Environmentally Sustainable Design & Construction Checklist

for Design Professionals & Owners

Comet Studios’ Green Building and renewable energy solutions help make buildings more efficient, sustainable and environmentally responsible – contributing to Global Health and Well-Being by reducing physical demands on precious earth resources. To learn more about how you can cost effectively add solar, wind, geothermal &/or biomass opportunities to your home or project, please look at our  Renewable Energy Solutions »

In our experience, environmentally responsible design and related sustainable development of homes, mixed-use buildings and Eco-Communities significantly improves quality of life, comfort, aesthetics, resource efficiency and value of properties while reducing pollution and saving money.

Comet Studios provides the following Sustainable Checklist to our clients to help them get started. 


Sustainable ChecklistDesign Considerations

Small is better:

  • Optimize use of interior spaces through careful design so that the overall building size – and resource use in construction and future operations are kept to a minimum.

Design buildings to use renewable energy:

  • Use high levels of insulation, high performance windows, and tight construction to maximize building shell performance. In warm climates, choose glazings with low solar heat gain.
  • Passive solar heating, daylighting, and natural cooling can be incorporated cost effectively into most buildings. Also consider solar water heating and photovoltaics- or design buildings for future panel installation. If wood heating is an option, specify low-emission wood stove or pellet stove.

Optimize material use:

  • Minimize waste by designing for standard sizes. Avoid waste from structural over-design (use optimizing value engineering and advanced framing techniques).

Design water-efficient, low maintenance landscaping (sustainable landscapes):

  • Avoid conventional lawns have a high impact because of water use, pesticide use, and pollution generated from mowing.
  • Consider a permaculture or xeriscape landscape solution with drought resistant native plants and perennial ground covers. Or perhaps an edible garden of fruit trees, vegetables, herbs, etc.

Make it easy for occupants to recycle waste:

  • Make provisions for storage and processing of recyclables by convenient by locating recycle bins near the kitchen, or by using under sink door mounted bucket with lid for food waste, etc.

Conserve water by using gray water and roof top water catchment systems:

  • In many areas, water that has been used for bathing, dish washing, or clothes washing can be used for flushing toilets or irrigation. If current codes prevent graywater recycling, consider designing the plumbing for future water adaption.
  • Consider a roof water catchment system for garden watering.

Design for future reuse:

  • Consider design solutions that are flexible and adaptable to other uses, and choose materials and components that can be reused or recycled.

Avoid potential health hazards such as radon, EMF, pesticides:

  • Follow recommend practices to minimize radon entry into the building and provide for future mitigation if necessary. Plan electrical wiring and placement of electrical equipment to minimize electromagnetic field exposure. Design insect resistant detailing that minimizes insect intrusion and use of pesticides.


Sustainable ChecklistSite Considerations

Renovate older buildings:

  • Consider renovating existing buildings with efficient sustainable retrofits.

Evaluate site resources:

  • Early in the project programming process, carry out a careful site evaluation to determine solar access, site climate conditions, soils, vegetation, important natural features to be preserved, etc.

Locate buildings to minimize environmental impact:

  • Cluster buildings or build attached units to preserve open space and wildlife habitats,
  • Avoid especially sensitive areas including wetlands, and
  • Keep roads and service lines short to minimize impact. 
  • Leave the most pristine areas untouched, and
  • Consider building in areas that have been previously denuded or damaged.

Pay attention to solar orientation:

  • Reduce energy use by orientating buildings to make optimal use of passive solar heating, daylighting, and natural cooling.

Situate buildings to benefit from existing and planted vegetation:

  • Consider trees on the east and west sides of a building to dramatically reduce cooling loads.
  • Consider hedge rows and shrubbery to block cold winter winds or help channel cool summer breezes into the building.
  • Plant strategic deciduous trees on the south side of a building to help minimize unwanted solar gain during hot summer months.

Minimize transportation requirements:

  • Master plan projects and developments to provide easy access to public transportation, bicycle paths, and walking access to basic services.
  • Consider including home office opportunities that reduce commuting impacts and requirements.


Sustainable ChecklistMaterials

Avoid ozone-depleting chemicals in mechanical equipment and insulation:

  • CFC’s have largely been phased out, but their primary replacements, HCFC’s, also damage the ozone layer and should be avoided where possible. Reclaim CFC’s when servicing or disposing of equipment, and if possible, take CFC based foam insulation to a recycler who can capture CFC’s.

Use durable products and materials:

  • Because manufacturing is very energy-intensive, a product that lasts longer or requires less maintenance usually saves energy. Durable products also contribute less to our solid waste problems.

