6 Sustainable Building Design Principles for Smart Builders

Image of an office complex implementing sustainable building design principles

Sustainable building design principles allow engineers and architects to develop design strategies for creating better buildings for the environment. These structures are also healthier for the people who use them.

The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) developed a point system called the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System. These structures earn points towards certification.

A LEED-certified building consumes fewer resources, including 11% less water and 25% less energy. LEED certification is just one step in developing sustainable buildings. These six design principles help smart builders design better buildings. 

First, let's look at what makes a building energy-efficient, what goes into developing resource-conserving buildings, and what it means to design a Green Building.

Key Takeaways:

  • When designing an energy-efficient building, your first goal should be to reduce the adverse impact of the building on the environment and surrounding community.
  • The term "green building" refers to the physical structure and the environmentally responsible and resource-efficient processes achieved throughout the planning, designing, construction, and use of the building.
  • There are six fundamental sustainable design principles architects and engineers use during each phase of building development, including optimizing the building site.
  • The primary purpose of sustainable building practices is the conservation of precious (and rapidly depleting) natural resources, like clean air and water.
  • Not only should the construction of the building reduce the adverse impact on the environment, but the daily operations and maintenance of the building must also be sustainable.

Designing Energy-Efficient Buildings


Energy usage in the United States generally includes heating, air conditioning, water usage, lighting, and ventilation. Commercial properties are notorious for the amount of energy these buildings use for development and maintenance, although they have become more resource-efficient in recent years.

Every commercial building generates waste, uses resources, and creates pollution. Buildings constitute 39% of global emissions, just over a quarter of which comes from building operations, while around 11% is from construction and materials.

Additionally, the Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy states that commercial properties waste roughly 30% of the energy these structures use. Designing sustainable, energy-efficient buildings will help reduce or eliminate this unnecessary waste.

What Is a Green Building?

A Green Building is a structure constructed wisely using resources to develop high-quality, healthier buildings that are more energy-efficient than traditional homes and commercial properties. These facilities focus on resource conservation and environmental impact.

The term "green building" refers to the physical structure and the environmentally responsible processes achieved throughout the building's planning, designing, and construction. They operate efficiently to make living, working, and patronizing the building comfortable, safe, and healthy.

Infograph of what a green building is and what makes it environmentally friendly

There are seven components of Green Buildings, including:

  • Environmentally friendly building materials and specifications
  • Renewable energy and energy efficiency 
  • Waste reduction
  • Water efficiency
  • Indoor air quality
  • Toxics reduction
  • Smart growth and sustainable development

6 Sustainable Building Design Principles   

Sustainable building design principles go beyond finding ways to improve energy and water efficiency in Green Buildings. Those play a significant role, but there are four other design principles to know about when designing energy-efficient, sustainable structures. Here are all six (in no particular order):

1. Optimize Site Potential   

Proper site selection is essential for achieving sustainable design project success. Whether you are designing a new building or retrofitting an existing structure, that is true. 

Optimal site potential refers to locations, orientation, installation, and landscaping. It covers how the building will affect local ecosystems, energy use, and transportation methods. 

"The site of a sustainable building should reduce, control, and/or treat storm-water runoff," according to the Whole Building Design Guide (WBDG) Sustainable Committee. "If possible, strive to support native flora and fauna of the region in the landscape design." 

2. Conserve and Safeguard Water Resources 

Freshwater is an increasingly scarce resource. Sustainable building designs incorporate water-efficient fixtures that protect and conserve water. You can do this by choosing bathroom faucets and fittings that focus on conserving water.

3. Improve Energy Usage  

Natural gas and electricity are the two predominant energy sources in commercial buildings. They account for roughly 93% of the total consumed energy. Electricity is the primary energy source, while natural gas consumption accounts for only about 11% of the total energy usage.

In commercial buildings, lighting, refrigeration, and ventilation use the most energy. Computers and office equipment take up less than 15%, and space heating takes up the least energy. 

Bar graph of the U.S. commercial building electricity use by end-uses  

Knowing how the electricity gets used in a commercial building helps engineers and architects design buildings that consume less energy and become net-zero energy buildings.

Improving the energy performance of existing structures and newly constructed buildings will help increase the nation's energy independence. It will also reduce the country's dependence on fossil fuels.

4. Maximize Building Material Use  

This principle entails using reusable and recycled building materials during sustainable building construction. Engineers and architects designed these structures to use and reuse materials sustainably and productively throughout the building's lifecycle.

5. Enhance Indoor Environmental Quality (IEQ)   

A building's indoor environmental quality (IEQ) significantly impacts occupant comfort, health, and productivity. Sustainable buildings maximize natural light, offer suitable ventilation, enhance acoustic performance, and avoid high-VOC emissions materials. Also, modifications to the HVAC system can improve commercial air quality.

6. Improve Operational and Maintenance Procedures

Architects, engineers, and contractors collaborate to specify systems and materials that streamline operational procedures and reduce maintenance requirements. These practices seek to reduce energy and water usage and use fewer toxic chemicals.

When you streamline cleanup and maintenance in a commercial building, you improve building durability and occupant health. There are also financial benefits of sustainable building designs, such as:

  • 35% energy savings 
  • 15-30% savings on cleaning costs
  • 20-60% water savings

Discover the Latest Innovation in Building Technology at Chicago Faucets 

You can enhance energy efficiency with the integration of sustainable engineering and architecture. It will directly impact the environment, economy, and society at large. Even the finest details make a significant difference, like installing energy-efficient faucets and fixtures.

At Chicago Faucets, our faucets help you protect and conserve water and energy resources. We offer the latest innovations in plumbing technology so that your next sustainable building project has the fixtures and fittings needed for a green building. 

Are you looking to incorporate more sustainable building designs in your future projects? Contact us to learn how we can help with your next green building design.

Topics: Innovation in building technology, sustainable building design, sustainable buildings, sustainable designs