In today’s world, energy-efficient building practices are becoming increasingly important. With the constant threat of global warming and the depletion of natural resources, finding ways to use resources wisely is critical.
And, in this sense, one of the construction practices that contribute nowadays to energy-efficient construction is modular construction.
At Hydrodiseño we are aware of this issue, and therefore, we offer modular installations for diverse types of constructions such as hospitals, student residences, hotels, military installations, etc.
We know that modular construction has several advantages over traditional construction methods in terms of energy and resource efficiency.
In this article, we want to tell you what energy-efficient construction is, its characteristics, and how modular construction contributes to this issue.
What is energy-efficient construction?
Energy-efficient construction, also known as green or sustainable construction, refers to the design and construction of buildings that minimise energy consumption and reduce environmental impact throughout their life cycle.
The goal is to create structures that are energy efficient, environmentally friendly, and, at the same time, comfortable and functional for the occupants.
Energy efficient construction involves at least these 6 key elements:
Proper insulation is crucial to minimise heat loss or gain in a building.
The use of high-quality insulation materials in walls, ceilings, and floors helps reduce the need for heating or cooling, thus saving energy.
Energy-efficient lighting systems, such as LED lights, are used to reduce electricity consumption.
Incorporating daylight lighting strategies through the design of windows, skylights, and light shelves can also minimise the need for artificial lighting during daylight hours.
3. Efficient HVAC systems
Ventilation, heating, and air conditioning systems comprise a significant portion of a building’s energy consumption.
A sustainable construction that’s also energy-efficient should incorporate highly efficient HVAC systems that optimise energy use, such as programmable thermostats, variable speed drives, and advanced controls.
4. Renewable energy sources
Energy-efficient construction often integrates renewable energy technologies to generate clean electricity on-site. This helps reduce the reliance on traditional energy sources.
5. Efficient appliances and equipment
Energy-efficient construction should include the use of energy-efficient appliances and equipment, such as high-efficiency water heaters.
These appliances consume less energy and contribute to overall energy savings.
6. Water use efficiency
Energy-efficient construction also considers water efficiency. Strategies such as low-flow fixtures, efficient irrigation systems, and rainwater harvesting help reduce water consumption, which indirectly saves energy associated with water treatment and distribution.
By implementing these elements, energy-efficient construction aims to create buildings that are environmentally responsible, as well as cost-effective from an economic perspective, while still providing a comfortable and functional indoor environment for their occupants.
What are the main benefits of energy-efficient buildings?
Energy-efficient construction offers many advantages that go beyond the initial investment:
- Economic: Economically, it is not only a quick and cost-effective way to save money, but also one that can reduce long-term operating costs, improve results, and reduce financial risk.
- Environmental: Environmental benefits, such as reduced carbon emissions, improved air quality, and better use of water, are also advantages of energy-efficient constructions.
- Utility system benefits: These buildings can significantly reduce the electricity demand, which relieves the public system by reducing the need for infrastructure investment in electricity generation by the public sector.
- Risk and emergency management: Greater energy efficiency translates into more reliable electrical systems, which in turn reduces risk and ensures continuous access to power in the event of an emergency.
Therefore, energy-efficient construction should be considered for its wide-ranging benefits, which go far beyond simple innovation in construction or cost reduction at the time of implementation.
Fundamentals of energy-efficient architecture for planning and construction
When planning and building energy-efficient architecture there are several fundamental principles and considerations to keep in mind. Below, we review some basic concepts and ground rules:
1. Life cycle assessment
Energy-efficient construction considers the entire life cycle of a building, from the extraction of raw materials to the construction, operation, and eventual demolition or reuse.
Assessing the environmental impact of the materials and considering their longevity and recyclability helps to make informed decisions and reduce the overall carbon footprint.
2. Orientation and design
Proper building orientation is crucial to maximising natural lighting, solar heat gain in winter, and shade in the summer.
Building design and fenestration (placement of openings) is crucial to optimise daylight illumination and passive solar heating and cooling.
3. Insulation and air sealing
Focusing on effective insulation and air sealing to minimise heat transfer and air leakage is another essential aspect of energy-efficient construction.
