants 400 Report includes more than 130 rankings across 25 building sectors and specialty categories.

More In Category

Magazine Subscription

Get our Newsletters

Each day, our editors assemble the latest breaking industry news, hottest trends, and most relevant research, delivered to your inbox.


Follow BD+C: