How architects design energy-efficient buildings

In response to the threat of global warming, the government is committed to reducing the UK’s carbon footprint. Architects are helping by designing low-carbon buildings. Their professional association, The Royal Institute of British Architects, encourages energy-efficient building designs.

What is an energy-efficient building?

An energy-efficient building is designed to significantly reduce the energy required to heat, cool, light and power the equipment and appliances in a building, so it doesn’t waste energy. Ideally, sustainable energy sources eliminate reliance on fossil fuels, but if fossil fuels are necessary, they should be used as efficiently as possible.
There are several ways to make a building energy efficient:


Cold air can leak into buildings through wall gaps, floors and ceilings. Airtight buildings prevent this by having an airtightness layer and using airtightness tapes. Air leak tests should be carried out by the builder mid-construction.

An airtight building stops moisture building up, improves ventilation, increases fire safety and reduces noise.


A good depth of insulation should be part of every building design. A simple insulation system involves inserting foam into the wall cavity, but many architects specify much more efficient insulation systems, including split stud timber frames that have blown insulation, cross-laminated timber and full-fill cavity systems.

Quality thermal insulation need not be expensive and is a proven way to save energy.

Triple glazing

In the future, all new homes and commercial buildings may have triple glazing, which is more energy efficient than double glazing, the present standard. Many buildings are now being retrofitted with triple glazing to improve their energy efficiency.

Many architects’ clients are insisting on high-quality window frames with triple glazing.

Timber frames

Timber frame buildings are more energy efficient than brick or concrete ones. Timber has a bad reputation amongst some builders and has a reputation for contributing to poor acoustics. Many architects are changing these attitudes by designing high-quality timber frame buildings with acoustic properties that reduce noise.

Ventilation and heating systems

Ideally, a building needs to be warm, well ventilated and economical to run. An efficient ducted ventilation system provides filtered fresh air, removes moisture and has a heat recovery system.

A well-ventilated building is also healthier for its residents. For example, Covid-19 is spread in the air, and the virus is less likely to spread in a well-ventilated building.

Underfloor heating and heat pumps controlled by smart thermostats improve energy efficiency. Solar panels and wind turbines reduce reliance on mains power for heating and reduce carbon emissions.

Building shape

The shape of a building also affects energy efficiency. A compactly shaped building reduces the surface area in contact with the exterior. This can be achieved without sacrificing aesthetic qualities. The users of the building need to feel comfortable and be in an environment that is visually pleasing.

An energy-efficient building may cost more to construct, but many argue that it is a cost worth paying. The cost to the environment from a building with a high carbon footprint is too high to ignore.

Posted by Mark
July 7, 2021

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