Building Envelope

Photo by Andreas Lechtape, courtesy NBK Architectural Terracotta

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.

Building Envelope

Deep Dives

Get up to speed on complex topics. You can also earn CEUs and download PDF Spotlight Reports.


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  • 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.

Quick Takes

Jump straight to the essentials with these short explanations of green building concepts.


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  • How Insulation Works

    Primer

    Understanding how insulation works can help us find the right material for a particular project.

  • Thermal Bridging

    Primer

    Thermal bridging, when one material conducts heat much better than materials around it, can reduce the effectiveness of insulation to a surprising extent.

  • Reducing Heat Flow Through Windows

    Primer

    Bringing daylight into a building through windows usually means a loss of heat; low-emissivity coatings, multiple panes, and gas fills can make windows more energy-efficient.

  • Foam-in-Place Polyurethane Insulation

    Primer

    Sprayed polyurethane foam offers several advantages over other forms of insulation, including R-value and airtightness. Installation, R-value, and ozone safety vary with the type of foam used.

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Learning Resources

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