The time for Green Building has arrived. Because of global climate change, it is imperative to reduce energy consumption and to utilize renewable energy in every possible way. Over 40 percent of energy used in the United States is consumed by buildings, from the manufacture of materials, the construction process, to occupancy and maintenance.

There are many tools to help us accomplish the goal of energy efficiency. Many of the tools available are ancient and we need only to rediscover and use them. Traditional building once was always green architecture. Other green building solutions are at the cutting edge of new and promising technologies that can help us make buildings healthier and more energy efficient.

Brian J. Billings Architects has been using green architecture principles from the beginning of our practice. Our very first project, built in 1979, incorporated earth-sheltering and passive solar design in a 500 square foot studio building in northern Pennsylvania. We incorporate energy-efficiency, daylighting and passive solar principles, into every project, wherever it is appropriate.

Passive solar design is as old as architecture itself. The Anasazi people in the American Southwest built their villages into south-facing cliffs. The Romans used south-facing windows to help heat their bath houses. Throughout the world and across the ages, people have used the light of the sun to heat, illuminate and even cool their buildings.

Passive solar is perhaps the most cost-effective way of making green architecture, using timeless principles to make beautiful, energy-efficient buildings. South-facing windows, with controlled shading, allow the sun’s direct rays deep into a building in the cooler months and keep them out in the hot months. The mass of the building and its contents are used to store heat. Natural daylighting offsets the need for electrical lighting, saving energy and money.

Active solar represents the more technical side of solar applications to architecture. Active solar comes in two main types: thermal solar and photovoltaics. Thermal solar collectors gather energy using a heat transfer fluid, which brings thermal energy (heat) into a building, for space heating and the heating of domestic hot water. Thermal solar is most efficient in warmer climates, where there are many sunny days in a year.

Photovoltaics (PV’s) convert the sun’s light into electrical energy. This is very efficient, because electricity can be used for many of the building’s energy needs. It can be stored in batteries, for off-grid installations and, in most states, it can be sold back to the electric company, with on-grid installations. Over the past few decades, PV technology has advanced greatly and there are many products which can be used for both new construction and retrofit applications.

PV now includes a wide range of products, from photovoltaic panels, which can be installed on existing buildings and new buildings with good solar exposure, to PV shingles, which are the shingles that cover the roof. PV shingles work best on new buildings, but can be applied to existing roofs under many different conditions.

It is often preferable to reuse older buildings, especially those with historic value. Adaptive re-use means finding new uses for old buildings and re-furbishing them. With all of the embodied energy and resources that are necessary to make new buildings, it makes sense and saves energy to reuse many old buildings, rather than demolishing them and building new ones.

Adaptive re-use includes historic restoration and preservation. A building may be just a shell, or it may contain interior features that are unusual and worthy of preservation. One of the exciting aspects of the process of adaptive re-use is that each project is unique and offers its own delights and challenges.

Brian J. Billings Architects has specialized in adaptive re-use projects throughout our over 30 years of practice.