How Building Design Will Change Due To Net Zero

3D design of a modern eco home with solar panels on the roof

With the UK aiming for net zero in all aspects of life by 2050, some major changes will be seen in the building and construction industry.

From residential homes to office buildings, what changes are we likely to see over the coming months and years when it comes to the design and function of buildings?

Materials 

The net zero targets will result in a shift from traditional materials such as brick and cement to more carbon-neutral mediums like plywood, which is a treated timber product. This results in the carbon footprint of the building being reduced as well as improving energy efficiency due to its cellular structure, which helps to align with the country’s focus on less energy wastage.

Due to trees absorbing carbon as they grow, using them in construction is beneficial in carbon reduction as well as generally being less wasteful in terms of environmental impact due to being naturally occurring.

Wooden planks and timbers stacked in pile

If wood is harvested from sustainable forests then using it will be of benefit to both the construction industry and the goal of reduced carbon emissions. Using timber products also decreases the number of virgin materials being used in construction while also contributing to the goal of sustainable and renewable practices due to less water wastage and environmental impact compared to other materials like steel. 

Windows and glazing

In line with net zero, we will see a change in how windows and light sources are placed throughout buildings. Windows, light shelves and solar tubes will be strategically placed throughout buildings to optimise natural light and reduce the need for electric illumination, thus reducing energy consumption.

3D image of sunlite light tube system for transporting natural daylight from roof to indoors room.

Ultra-low energy buildings will incorporate advanced optical daylighting technologies such as optical tubular daylighting devices which use a rooftop dome to capture the sun’s rays which can be dispersed through diffusers to parts of the building. This is great in larger spaces such as offices and schools and is consistent and controllable, offering daylight to any space in most climates.

Windows provide a free source of heat and light but care must be taken to avoid overheating in summer as well as glare and heat loss in winter.

Buildings that last

When designing buildings, architects need to consider the emissions over their entire lifetime, not just in the short term. This is because buildings that function but are demolished in a short period of time will have a much higher relative carbon footprint. 

Generally, buildings are not demolished because they become worn down but because they are no longer fit for purpose or are deemed out of date in regard to design and features. As such, architects will need to ensure that buildings have built-in flexibility if they are to survive for a long time. Aspects of flexible buildings may include multi-purpose spaces and moveable walls which allow users to have a range of experiences in the same place.

3D image of eco home with solar panels on the roof. Bifolding doors leading to open plan kitchen and loung area. Garden with swiming pool

There have also been suggestions of increased focus on ’emotionally durable design‘ which refers to community buildings such as hospitals or schools which are generally functional. Making these spaces with mental well-being and experience in mind makes them much less likely to be torn down later on if there is a positive perception of the space and emotional durability.

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