Ultimate Guide to Green Up Your Design

Loft Conversions

How to improve the environmental and sustainable credentials of your design

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Image 1 – See credits below

[NOTE: you can download this article as a handy printable pdf – just click on the button below to get your copy now!]

Environmental technologies and sustainable thinking has progressed significantly over the last few decades and we are now faced with numerous exciting options, ideas and techniques to help us ensure our design has a minimal impact on the planet. There are many aspects of the build that can benefit from a little extra thought and exploration, to discover how we can employ a more sustainable approach across the project.


Around half of all non renewable resources consumed across the planet are used in construction – this makes it one of the least sustainable industries in the world. This puts a lot of responsibility on architects and designers to play a key role in managing climate change. When we talk about sustainability in architecture we are looking at:

  • How we design buildings
  • How we construct buildings
  • How we manage buildings

Below I have put together a checklist/ idea generator, to help you consider some of the many options available when setting out on a new project. One of the key factors, in my opinion, is to think about the environmental options at an early stage, so they are part of the fabric. A design, that has sustainable ‘bolt ons’ is not a pretty or functional one.


Obviously some of these ideas and technologies will not be relevant to each individual project, but they are there to inspire and offer some solutions to common problems we face.

Image 2 – See credits below


When aiming for a green design, we are looking at a flexible approach to making ecologically conscious decisions at every stage of the planning, design and construction process. We need to look at energy efficiency of our building, impact on our planet, and eco-friendliness of the materials we choose.

Building Elements

Wall Construction

Image 3 – See credits below


  • Sustainable material choices
  • Pre fabricated elements
  • High thermal mass
  • Low thermal mass
  • Recyclable materials
  • Recycled materials
  • Easily constructed
  • SIPs (Structural Insulated Panels)
  • Air permeability
  • Modular foundation systems

Wall Insulation


Image 4 – See credits below

  • High levels of insulation
  • Recyclable materials
  • High recycled content
  • Airtightness
  • High performance, low U-value

Ground Floor Construction

  • Materials
  • Recyclable materials
  • Recycled materials
  • Durable materials

Roof Construction

  • Sustainable materials
  • Durable mateirals
  • Low U-value
  • Green Roof – intensive or extensive – consider uses and benefits

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  • Low U-Value
  • Any glazing tripled glazed Low E


Image 5 – See credits below

Windows/Roof Lights

  • High performance
  • Low U-Value
  • Triple glazed Low E

Finishes and Materials

It is very easy to suggest using recycled materials on a project wherever possible, but the reality of this is sometimes quite a challenge. Problems can arise due to client restrictions, material not fit for purpose, increased work in sourcing appropriate materials in necessary quantities etc. It is also important to know whether a recycled material will reach current building reg standards and any other associated British standards. If recycling and reclaiming is not an option in your project consider life cycle assessment of any specified material.

  • Some areas where recycled materials can be considered:
  • Recycled glass as aggregate in paving
  • Recycled glass in glass tiles and bricks
  • Recycled plastic in wall linings, toilet cubicles, street furniture, signage and fencing
  • Recycled plastic as aggregate in concrete street furniture or timber substitute in boards for internal furniture
  • Floor finishes etc could incorporate reclaimed or recycled materials
  • Cladding could incorporate eco/sustainable materials
  • Consider the embodied energy of your materials

Mechanical and Electrical Strategies

Active Ventilation Strategy (mechanical)

  • MVHR (Mechanical Ventilation and Heat Recovery
  • Termodeck
  • Ground-Air heat exchanger system for controlled ventilation
Image 7 - See credits below

Image 7 – See credits below

Electrical Lighting

  • Low Energy Lighting
  • PV Panels to provide electricity
  • Wind energy
  • Reduce light pollution on any external lighting schemes



Image 8 – See credits below

Electrical Lighting Zones/Controls

  • Incorporate varied lighting controls such as motion sensors to reduce energy consumption

Primary Heating System

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  • Biomass systems
  • CHP (Combined Heat and Power)
  • Ground Source Heat Pump
  • Air Source Heat Pump
  • Hydrogen Fuel Cells
  • MVHR
  • Underfloor heating, are your floor materials right for this, is your building high or low thermal mass? Which would work better?

Primary Heating Controls/Zones

  • Zoned thermostat areas to create better control of energy usage

Water Heating (plus Controls/Zones)

  • Solar water heating
  • Point of use water systems if there is minimal requirement for hot water within the building
  • Zip taps for hot water instead of kettle
Image from Zip Hydro Tap

Building Management System (BMS)

Management system that can control, monitor and optimise the buildings mechanical and electrical equipment like ventilation, lighting, security and fire systems. It is good for controling internal comfort conditions, managing zoned areas, monitoring and targeting of energy consumption and so on.

Water Systems and Appliances (Supply)

  • Aerated taps and dual flush toilets to control and minimise water usage
  • In the public sector fittings with infrared sensors
  • Vacuum urinals
  • Rainwater harvesting systems
  • Leak detection systems
  • Specify high efficiency appliances (Dishwashers etc.)