4. Building automation and controls
Using building automation and controls to optimise energy performance is another critical aspect of energy-efficient construction.
By incorporating these energy-efficient architectural concepts and fundamentals into the planning and construction process, it is possible to create buildings that are environmentally responsible, energy-efficient, and comfortable for their occupants.
How to incorporate energy-efficient construction into building projects?
Energy efficiency can be effectively incorporated into construction projects through careful planning, design, and implementation.
Here are some key steps and considerations for integrating energy efficiency into a building:
- Set energy efficiency goals: Establishing clear energy efficiency goals for the project is critical. These goals should be a roadmap for decision-making throughout the construction process.
- Perform energy modelling and analysis: Performing energy modelling and analysis during the design phase to assess the building’s energy performance is another key aspect. This helps identify opportunities to improve and inform design decisions related to insulation, glazing, HVAC systems, lighting, and renewable energy integration.
- Select high-performance materials: Choosing energy-efficient building materials that have high thermal resistance, high insulation values, low embodied energy, and recycled content is key for a project of this type.
- Renewable energy integration: The feasibility of integrating renewable energy systems, such as solar photovoltaic (PV) panels or wind turbines, needs to be assessed.
- Testing: Another key aspect is to implement commissioning processes to ensure that all building systems are performing as intended and are energy efficient so that any problems or deficiencies can be identified and addressed.
- Post-construction evaluation: Post-construction evaluations are essential to verify the actual energy performance of the building. It is also necessary to compare the results with the initial energy modelling to identify discrepancies.
By integrating energy efficiency throughout the construction process, from the initial design to post-construction evaluation, projects can achieve significant energy savings and lower operating costs.
Energy-efficient building materials
Energy-efficient building materials play a crucial role in reducing energy consumption and minimising the environmental impact of buildings.
Let’s explore some of the most important materials for creating an energy-efficient building.
Insulation is an essential aspect of creating energy efficiency in a building. It helps to keep the indoor temperature constant, reducing the need for both cooling and heating.
There are several types of insulation to choose from such as foam, fiberglass, cellulose, and spray foam, among others.
Energy-efficient windows and doors
Windows and doors are crucial elements in creating an energy-efficient home. Old or inefficient windows and/or doors can let drafts in, reducing the effectiveness of your insulation and increasing energy bills.
To maximise energy efficiency, it is ideal to look for windows with a low U-factor and a high solar heat gain coefficient.
Similarly, choosing doors with a solid core, weather-stripping, and a tight seal will keep the home well-insulated.
Reflective roof materials
Roofs are another relevant factor in energy efficiency. Roofs with white membranes reflect sunlight, reducing the amount of heat absorbed by the house and thus reducing cooling costs.
Metal roofs are a particularly energy-efficient option, as they reflect up to 70 % of the sun’s rays. Specially coated asphalt shingles are also often used.
Solar photovoltaic panels transform sunlight into electricity, and they can be integrated into the building design, such as roof-mounted panels or solar facades.
Solar panels generate clean energy, reducing the reliance on grid electricity and the building’s carbon footprint.
Sustainable structural materials
The use of sustainable and environmentally friendly materials for the building structure helps to reduce the environmental impact.
Examples include products such as cross-laminated timber, which have a lower carbon footprint compared to traditional concrete or steel construction.
Phase Change Materials (PCM)
PCMs are materials that store and release thermal energy as they change phase (solid to liquid or vice versa).
They can be used in building elements, such as walls or ceilings, to regulate temperature fluctuations and reduce the need for heating or cooling.
Smart building technologies
The integration of smart building technologies, including advanced sensors, controls, and energy management systems, can optimise energy use.
These technologies enable automated monitoring and control of different building systems, improving energy efficiency and comfort inside the building.
Energy-efficient construction techniques
Energy-efficient construction techniques encompass specific practices and strategies that can be implemented during the construction process to improve energy efficiency.
Below, we will review some of the key energy-efficient construction techniques:
1. Thermal bridge mitigation
Thermal bridging occurs when there is a break in the insulation layer, allowing heat to flow more easily through the building envelope or covering.
