How To Make Existing Buildings Sustainable (8 Ways)

Published Categorized as Sustainability
Existing Sustainable Building

If you want to make your building more sustainable, the good news is that you don’t need to knock it down and rebuild it. You can make many small changes that will have a big impact.

Here are 8 ways you can make your existing building more sustainable:

  1. Incorporate energy-efficient technologies.
  2. Optimize natural lighting.
  3. Improve water efficiency.
  4. Improve indoor air quality.
  5. Install green roofs.
  6. Implement a comprehensive recycling program.
  7. Encourage community involvement.
  8. Educate occupants on sustainability.

These methods of making your building more sustainable prove that you don’t need to start from scratch. The rest of this article will explore these topics in more detail to better understand these sustainability strategies.

1. Incorporate Energy-Efficient Technologies

One of the best ways to make an existing building more sustainable is to incorporate energy-efficient technologies. When it comes to energy efficiency, there are various technologies that you can implement, and the ones you choose might depend on your budget.

Some common energy-efficient technologies include:

  • Solar panels
  • Insulation
  • Energy-efficient appliances
  • Automated lighting
  • Smart meters
  • Building automation systems
  • Programmable thermostats

Solar Panels

Installing solar panels is one of the easiest and most effective ways to make your building more sustainable. Solar panels absorb energy from the sun and convert it into electricity, which you can use to power your building.

Solar panels are a costly investment but if you consider the long-term financial savings on your energy bills, and your reduced carbon footprint, it can be well worth it.

Here are a few things to consider before deciding solar panels:

  • Roof type. Solar panels can be installed on most roofs, but some are better suited than others. Flat roofs, for example, tend to be the best type of roof for solar panels.
  • Amount of energy needed. The energy you use will determine the size and number of solar panels you need.
  • Sun exposure. The more sun your roof gets, the more effective your solar panels will be. If you are located in an area which has intermittent sunshine, you will need another power source on which to fall back.
  • Obstructions. Shade from trees or other buildings can reduce the solar panels’ sunlight, so it’s important to consider this when choosing a location for your panels.
  • Cost. Solar panels can be expensive to install, but many governments and utility rebates can offset the cost.
  • Permits. Depending on your location, you may need to obtain a permit before installing solar panels.
  • Solar company. Once you’ve decided to install solar panels, you’ll need to find a reputable solar company to do the work. There are many solar companies out there, so it’s advisable to do your research and get quotes from multiple companies before making a decision.


Insulating your building is a highly effective way of making it more sustainable. Adding insulation can help to keep the building cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter, which can save money on energy costs. It can also improve the overall comfort of the building.

If you decide to improve your building’s insulation, you should consider the following elements:

  • Doors
  • Windows
  • Walls
  • Ceilings
  • Floors

You can insulate your building in various ways, and it’s worth researching which insulation method would work best for your building.

Installing the insulation correctly is vital to ensure that it’s effective and won’t cause damage to your building.

Weather-stripping and caulking are two simple ways to seal your windows and doors and prevent drafts from entering. This will help to make your building more energy-efficient and will also make it more comfortable to live or work in, as you won’t have to deal with constant fluctuations in temperature.

To weather-strip your windows, you’ll need a weather-stripping kit, which you can purchase at most hardware stores. The kit will include various strips that can be attached to the window frame using adhesive or screws.

Caulking is a great way to seal cracks and gaps around doors and windows. You can buy caulking in tubes or cartridges, which makes it easy to apply even in tight spaces. Be sure to use silicone-based caulking, as this type is water-resistant and won’t deteriorate over time.

Energy-Efficient Appliances

If you have old appliances in your building, they may not be as energy-efficient as newer models. Although investing in energy-efficient appliances can be expensive, the financial benefits can pay off in the long run when you consider how much money you save on your monthly energy bills.

Some of the most energy-efficient appliances on the market include ENERGY STAR-certified refrigerators, air conditioners, furnaces, dishwashers, and washing machines. These appliances meet the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s stringent energy efficiency guidelines.

If it’s time for you to replace your old and power-hungry appliances, choosing one with an ENERGY STAR label is an excellent idea.

Automated Lighting

Switching to energy-efficient lighting is an easy method for using less power. Popular energy-efficient lighting options include:

  • CFLs
  • LEDs
  • Induction lights

LED bulbs are the most energy-efficient type of lighting because they consume significantly less energy than traditional incandescent bulbs and last up to 25 times longer.

Smart Meters

Smart meters can help you save energy and money by monitoring your energy consumption in real-time.

With a smart meter, you can see how much energy you’re using and when you’re using it. This information can help you change your habits and reduce your energy consumption.

Smart meters can also help you to take advantage of time-of-use pricing, which charges different rates for electricity depending on the time of day. You can save money on your utility bills by using less energy during peak times.

Building Automation Systems (BAS)

Building automation systems are another technology that can help you make your building more sustainable.

Building automation systems allow you to control and monitor the systems in your building from a central location. These can include the following systems:

  • Heating
  • Ventilation
  • Air conditioning (HVAC)
  • Lighting
  • Security

With a building automation system, you can set schedules and timers to automatically turn off lights and appliances when they’re not needed. You can also monitor your building’s energy use and make changes to save energy.