Water Systems (Waste)

  • Recycling of grey water
  • Reed beds
  • Waterless urinals

Passive Design Strategies

Look at Passiv Haus strategies and ethos for a good introduction to passive design.


  • Thermal mass
  • Passive Solar Design


Image 10 - See credits below

Image 10 – See credits below


  • Solar orientation
  • Solar shading strategies
  • Roof overhang, solar shades
  • Thermal mass
  • Allow for occupant control over window opening (this creates instant cooling when occupants require)
Image from Maple Sunscreening


  • Design for natural daylight
  • Solar orientation
  • Surfaces to reflect light but not dazzle


  • Cross ventilation
  • Wind catcher for natural ventilation (Monodraught)

Site Specific Elements


  • Make sure requirements of Building Regs Part M are met

Recycling and Waste

  • Provision of internal and external recycling facilities
  • Reduction of construction waste schemes see WRAP

Cycle Storage

  • Encourage people to leave their cars at home and provide suitable cycle storage

© Mpalis | Stock Free Images & Dreamstime Stock Photos

Outdoor Space

  • Landscaping and ecology
  • Maintaining or enhancing existing landscape and ecology


  • Is your building adaptable
  • Is your building affordable
  • Use FSC Certified wood
  • Use durable materials
  • Always strive for high building performance

Health and Wellbeing

Aside from materials, energy and the physical aspects of the building, another increasingly considered factor in green design is the health and wellbeing of  the building user. Given that we spend a vast majority of our time in buildings, now more than ever, it is even more crucial that we design buildings that can offer a high level of comfort – this includes factors such as:

Internal surface temperature
Air temperature
Relative humidity
Air movement
Air pressure
Air quality
Acoustic influences
Visual influences
I would recommend further reading on this subject, particularly – Green Building Guidebook for Sustainable Architecture.


  • Is your building adaptable?
  • Is your building affordable?
  • Use FSC Certified wood
  • Use durable materials
  • Always strive for high building performance

Construction Site

Construction waste and demolition waste form an important part of the design process. Statistics show that in some cases up to 40% of materials delivered to site leave in mixed skips to go to landfill. This problem has been address by waste separation, multiple skips and waste monitoring which has reduced the figure to 20%.

Prefabricated elements can also reduce waste on site significantly.

Energy and water consumption on site can be monitored and where possible recycle water use.

Transport of construction materials and waste, where possible materials should be sourced locally, and waste disposed of locally.

Life Cycle Assessment

Life cycle cost analysis can be carried out along with a service life planning in order to improve your design, the specification and through life maintenance and operation. This testing and planning can result in improved energy consumption over the life span of the building, a reduction in maintenance requirements and frequency, extended life of the building fabric – and in the long term the dismantling and reuse of some of the building components.

Case Studies:

Lion House, Alnwick

ZEBRA (Zero Emmission Building Renewing Alnwick)

Lion House Case Study 1 Lion House Case Study 2 BREEAM Lion House Study


The Kingspan Lighthouse

First UK Zero-Carbon (Code 6) House

Lighthouse Website Lighthouse Factsheet

Both of these case studies have extensive information about how they were designed and all of the environmental features that have made them so successful.

Note: This list is not exhaustive – I’m sure you will find other things to green up your design, if you do please feel free to share them below!


Check out our guide to Eco Architecture Websites post for more information

Also have a google at these:

  • Code for Sustainable Homes
  • Building Regs Part L
  • Energy Trust Enhanced Construction Details






Green Building Guidebook for Sustainable Architecture – Bauer, Mosle & Schwarz

Total Sustainability in the Built Environment

Passivhaus Handbook

Environmental Design Pocketbook

Don’t forget. If you want to download this post as a handy printable PDF, click on the button below!

Image Credits

Image 1: http://www.homedsgn.com/2012/02/01/passive-house-by-karawitz-architecture/

Image2: http://www.archdaily.com/79756/lotus-towers-enota/k66-nacti-18/

Image 3 http://www.kingspantimbersolutions.co.uk/product-portfolio/sips/tek/

Image 4 http://www.kingspantimbersolutions.co.uk/product-portfolio/sips/tek/

Image 5 http://www.warmcore.co.uk/

Image 6 http://www.archiexpo.com/prod/lankhorst/product-146009-1554911.html

Image 7 http://www.bft-international.com/en/artikel/bft_New_Termo_Deck_system_for_Botswana_2428896.html

Image 8 http://www.bagladyproductions.org/bagladys-pv-solar-panel-up-and-running/

Image 9 http://www.e-tricity.co.uk/our-work/free-biomass-boilers/

Image 10 http://www.greenbuildingadvisor.com/articles/dept/musings/reassessing-passive-solar-design-principles

Image 11 http://www.aj-3d.com/portfolio-item/green-roof-diagram

My favourite Tools and Resources

I have curated a list of some of the tools and resources I would strongly recommend for anyone studying or working in Architecture.