Energy Efficient Buildings Explained

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There has been growing awareness of the importance of energy efficiency, both for homes and the larger built environment.

With increasing concerns about climate change and the impact of human activity on the environment, more people are looking for ways to reduce their carbon footprint.

One of the simplest ways to do this is by making our buildings more energy-efficient. According to UNEP, the housing sector, including building construction, accounts for more than 38% of all energy-related CO2 emissions.

But, what are energy-efficient buildings? How do they work?

This article will explore these questions and look at the benefits of using less energy at home and the workplace. We’ll also take a closer look at some of the latest energy-efficient construction and design trends.

So, let’s get started!

What are energy-efficient buildings?

sustainable buildings

Energy-efficient buildings are structures designed and built to use less energy than a conventional building of the same size. They can either be new or remodeled existing buildings.

Many different characteristics can make a building more energy-efficient. They include:

  • Insulation
  • Use of natural lighting and ventilation
  • Energy-efficient appliances and lighting
  • Own energy generation through solar, hydro, etc
  • Thermal breaks in the walls and roof
  • Smart windows that let in natural light but keep out the heat
  • Use of smart devices to control energy use.

We’ll look at some of these below.

Benefits of energy-efficient buildings include reduced energy costs, improved comfort, air quality, and reduced environmental impact.

The net-zero building design

Creating energy-efficient buildings starts at the design phase. One movement towards greener buildings is the net-zero building.

Net-zero buildings produce as much or more energy than they consume over a year.

This is achieved through a variety of design features, such as efficient heating, cooling, and lighting systems and the use of renewable energy sources like solar panels or wind turbines.

There are many benefits to using net-zero building design.

For one, it can help save money on energy costs. Net-zero buildings also have a smaller environmental impact than traditional buildings, thanks to their use of renewable energy sources.

And finally, they can improve occupant health and comfort by providing a more comfortable and healthy indoor environment.

Key features in energy-efficient buildings

key features in energy efficient buildings

Energy-efficient buildings share some common features, including the following:

1. Airtight insulation

Insulation is one of the most important features of an energy-efficient building. It helps to keep the building warm in winter and cool in summer, which saves energy and reduces costs.

There are many types of insulation, each with its benefits and drawbacks. Some common types include:

  • Fiberglass insulation: This is the most common type of insulation. It is made of fiberglass wool, a lightweight and effective insulator.
  • Spray foam insulation: This type of insulation is sprayed onto the walls or roof of the building, where it expands and hardens to form a protective layer. It is very effective at preventing heat loss.
  • Cellulose insulation: This type of insulation is made from recycled newspaper or cardboard. It is environmentally friendly and can be recycled again when it needs to be replaced.

Builders and homeowners must also consider the building’s exterior. Roofing and siding professionals  can help you pick materials that reduce your home’s overall energy expenditure and shrink your carbon footprint.

2. Natural lighting and ventilation

Windows are a significant source of heat loss in a building, so using natural light and ventilation can help to reduce energy use.

Buildings can use natural light to brighten up rooms and save on artificial lighting costs. According to one estimate, artificial lighting in buildings contributes up to 5% of energy carbon emissions.

There’s an added advantage to lots of natural lighting in a building. For one, it’s excellent for mental health and boosts staff productivity and well-being.

Ventilation systems can be used to bring fresh air into the building and exhaust stale air. Both of these features can help to improve comfort and air quality in the building.

3. Energy-efficient appliances and lighting

sustainable office lighting

Appliances and lighting use a lot of energy, so choosing energy-efficient versions can help to reduce energy costs.

Energy-efficient appliances include fridges, freezers, dishwashers, washing machines, and tumble dryers. They are designed to use much less energy than conventional appliances.

Energy-efficient buildings also employ sustainable lighting, including LED lights, which use up to 90% less energy than incandescent bulbs. They last up to 25 times longer than incandescent bulbs and produce less heat, making them ideal for use in green buildings.

4. Smart devices to regulate energy consumption.

Installing smart devices is one of the easiest ways to improve a building’s energy efficiency.

Smart thermostats, for example, can be programmed to adjust the temperature based on occupancy and time of day. This can help reduce energy consumption by up to 30%.

Buildings can also use intelligent lighting systems to improve efficiency. They can be configured to turn off when no one is in the room or dim when natural light is available.

And finally, smart building management systems can be used to monitor and optimize all aspects of a building’s energy performance. By using these systems, companies can save up to 30% on their energy costs.

5. Own energy generation

Most net-zero buildings tend to generate their energy, which allows the building to become completely self-sufficient in energy supply and reduces the need for grid-based power.

This can be done through various methods, such as solar panels, thermal systems, and wind turbines. Let’s take a closer look at each of these methods.

a. Solar Panels

solar panels on office building

Solar panels are one of the most popular methods of generating energy for a building. They work by converting sunlight into electrical energy.

This can be used to power the building or to sell back to the grid. There are a few different types of solar panels, but the most popular is the photovoltaic panel.

b. Thermal Systems

Thermal systems use the sun’s heat to generate energy. This is done in two ways: passive and active.

Passive systems use materials that absorb heat from the sun and then release it at night. Active systems use fans or pumps to move heat from one place to another.

c. Wind Turbines

Wind turbines use wind power to generate electricity. They have been growing in popularity in recent years due to the increasing availability of wind power.

Wind turbines come in various sizes, from small turbines that can be installed on the house to large turbines that can be used to power a whole community.

The benefits of sustainable buildings

There are many benefits to owning an energy-efficient building. Some of the most important benefits include:

  • Reduced energy costs: Energy-efficient buildings use less energy than conventional buildings, which leads to reduced energy costs.
  • Improved comfort and air quality: Energy-efficient buildings are often more comfortable and have better air quality than conventional buildings.
  • Reduced environmental impact: Sustainable buildings have a smaller environmental impact than conventional buildings. They produce less pollution and use fewer resources, which helps to protect the environment.


In conclusion, there are many benefits to owning a green building. Some of the most important benefits include reduced energy costs, improved comfort, air quality, and reduced environmental impact.

Energy-efficient buildings are designed to generate their energy, making them completely self-sufficient. And finally, installing smart devices can help improve a building’s energy efficiency even further.

Ultimately, energy-efficient buildings can help businesses achieve their emissions goals and reduce their carbon footprint. While they may take some time to plan and build, they provide a good return on investment over time while protecting the environment.

  • Simon Elstad

    As assistant editor at Greener Ideal, Simon champions clean energy, mobility, tech and the environment. He’s passionate about uncovering innovative solutions that power a sustainable future. When he's not dissecting envirotech data, you can find him exploring nature, actively supporting wildlife & environmental conservation efforts.

    To collaborate, support, give feedback or sponsor a post, please reach him at: [email protected]

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