Each of these technologies can make a big difference in the sustainability of your building.

Programmable Thermostats

An easy way to make your building more sustainable is to install a programmable thermostat. A programmable thermostat allows you to set the temperature for your home or office automatically, so you don’t have to remember to adjust it every day. You can also program it remotely.

This can help to save energy and money on your utility bills.

2. Optimize Natural Lighting

One of the easiest (and most affordable) ways to make an existing building more sustainable is to optimize the use of natural lighting. This can decrease your need for artificial lighting, save you money and reduce your carbon footprint.

Here are a few tips to get you started:

  • Install skylights or solar tubes to bring natural light into the building.
  • Use light-colored paint on the walls and ceilings to reflect light.
  • Remove any obstructions that block natural light from entering the building.
  • Install window treatments that allow natural light to enter while maintaining privacy.
  • Use Task Lighting to direct light where it’s needed most.
  • Take advantage of daylight harvesting technology to control the amount of artificial light used during the day.

You can dramatically reduce your building’s energy consumption and improve its sustainability by making a few simple changes.

3. Improve Water Efficiency

Water consumption is one of the biggest factors in sustainability, so it’s important to find ways to reduce it.

Unfortunately, managing water consumption can be challenging, but there are a few simple things you can do to get started:

  • Install water-efficient fixtures such as low-flow toilets, showerheads, and faucets.
  • Fix any leaks in the plumbing system.
  • Install a water-cooled air conditioner instead of a traditional unit.
  • Use drought-tolerant plants in the landscaping.
  • Collect rainwater for use in the landscape.
  • Implement a water conservation policy for employees and tenants.

It’s important to do what we can to conserve this precious resource. With these simple steps, you can reduce your building’s water usage by 25% or more, saving you money and resources.

4. Improve Indoor Air Quality

A recent study by the Environmental Protection Agency found that poor indoor air quality is one of the top five environmental health risks. Most people spend a lot of their time indoors, so it’s important to ensure the air you breathe is clean.

The first step is to identify any sources of pollution in the building. Common sources of indoor air pollution include:

  • Mold
  • Mildew
  • Dust
  • Chemicals
  • Off-gassing from building materials

Once you’ve identified the sources of your building’s poor air quality, you can take steps to remove them.

Some common methods for improving indoor air quality include:

  • Implementing a green cleaning policy.
  • Using natural ventilation when possible.
  • Installing air filters and purifiers.
  • Controlling humidity levels.
  • Opening your windows occasionally to let fresh air in.

5. Install Green Roofs

Rooftop gardens are important for both the environment and human health. They help improve air quality, reduce noise pollution and can also be used to grow food.

Installing a green roof can be a big project, but it’s worth the effort. The greenery on your roof will absorb carbon dioxide and pollutants from the environment, and release oxygen-rich gas into the air.

Other benefits include a pleasant space for employees or residents to relax, and feeding the community (if you grow fruit and vegetables).

6. Implement a Comprehensive Recycling Program

Recycling materials is a fantastic way to make your building more sustainable. Try as much as possible to avoid sending waste to the landfill.

There are a few simple ways to increase recycling rates in your building:

  • Install recycling bins in all employee and tenant areas.
  • Make sure all employees and tenants are aware of the recycling program.
  • Educate employees about what can and can’t be recycled.
  • Make it easy for employees to recycle by providing clear guidelines and signage.
  • Have a composting program for biodegradable waste.
  • Convert old furniture into new pieces that you can use in other parts of the building.

7. Encourage Community Involvement

Community involvement is a key part of sustainability. Getting people involved in their community helps to create a sense of ownership and responsibility for the environment.

Things like getting the local community involved in designing and retrofitting the building or using the building as a space for education and community events are great ways to promote sustainability.

There are many ways to get the community involved in your building project. You could hold a design competition or set up a panel of local experts who can offer advice on sustainable design.

You could also use the building as a space for education and community events, which can help to build awareness and support for your project.

By encouraging residents and employees to become involved, they may suggest innovative ways to improve your building’s sustainability further.

8. Educate Occupants on Sustainability

One of the most important things you can do to make your building more sustainable is to educate your occupants on the importance of environmental responsibility.

Many people still don’t understand what sustainability means or how they can help to achieve it. By providing information on energy conservation, recycling, and composting, you can help your occupants make more sustainable choices and reduce your building’s environmental impact.


There are many ways you can make your existing building more sustainable. Some are simple and affordable, while others require more effort and investment.

Here are a few things to keep in mind as you start making changes:

  • Sustainability is a journey, not a destination. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution, but by taking small steps, we can all make a big difference.
  • Involve your occupants. Education and involvement are key to success.
  • Think long-term. Sustainability is all about making changes that will last.
  • Have a plan. Making your building more sustainable takes time and effort, but it’s worth it!


By Giovanni Valle

Giovanni Valle is a licensed architect and LEED-accredited professional and is certified by the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB). He is the author and managing editor of various digital publications, including BuilderSpace, Your Own Architect, and Interiors Place.

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