21 Ideas For Sustainable Building Design

by | Last updated Mar 30, 2023 | New Building Design, Property Development, Sustainable Design

Sustainability is no longer a luxury, sustainable building design is a necessity. There are many different ways to make a building sustainable. Reducing energy needs and having renewable energy are at the core of sustainable design. Material and psychological sustainability is also important to building design.


Sustainable Building Design


  1. Locate Near Transportation
  2. Promote Sustainable Transportation
  3. Physical and Mental Health Amenities
  4. Maximize Natural Light
  5. Appropriate Building Size
  6. Existing Buildings Rehabilitation
  7. Adaptive Reuse
  8. Renewable Energy
  9. Energy Recovery
  10. Energy Efficient Lighting
  11. Energy Efficient Heating and Air Conditioning
  12. Conserve Water
  13. Sustainable Materials
  14. Recycled Materials
  15. High Quality Insulation & Air Sealing
  16. Indoor Air Quality
  17. Sustainable Planting
  18. Geen Roofs & Biowalls
  19. Minimize Building Maintenance
  20. Build To Last
  21. Build Great Architecture


You should also look into Passive House Design principle which can be applied to large buildings as well as homes for sustainability and efficiency.


21 Ideas for Sustainable Building Design

Locate Near Transportation

Selecting a site is not only the first step in developing a building but the most important. When it comes to sustainable design you want to reduce the need for transportation. Building near train stations or bus stops can be very sustainable as mass transit reduces the use of fossil fuels. If public transportation is not available develop in a centralized area. You can talk to an architect when you are looking for properties and engage them on pre design services.


Promote Sustainable Transportation

You can favor sustainable transportation in many ways. If you provide parking you may have spots dedicated for electric or hybrid vehicles. People also like to bike its fun and good exercise. Make sure to have safe bike storage and you can provide a few shower stalls in your bathrooms to allow people to shower if they bike in on a hot summer day.


Physical and Mental Health Amenities

Physical and mental health is also a factor in sustainability. Also I am sure productivity goes up with happy and healthy employees. A gym in the building free to the staff would be a great way to give your employees a high demand amenity and increase physical health. Break rooms, separate lunch rooms, relaxation areas, or even a nap space can help promote mental health and raise morale.


Maximize Natural Light

Natural light is essential for most environments. To many office spaces are dreary and poorly lit. You want to think about light intelligently and make sure you bring in enough light. This can reduce your electrical usage and your building occupants will thank you for the nice natural light. Orientation of the light matters so take location into consideration.


Appropriate Building Size

Size is one people often aren’t interested but if you do not need more don’t build more. Build what you need. Do be wasteful.


Existing Buildings Rehabilitation

If you have an existing building and can keep portions of it or build an addition do so. You may not need to do a tear down and new construction. We often build additions in NYC on top of existing residential buildings. Keeping the existing portion of an apartment building and adding to it is a great example of not wasting materials for sustainable housing.


Adaptive Reuse

Adaptive reuse is taking a building with one use and converting it to another. This can be tricky dependent on the building and proposed use. Demolishing a perfectly good building is not a very sustainable practice. If you can convert it do so.


Renewable Energy

Renewable energy is usually the first thing to come to mind when discussing sustainability. Power source is very important when designing a sustainable building. Here are a couple options.

  • Photovoltaic Panels – Install Photovoltaic or Solar Panels to generate energy from the Sun. The orientation of the building is important. Make sure a professional determines if your location makes sense for solar energy.
  • Windmills – A windmill if appropriate can be a good source of energy. See if your local energy supplier has wind power or other renewables available. Build your own if not.
  • Geothermal Heat – Use the Earth’s Heat to heat your facility.


Energy Recovery

Install an ERV or Energy Recovery Ventilator. If you have exhaust fans and ducts in your building, for example in bathrooms, the ERV can use the heat from the exhaust to preheat or precool the air being brought into your building. It does not mix the exhaust air with the new air it just uses the heat.


Energy Efficient Lighting

LED lights are essential standard now. all my clients what LED lights. These are the most efficient lights and they last very long. You will not have to constantly replace bulbs. Their low energy use will reduce your electrical needs.


Energy Efficient Heating and Air Conditioning

HVAC or Heating Ventilation Air Conditioning is a major source of energy use.

You should use an efficient well designed heating and cooling system. System and equipment selection is critical for energy efficient building design.

Programmable Thermostat – Programmable thermostats can be set to maintain  certain temperature and shut off when they are not needed. these should be standard.

Zones – Break up the building in different zones. This is very efficient and one of my favorite features. I like it a little cool so if I can control the temperature in my office it would be on the low side. You do not need to heat the entire building the same.

Efficient Equipment – However you design the system make sure the equipment is energy efficient and properly installed.


Conserve Water

Conserving water is important. First of all do not plant using high maintenance vegetation. Use plantings that will survive on their own with little to no additional water. Your bathroom fixtures can be “low flow” ussing just enough. Toilets can have dual flush.


Sustainable Materials

Do not use materials, paints, or construction glues high in Volatile Organic Compounds or VOCs.

Use materials that can be easily recycled one day if need be or that are recycled. Reclaimed wood is a good example and people love the look of those old wood boards if it fits in with your design. Using local materials also is great for sustainability obviously this will depend where you build. There are lots of sustainable materials in nature for example woods that are renewable and certified. Use durable materials build to last replacing materials is not sustainable.


Recycled Materials

Recycled materials is an obvious choice. There are many options dependent on what you are looking for and what is available. Metal, wood, glass, paper can all be recycled. there will be many product options using recycled content.


High Quality Insulation & Air Sealing

You not only need to use good quality and high value insulation but you need to seal your building to prevent air leakage. I like using closed cell spray foam when the budget allows for it. This spray foam is very efficient as insulation but it also is prayed on and expands sealing all the crevices and penetrations. This keeps the conditioned air inside and prevents the exterior air from getting in.


Indoor Air Quality

Indoor air quality is always important but depending on the building use this will be achieved in many different ways. More industrial uses may have more challenges in this area.


Sustainable Planting

A huge pet peeve of mine is people planting something high maintenance that does not belong in your environment. The planting should not require a lot of maintenance or constant watering. Don’t be wasteful here.


Geen Roofs & Biowalls

Green roofs bio walls are not only nice to look at but can help with sustainability. They also make a great space to hang out in.


Minimize Building Maintenance

Think about maintenance. You do not want to spend money and resources on constant maintenance.


Build To Last

One of the most sustainable features is building to last. A building should last a long time. You need to use good quality construction and durable materials in your buildings.


Build Great Architecture

Build a building people love and they will take care of it.


Thank You for reading our blog post on sustainable building design.

We wish you good luck in your building and making the world a little more sustainable. Please leave questions or comments below and feel free to contact us directly if you want to discuss a specific project.


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Jorge Fontan

Jorge Fontan

This post was written by Jorge Fontan AIA a Registered Architect and owner of New York City architecture firm Fontan Architecture. Jorge Fontan has earned 3 degrees in the study of architecture including two degrees from the City University of New York and a Masters Degree in Advanced Architectural Design from Columbia University. Jorge has a background in construction and has been practicing architecture for 20 years where he has designed renovations and new developments of various building types.