Site Analysis – 101

Siting a new building or house correctly, and understanding the environmental factors that will affect a project for it’s entire lifespan – easily 50 or 100 years – is crucial. Buildings, far more than cars with their relative short life-cycles – are where we need, and should demand – higher energy efficiency. That starts with proper site analysis. Where are the prevailing winter winds blowing in from? Which way does that hot afternoon sun come from? How much of the site is going to create more run-off, and where does it go? These hardly scratch the surface of the long list of items that need be considered. Traditional residential cues may need to be altered, for instance; facing a house length-wise to the south will help control solar exposures – but may make for tougher “curb appeal” type challenges if the street abuts the site at an odd angle off of the compass – say running northwest to southeast. One could argue that these challenges inform the design from the very onset, in this case producing interesting geometry and rotating the house off the orthogonal street approach.

As with siting a house properly – larger building owners / managers / developers have more to gain from proper building placement and orientation, as there’s a dramatic economy of scale. Day-lighting, passive heating and cooling, and prevailing wind considerations all can play key roles in reducing carbon footprint as well as operating costs.

Work done by Ed Mazria’s firm Mazria Inc. – prior to his personal crusade for smart building advocacy, (via the simple fundamentals of designing energy efficient buildings were employed on all projects, large or small – and the process was not labeled anything other than good design. LEED, USGBC, PHIUS, UBC/IBC and the numerous other certification entities did not play much a part in approaching design this way for the firm.  A simple desire to reduce the impact our clients’ buildings would have on the environment, to provide programmatically what was necessary / required, and to build projects on time and on budget were all motivating factors.  The energy saving strategies employed on these projects rarely cost anything ‘extra’ – as the bulk of the savings were generated from correct site orientation, daylighting, fenestration design, and insulation and thermal mass design strategies.

It truly costs nothing more to start off in the right direction – but will pay back for years and decades to come.