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.

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  • Better Choices in Low-Slope Roofing

    Feature Article

    There are big differences in environmental impacts of commercial roofing materials, but the biggest variable may be service life.

  • Making Windows Work Better

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    How to choose curtains, solar screens, awnings, and storm windows? The options are dizzying, but the right choice can cut energy bills.

  • Re-Framing Sustainability: Green Structural Engineering

    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

    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

    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

    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?

    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

    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?

    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

    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.