Sustainable architecture: creating eco-friendly homes and offices.

Blog Eco Friendly Homes

You might not think it, but the way we design, construct and use our buildings can have a profound effect on the environment.1 

What is sustainable architecture?

Often called ‘green architecture’, it’s a way of addressing the challenge. Put simply, it means creating buildings where minimising a negative ecological impact is as much a priority as function and comfort. 

It’s also a consideration that should be given to every stage of a building’s life cycle, not just when it’s under construction. That means paying attention to:

  • energy efficiency.

  • orientation.

  • renewable technologies.

  • resource conservation.

  • a healthy environment.

Ways of reducing energy use can be factored in right from the drawing board, for example with good insulation. Ensuring a building is orientated to make the best use of natural light is also vital for keeping down energy consumption, by reducing reliance on electric lights. 

At the same time, integrating renewable energy sources, which are replenished by nature and emit little or no greenhouse gases, is a great way to help reduce a property’s carbon footprint. Solar panels, for example, can also lower the running costs of a property for occupants by reducing their energy bills. 

Building with resource conservation in mind means prioritising sustainable materials, keeping waste to a minimum, and of course conserving water. Not only can this help avoid unnecessary spending on unused materials, but it reduces the environmental impact of the construction process.

Naturally, for those all-important occupants, creating a healthy environment is crucial. So good indoor air quality and natural light will help to make a new building a more desirable place to live or work. 

What are the three pillars of sustainability in architecture?

Three foundational principles are usually considered as the basis for eco architecture:

  1. Environmental: Minimising ecological harm right across a building's lifecycle – from sourcing the materials it’s made from, to its eventual demolition.

  2. Economic: Making sure it’s affordable to construct, operate, and maintain for the long term.

  3. Social: Designing spaces that are comfortable to be in, and that encourage well being and the community to connect.

The eco-tech making green architecture possible.

It’s a hot topic. So, not surprisingly, some exciting advances in home energy tech are propelling the sustainable architecture revolution. Let’s look at some of them:

Solar power.

In recent years there’s been a boom in solar panel installations in the UK, boosted by government incentives and falling technology costs.2 As a consequence, homes that are more energy efficient (aided by solar) now command a higher market value.3

Photovoltaic panels generate clean, renewable electricity on-site, helping to slash a building’s reliance on the grid whilst also shrinking its carbon footprint.4 They’re most commonly located on residential rooftops, although solar panels are becoming more widespread on commercial premises too.5 

Wind turbines.

Harnessing wind power is another source of clean electricity, and onshore wind is rapidly becoming a cornerstone of the UK's renewable energy mix.6 In the case of some buildings, integrating small-scale turbines into their design is a viable option.

In general, turbines are better suited to larger buildings in exposed locations. As you’d expect, they’re more effective in elevated or coastal areas, where they’re often adopted by landmark buildings, keen to show their commitment to sustainability.

Looking to harness the power of the UK’s windy weather, without installing your own turbine? Our fixed tariff, Next Gust, provides 100% renewable electricity backed exclusively by Hornsea 2, the world’s largest wind farm.

Heat pumps.

Heat pumps are also on the rise7 as a way of cutting energy bills and contributing to net-zero goals. They’re well suited to both homes and businesses, as well as a potential solution in new-builds and in the refitting of existing buildings.

Both air source and ground source heat pumps provide highly efficient heating and hot water; and cooling in the summer. And a heat pump can reduce your annual carbon footprint by around 44% compared to a gas boiler8, making them a welcome replacement for traditional old boilers. 

Heat pump explainers: What a heat pump installation looks like.

Learn about how an air source heat pump works and how we would install a heat pump in your home. A heat pump is an energy-efficient solution that can provide heating and cooling for your home.

Smart energy.

The take-up of smart meters, smart thermostats, and other ‘connected home’ technologies is helping more and more people in the UK to optimise their energy usage. Find out more about making your home a smarter place to be. 

Over 5 million smart meters are now benefiting our customers, as well as 1.5 million energy-saving measures in 500,000 households in the last 15 years across the UK. And the same tech can be applied to virtually any building, including business premises

Smart meter customers have their say.

See what our smart meter customers say about their experience with smart meters. Meet Elizabeth & David who call their smart meter a 'brain in a box' and they use it to better monitor how much they spend on their energy.

EV charging stations.

Soaring electric vehicle (EV) sales in the UK mean there’s a demand for charging networks, particularly in new homes and workplaces.9 Consequently, providing EV charging is now essential for any forward-thinking housing or commercial development. 