To mitigate thermal bridging, techniques such as continuous insulation and thermal breaks in structural elements can be used.
2. Advanced insulation techniques
Advanced insulation techniques can improve energy efficiency beyond using traditional insulation materials.
Examples include spray foam insulation, insulated concrete forms (ICF), structural insulated panels (SIP), and vacuum insulated panels (VIP), which offer increased thermal resistance and reduced air infiltration.
3. Cool ceilings
Cool roofs or ceilings have highly reflective surfaces that reduce heat absorption and keep buildings cooler.
Techniques for achieving cool roofs include the use of reflective roof coatings, light-coloured roofing materials, or incorporating green roofs with plants or greenery.
4. Daytime lighting strategies
Incorporating daytime lighting techniques helps reduce the need for artificial lighting.
Strategically designing windows, using shelves with lights or light tubes to distribute natural light, and implementing automated lighting controls can optimise daylight and thus energy efficiency.
5. Renewable energy integration
Incorporating on-site renewable energy generation systems, such as solar photovoltaic (PV) panels or wind turbines, can balance the building’s energy consumption and reduce dependence on grid electricity.
Examples of energy-efficient construction methods
Energy-efficient construction methods encompass a variety of practices and techniques that aim to minimise energy consumption and improve sustainability throughout the construction process.
Below are some examples of energy-efficient construction methods:
Passive solar design
Passive solar design is an energy-efficiency technique that uses natural sunlight to heat a building.
This is achieved by orienting the building to receive optimal sunlight and installing elements such as double-glazing windows, shading devices, and thermal mass.
Air sealing and insulation
Proper insulation and air sealing are crucial to decrease heat transfer and boost energy efficiency.
Installing high-quality insulation materials can reduce heating and cooling needs.
Energy-efficient lighting systems
Standard lighting systems consume an enormous amount of energy. Switching to energy-efficient lighting systems can help reduce energy consumption by up to 75%.
High-efficiency HVAC systems
Heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems are responsible for a significant percentage of a building’s energy consumption.
Installing high-efficiency HVAC systems can help reduce energy costs by using less energy to produce the same heating and cooling effect.
Green roofs are an innovative energy-efficient construction technique that consists of installing a layer of plants and soil on the roof of the building, which works as natural insulators that reduce energy consumption for heating and cooling.
How does modular construction contribute to energy-efficient construction?
Modular construction contributes to energy-efficient building practices. The statistics on sustainability in construction show evidence of this fact.
Let’s look at some of the benefits of modular construction in this regard:
Less material waste
Modular construction techniques produce less waste because they are factory-built. This results in less waste during the entire production process.
Also, all leftover materials are used for other projects, minimising overall waste.
The modules are designed with energy efficiency in mind; therefore, they are built with energy-efficient materials.
Modular buildings, or in our case, prefabricated bathroom pods and modular kitchen solutions, are designed to optimise energy savings.
Fast assembly time
Modular buildings can be installed faster than traditional buildings, requiring less time on site. This translates into significant energy cost savings by reducing transportation, and labour costs.
In addition, spending less time on site reduces the carbon footprint associated with construction activities.
Improving air quality
Traditional construction practices often use materials that contain toxic chemicals, which can be harmful to workers and the environment.
In contrast, modular buildings are made with environmentally friendly materials that have minimal environmental impact.
During the manufacturing process, materials are exposed to fewer pollutants, which reduces the number of harmful chemicals released into the air.
These are just some of the reasons why choosing modular construction for your project can be a great option from both an economic and sustainability standpoint.
Energy efficient construction: A sustainable and cost-effective alternative
It is worth mentioning that energy-efficient construction involves a holistic approach that considers the synergy between materials, systems, and design strategies.
Combining these materials with thoughtful design and efficient construction practices can significantly reduce energy consumption and environmental impact.
At Hydrodiseño, we are experts in producing the highest quality, customised, affordable, and sustainable modular facilities.
We are passionate about providing our clients with energy-efficient and environmentally friendly building solutions while being the best choice in terms of economy and cost-effectiveness for their projects.
If you want to know more, contact our team of consultants and we will answer all your questions.