Building Envelope

Photo by Andreas Lechtape, courtesy NBK Architectural Terracotta

OVERVIEW

The building envelope protects us from the elements, enables comfort, and ultimately allows us to be at home in our houses, to be productive at the office, to learn in school, or to heal in the hospital.

A building envelope—also commonly called a "building enclosure," should:

  • support comfort

  • manage moisture

  • not poison us or the planet

  • allow us to breathe clean air

When possible, it should do all this while using resources effectively—durably, energy-efficiently, and with low embodied impacts.

Here you’ll find strategies for envelope design and material selection that help balance all these demands and more.

  • Re-Framing Sustainability: Green Structural Engineering
    March 30, 2011

    Feature Article

    Want to design the greenest building possible? Get a handle on the best structural options available to you, and invite a creative structural engineer to join your team.

  • Choosing Windows: Looking Through the Options
    January 27, 2011

    Feature Article

    We ask a lot from windows: energy efficiency, aesthetics, durability, affordability, and more. Which window frame materials and low-e glazing options balance these choices best? This article explores all the options and decodes the performance labels we see when buying windows.

  • Rethinking the All-Glass Building
    June 29, 2010

    Feature Article

    Is it time to end our love affair with the all-glass building? A lot of proponents of high-performance, green design certainly think so-while other respected architects, including some leading green designers and energy experts, argue that all-glass can work well if done right.

  • Avoiding the Global Warming Impact of Insulation
    June 1, 2010

    Feature Article

    Insulation is key to reducing carbon emissions from buildings. But the blowing agent in extruded polystyrene and spray polyurethane foam offsets much of that benefit.

  • Passive House Arrives in North America: Could It Revolutionize the Way We Build?
    March 31, 2010

    Feature Article

    The Passive House standard, imported from Germany, sets a high bar for energy performance in buildings. But some see it as inflexible and inappropriate for some U.S. climates.

  • Design for Adaptation: Living in a Climate-Changing World
    August 28, 2009

    Feature Article

    Even if we stopped emitting greenhouse gases tomorrow, rising global temperatures would still bring major changes to the climate system and our way of life. This article offers solutions for designing buildings that not only mitigate our impact on the global climate, but also adapt to the changes that are coming-and those that are already here.

  • Polystyrene Insulation: Does It Belong in a Green Building?
    July 30, 2009

    Feature Article

    Polystyrene is widely used as a rigid insulation in North America, offering high insulation values, moisture resistance, strength, and affordability. But a flame retardant in the material, as well as its life-cycle impacts, raise questions about whether it should be used at all.

  • Cost-Effective Green Retrofits: Opportunities for Savings in Existing Buildings
    March 26, 2009

    Feature Article

    Between lighting, water use, mechanical systems, the building envelope, and occupant health, existing buildings are rife with cost-effective retrofits and operational opportunities that also offer environmental benefits. Improvements range from the painfully obvious to the more complex and involved.

  • Making Air Barriers that Work: Why and How to Tighten Up Buildings
    May 29, 2008

    Feature Article

    Incorporating a continuous air barrier into a building's design and construction can save energy and improve the indoor environment, among other benefits. The right materials and assemblies can help accomplish that goal, but careful attention during design and close oversight during construction are essential.

  • Prefabricating Green: Building Environmentally Friendly Houses Off Site
    September 28, 2007

    Feature Article

    Prefabricated housing offers several potential environmental benefits, including reduced transportation impacts, reduced waste, and quality control for better durability and performance. Aside from a few industry leaders, however, most manufacturers do not take full advantage of those efficiencies to create affordable high-performance houses.