Choose building materials with low embodied energy:

  • One estimate of the relative energy intensity of various materials (by weight) is as follows: Lumber=1 Brick =2 Cement =2 Glass =3 Fiberglass + 7 Steel =8 Plastic =30 Aluminum = 80

Buy locally produced building materials:

  • Transportation is costly in both energy use and pollution generation. Look for locally produced materials (local softwoods or hardwoods, for example) to replace products imported to your area.

Consider using alternative building materials either alone or in combination with traditional materials:

  • Explore the possibility of building with rammed earth technology or straw bale construction. Explore steel frame & composite beam construction. Combined techniques are often overlooked in favor of one alternative. Consider using multiple techniques, such as using rammed earth for solar massing in conjunction with traditional building materials.

Used salvaged building materials when possible:

  • Reduce landfill pressure and save natural resources by using salvaged materials such as lumber, millwork, certain plumbing fixtures, and hardware, for example. Make sure these materials are safe and don’t sacrifice energy efficiency or water efficiency by reusing old windows or toilets.

Minimize old growth timber:

  • Avoid lumber products produced from old-growth timber when acceptable alternatives exist. You may not need clear narrow-grained cedar or redwood siding, for example, when using opaque stain or paint as long as proper detailing is used to avoid rot. Laminated wood timbers can be substituted for old growth Douglas fir. If large solid timbers are desired, consider sourcing from dead standing trees. Don’t buy tropical hardwoods unless the seller can document that the wood comes from well managed forests.

Avoid materials that will offgas pollutants:

  • Avoid solvent based finishes, adhesives, carpeting, particle board, and many other building products that release formaldehyde and volatile organic compounds (VOC’s) into the air. These chemicals can effect workers’ and occupants’ health as well as contribute to smog and ground-level ozone pollution outside.

Minimize the use of pressure treated lumber:

  • Use detailing that will prevent soil contact and rot. Where possible, use alternatives such as recycled plastic lumber. Take measures to protect workers when cutting and handling pressure treated wood, and never burn the scraps.

Minimize packaging waste:

  • Avoid excess packaging, such as plastic wrapped plumbing fixtures or fasteners that aren’t available in bulk. Tell your supplier why you are avoiding over packaged products. Keep in mind, however, that some products must be carefully wrapped to prevent damaged and resulting waste.



Install high efficiency heating and cooling equipment:

  • Well designed high efficiency furnaces, boilers, and air conditioning (and distribution systems) not only save the building occupants money, but also produce less pollution during operation. Install equipment with minimal risk of combustion gas spillage, such as sealed combustion appliances.

Install high efficiency lights and appliances:

  • Fluorescent lighting has improved dramatically in recent years and is now suitable for homes. High efficiency appliances offer both economic and environmental advantages over their conventional counterparts. Consider Low voltage lighting systems that save energy.

Install water efficient equipment:

  • Water conserving toilets, showerheads, and faucet aerators not only reduce water use, they also reduce demand on septic systems or sewage treatment plants. Reducing hot water use also saves energy.

Install mechanical ventilation equipment:

  • Mechanical ventilation is usually required to ensure safe, healthy indoor air. Heat recovery ventilators are preferred in cold climates because of energy savings, but simpler, less expensive exhaust only ventilation systems are also adequate.


comet1aConstruction Considerations

Protect trees and topsoil during site work:

  • Protect trees from damage during construction by fencing off the “drip line” around them and avoiding major changes to surface grade.

Avoid use of pesticides and other chemicals that may leach into the groundwater:

  • Look into less toxic termite treatments, and keep exposed frost walls free from obstruction to discourage insects. When backfilling a foundation or grading around a house, do not bury construction debris.

Minimize job waste:

  • Centralize cutting operations to reduce waste and simplify sorting. Set up clearly marked bins or trash cans for different types of usable waste (wood scraps for kindling, sawdust for composting, cans, glass and paper for typical recycling). Find out where different materials can be taken for recycling, and educate your crew and subs about recycling.

Make your business operations more environmentally responsible:

  • Make your office as energy efficient as possible, purchase energy efficient vehicles, arrange carpools to job sites, and schedule site visits and errands to minimize unnecessary driving. In your office, purchase recycled office paper and supplies, recycle office paper, use coffee mugs instead of disposable cups. On the job, recycle beverage container.


Please download the PDF version of this Comet Studios Checklist»


This checklist includes information extracted from Environmental Building News.

We hope you find this reference material useful.