Arizona Architects Share: Architectural Terms for Design and Building (Part 2)

Architectural terms; some are completely straightforward and understandable while others are real head-scratchers. For example, did you know that natural design and sustainable designs aren’t the same thing? We hear you — they sound like they would be similar! But they mean two different things. 

Today, we’re going to dive into more architectural terms that are a little confusing to understand. These are important to know if you’re looking to build a custom home, designing a remodel, or just want to know more about the industry. 

If you haven’t checked out part one, we highly recommend it! It goes over terms like floorplan, blueprint, and ceiling plan. 

Natural Design vs. Sustainable Design

Natural designs and sustainable designs are not the same thing. Let’s go over the differences. 

What is Natural Design?

Natural design is an architectural term that means to design a home using natural building materials and recycled materials. It is built on a green-conscious schedule that reduces waste. 

A natural design is not always focused on being sustainable in the long term. It is more of a short-term green movement that uses as many natural materials as possible during the construction phase. Therefore, a design can be natural, but not sustainable. 

Examples of natural design include adobe homes, using natural wood or bamboo for floors or walls, exposed brick, indoor/outdoor spaces and gardens, and natural lighting. 

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The Saguaro Sanctuary, designed by UDA, implements natural design into every room, with wooden floors, beams, and a natural stone fireplace.

What is Sustainable Design?

While a natural design is focused on the short term, a sustainable design is focused on the long term.  Sustainability, as a whole, focuses on meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.

A sustainable design is an architectural term used to describe a home that is focused on having a carbon-neutral footprint.  This means it’s designed to respect the environment for many years to come. 

This means controlling and reducing energy and water consumption, and using natural and sustainable building materials whenever possible, such as bamboo flooring, adobe, and all of the materials we mentioned before. However, a sustainable design does not necessarily have to be natural.  

A sustainable home usually has some of the following elements: 

  • New tankless water heater
  • Xeriscaping
  • Solar panels 
  • New windows (to block drafts)
  • Home insulation
  • Fluorescent light bulbs
  • Energy-efficient appliances
  • Smart Home thermostats

You can marry both natural and sustainable together — you don’t have to pick one or the other. In fact, the positive impact is greatest when you do both. 

Are Smart Homes Sustainable? 

Yes! Smart homes are known for being more sustainable than traditional or older homes due to the conservation measures taken by technology. Some pieces of smart tech are designed to collect information about your home to make the most use of electricity and water to reduce waste. 

Every element in a Smart Home is carefully thought out to reduce the long-term carbon footprint of the home. This means that every year living there will bring the home closer to being carbon neutral, and becoming more sustainable. 

They are also more sustainable for your finances in the long term. A 2018 American Council for an Energy-Efficient Environment report paper found that Smart thermostats have proved to reduce HVAC energy consumption; average savings of 8% in heating costs and 10% in cooling costs can be expected

What is Structural Engineering?

You’ve probably heard of a structural engineer before. They’re the people who work on bridges and buildings to make sure they don’t collapse under their own weight. In a home, they’re essential to ensure your family’s safety. 

Structural engineers create drawings and specifications, perform calculations, review the work of other engineers, write reports and evaluations, and observe construction sites. They basically make sure every area of the home is properly supported. 

Ever hear of a “load-bearing wall” or seen beams in the middle of houses? They’re likely put there by a structural engineer to support the weight of the home! They may seem unsightly or a hindrance if you’re looking to renovate your home, but they are there for a reason. There are also ways to work around them, but you’ll want a structural engineer to check out that wall or beam, and your proposed plans before you do. 

Soils Tests

A soils test is exactly what it sounds like — a test of the soil/dirt around your home. To simplify things, a soils test is done to make sure the ground is safe to build on. It looks for any toxicity or bad things in the ground that may be harmful. 

Soil testing is usually required for building permits. 

There you have it! That concludes this iteration of Arizona Architect’s Share. We hope part one and part two helped clear up some confusion around architectural terms. If you have any questions, give us a call. We’ll be happy to help.