And by integrating EV charging infrastructure, developers are supporting the transition to electric vehicles – another key way of helping to reach our net-zero goals.

How to charge at EV public charging stations.

Learn how to find and charge your electric vehicle at public stations across the UK.

Are there sustainable building materials?

Absolutely – and the more use we make of them, the better. Sustainable construction materials can help reduce the environmental impact of building through their sourcing, production, and longevity. They include things like:

  • Reclaimed materials: Wood, bricks and other salvaged, environmentally-friendly building materials, which reduce the demand for precious resources whilst also cutting down on waste.

  • Timber: Responsibly sourced from sustainable forests, it’s renewable and can have a low carbon footprint.10

  • Rammed earth: Recently revived, this method has roots going back to ancient times, and involves compacting natural raw materials like local soil, clay, and small stones. 

  • Bamboo: Fast-growing, strong and versatile, it’s ideal for a variety of structural and finishing uses, such as scaffolding and roofing.

Inspiring eco building developments in the UK.

Sustainable developments have been around for longer than you might think. The pioneering BedZED eco-village in South London opened in 2002, making it the UK’s first large-scale, mixed-use sustainable community.11 Comprising 100 homes, office space, a college, and community facilities, it’s an example of low-impact living with renewable energy and natural ventilation integral to its design. 

When it was built, 52% of its construction materials were sourced from within a 35 mile radius, and 15% of those were reclaimed or recycled products. Much of the steel came from refurbishment work at Brighton Railway Station, and even the land the eco-village stands on is recycled. It previously belonged to a sewage works.

In contrast but just as groundbreaking, the award-winning Enterprise Centre in Norwich is a purely commercial development. Home to over 200 start-ups and small businesses, it’s been a thriving, supportive hub since June 2015.12 

It was constructed using local, eco-friendly building materials like flint, reed, reclaimed oak, and recycled rubber. At the design stage, future climate data was applied to the building model to simulate the effect of climate change over the next 87 years.13 And as well as being a prime example of sustainable architecture, it’s been ranked in the top 5% of all buildings independently surveyed by the Building Services Research and Information Association (BSRIA) for user satisfaction.14

Interested in improving your business’ energy efficiency? You don’t need to construct brand new offices to make a difference (although you may want to). Check out our guide to energy efficiency for businesses.

Our work with E.ON UK.

Together with E.ON UK, we’re supporting a variety of initiatives nationwide aimed at reducing carbon footprints through sustainable architecture. 

Initiatives like Coventry’s Strategic Energy Partnership (SEP).15 The first of its kind in the UK, this pioneering 15-to-25-year project is set to transform the city’s approach to carbon reduction while helping residents save money and boosting the local economy. SEP supports long-term, sustainable infrastructure planning for the city through innovative energy generation, sustainable transport, and the decarbonisation of buildings​.

Planned projects include a solar power scheme for local schools which saved £72,000 in 2022-2023 alone.16 Working together to deliver projects like this will not only help reduce carbon emissions and lower energy costs. It will also create a swathe of job opportunities within the city. Meanwhile in Nottingham, we’re involved in a major scheme to reduce emissions and renovate the energy systems at the Queen’s Medical Centre (QMC). Installing a renewable geothermal heating and cooling system is expected to cut CO2 emissions by around 10,000 tonnes a year. That’s equal to taking more than 2,200 cars off the road.17

On top of that, work has also begun to replace up to 18,000m2 of windows with double-glazing, to reduce heat waste and improve the comfort of patients, visitors and staff. It’s a huge undertaking, and the cost of £64 million makes this project the largest recipient of Phase 3 funding by the Public Sector Decarbonisation Scheme from the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero.18

In all, retrofitting homes and businesses is vital for meeting the UK’s net zero target by 2050. It’s a goal, and a challenge, that we’re proud to be working towards.

How can building design become more sustainable?

Where designing sustainable buildings is concerned, there’s no doubt that progress is being made. But there’s plenty more to do. As we look to the future of eco-friendly architecture, continued innovation is the key – particularly in areas like:

  • Bio-based materials: These are derived from plants and agricultural waste, reducing our reliance on non-renewable resources.

  • Advanced insulation: High-performance materials, to dramatically reduce energy demand for heating and cooling.

Building-integrated renewables: In other words, seamlessly integrating renewable energy tech into the fabric of a structure itself.

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Published 28/04/2024