Professional Practice

Sustainable Residential Design: Increasing Energy Efficiency

High Point Seattle
By using passive solar heating and an extended roof of photovoltaic panels, these houses produce more energy than they consume. The Solar Settlement in Schlierberg, Freiburg, Germany / Wikipedia, Andrew Glasser, CC-BY-3.0

Inefficient home energy use is not only costly, but also contributes to the growth of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, the primary cause of climate change. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the residential sector accounted for 21 percent of total primary energy consumption and about 20 percent of carbon emissions in the U.S. in 2012. And according to Architecture 2030, building construction and operations-related energy use accounts for almost 50 percent of total GHG emissions.

Through integrated site design, a comprehensive approach to sustainable building and site design, sustainable residential landscape architecture practices can not only improve the environment, but also result in net-zero or even climate positive homes. If part of a broader integrated site design, sustainable residential landscape architecture can help eliminate the need for fossil fuel-based energy, while creating a healthy residential environment.

Homeowners can go net-zero or climate positive by tapping the potential of landscapes. As an example, residential green roof and wall systems, which are often key features of integrated site design projects, can reduce energy use and home heating and cooling costs.

According to The Sustainable SITES Initiative™ (SITES®), homeowners can use trees and dense shrubs to shade their home and any external HVAC systems or block wind and thereby further reduce energy use.

Homeowners can further leverage clean energy technologies, like solar-powered LED outdoor lighting.

The environmental and economic benefits of energy efficient technologies increase as homes are tied together into multi-family housing complexes with shared infrastructure. Research shows dense development lowers water and energy use, conserves natural habitats, and reduces transportation-related carbon emissions by encouraging walking, cycling, and taking public transportation. Communities like Freiburg, Germany and Malmo, Sweden are examples of residential communities that have taken innovative approaches to design and planning by implementing sustainable energy, water, and waste management systems.

Landscape architects can help homeowners by undertaking a comprehensive energy audit and then identify landscape-based solutions for generating renewable power or reducing energy waste.  

State and local governments also work with design professionals to incorporate sustainable residential landscape architecture codes throughout urban, suburban, and rural areas. For example, South Miami just recently mandated that new buildings, and some renovations, must include solar panels.

Source: Drivers of U.S. Household Energy Consumption, 1980-2009, U.S. Energy Information Administration

Green Roofs
Green Walls
Tree Placement for Energy Efficiency

This guide was written by Dana Davidsen and Jared Green.  


Low Impact Development Center

The Sustainable SITES Initiative™ (SITES®)

LEED for Homes, U.S. Green Building Council


Energy Efficient Home Landscapes, American Society of Landscape Architecture

Adapting to Climate Change: Strategies from King County, Washington, American Planning Association

Innovations in Sustainable Site Technology, The Dirt, American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA)

Low Impact Development Manual for Michigan, Southeast Michigan Council of Governments

Low Impact Development: Technical Guidance Manual for Puget Sound, Puget Sound Action Team and Washington State University

NYC's Greener, Greater Buildings Plan" for Reducing Building CO2 Emissions, The Dirt, American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA)

Solar Decathalon 2009 Innovations: Integrated Site Design, The Dirt, American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA)

Community Power Works, City of Seattle


Energy-Wise Landscape Design,” Sue Reed, New Society Publishers, 2010

"Living Systems: Innovative Materials and Technologies for Landscape Architecture," Liat Margolis & Alexander Robinson, Birkhauser Basel, 2007

"Sustainable Landscape Construction: A Guide to Green Building Outdoors," J. William Thompson & Kim Sorvig, Island Press, 2007


Solar Settlement
, Freiburg, Germany
Rolf Disch 

High Point, Seattle, Washington

One Drop at a Time – New Resourceful Paradigms at 168 Elm Ave, Elmhurst, IL
de la fleur LLC

BedZED, Hackbridge, Sutton, United Kingdom

Elephant & Castle London, London, United Kingdom

Project Zero, Sønderborg, Denmark

The Oberlin Project, Oberlin, Ohio

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