I recently attended a U.S. Green Building Council presentation where architect and professor emeritus Norbert Lechner,  a noted Fulbright senior specialist and energy expert, presented his thoughts on the field of efficient building energy design and sustainability, a topic often considered the foundation of green philosophy.

I learned that reduced energy goals are in many cases easily obtainable with the simplest approaches to building orientation and design. At present, buildings consume approximately 50% of all total energy used, and this percentage is even higher according to some. At this rate of consumption, it will be impossible for the world to keep up with energy demand unless buildings are designed to be more energy efficient.

Professor Lechner named the following building design elements conducive to achieving maximum energy efficiency (listed in order of greatest energy savings).

1. Building orientation (can reduce energy consumption by up to 50%)

2. PA-fruitTreeBuilding color (and add another 20% of energy savings)

3. Window placement

4. Window size

5. Shading

6. Passive solar heating

7. Day lighting

8. Active solar

9. Photovoltaics (PV) – the future

What was amazing to me is that the lowest hanging fruit—the stuff that’s practically lying on the ground waiting to be picked up—is building orientation. Situating your building at the optimal place and angle can reduce conventional building energy resources by up to 50%. That means that by simply considering building orientation as a design factor we can reduce our total energy demand from all resources by up to 25%.

There’s even a movement to create zero energy buildings . But first, we all need to be thinking about how to get everyone on the same page and how our combined efforts can help make it possible for the next generation to save energy responsibly.

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Merrill Stewart is Founder and President of the Stewart Perry Company, a commercial building contractor based in Birmingham, Ala. Contact him via email.
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