Ecological Building Guidelines

Ecological Best Practice Guidelines For Construction and Refurbishment of Dwellings

The aim of this standard is to establish sustainable criteria for design, construction and travel for tourism infrastructure. Each project will be assessed in a holistic fashion, so that each aspect of the project is not viewed in isolation. For example, a very “green” building located in a rural landscape, may not be as sustainable as a conventional building in a town, where public transport is available.

On a technical level the standards of sustainability should be assessed in terms of CO2 emissions in tonnes per year. To determine this for each project would take a substantial amount of time and resources. We are therefore proposing a system that is more “general” and “rule of thumb” rather than strictly scientific.

To put ecological design and construction into perspective, we must
determine sustainability. This is a word often used and misused and there are many definitions. One that is widely used is that adopted by the Bruntland Commission:-
“the ability to satisfy our basic needs without prejudicing the ability of future generations to do the same”.

This suggests that we must use our resources efficiently. Thus the houses that we design, build and renovate should respond accordingly and last for future generations.

The criteria for design and construction will be based on following:
1. Energy use
2. Transportation
3. Materials
4. Water
5. Land use and ecology
6. Health
7. Pollution
8. Sustainable Technology

All have a significant impact on the sustainability of a project. The catch phrase for the Green movement should always be close to a design or construction decision.


The use of energy in a building is probably the most significant in terms of sustainability and is usually the easiest to do something about. It’s a fundamental aspect of design and construction and is the cornerstone of ecological design and construction. For example, the benefits of installing photovoltaics may be negated because of a poorly insulated building fabric.

Energy use is therefore assessed as follows:

  • Is the development orientated to maximize passive solar gain (south east-south-southwest orientation)?
  • Is the building insulated above the Building Regulation Standard?
  • Are the windows double glazed with low emissivity glass on the inner pane?
  • Are all the ‘white goods’ B rated or higher, ie. Fridges, Freezers,Washing machines?
  • Are at least 50% of light fittings low energy?
  • Has an external covered area been provided for drying clothes?
  • Are there controls in guest rooms what allow occupants to control their internal environment? (Thermostatic valves on radiators, openable windows)


The issue of sustainable transport systems is significant in terms of
sustainability and one that is poorly addressed in rural areas.
Developments that avail of public transport systems will be viewed
more favourably as will efforts to minimize energy use in transportation.

  • Is the development within 1 kilometre of public transport?
  • Does the development arrange for group transportation from a town or village, and support community transport?
  • Does the development provide for covered bicycle storage?


The various materials used in construction require energy to produce and transport. This is called the “embodied energy” of the material. This aspect of energy in buildings is becoming more significant as energy in use reduces. For example locally sourced timber reduces energy use due to less transportation and the use of local timber.

  • Is the majority of timber used in the construction sourced locally and from sustainable managed sources? (Certification to be provided).
  • Have hardwoods from unsustainable sources been avoided in
  • Have salvaged or recycled materials been used in the construction?


Water is a natural resource that is poorly used. It is often taken for granted and misused or wasted. The water we drink requires expensive treatment and its availability of quality effects the quality of our lives. Now that water charges are likely to be implemented the conservation of the resource will become an issue for everyone.

  • Is a water meter installed for the development and quantities recorded?
  • Are low flush toilets installed in the development?
  • Has a rainwater salvaging system been installed in the development?
  • Is water consumption of mains water less than 25m3 per
  • Is the development served with its own water supply, eg: bored well?
  • Is the incoming water supply filtered to remove chlorine, lime and organic chemicals and bacteria?


The type of land use we develop has an effect on the overall  sustainability of the project. For example, development of greenfield
sites results in the displacement of wildlife and effects the immediate
ecology, however, the land has an amazing ability to recover and
sympathetic landscaping can lead to regeneration and attracting new wild life. The use of Greenfield sites reduces the ecological footprint. The refurbishment and renovation of existing buildings particularly old cottages and outbuildings should be encouraged.

  • Is the project the refurbishment and renovation of an existing building?
  • Has the site been planted with indigenous species of trees?
  • Has the development improved the ecological value of the site (ie, is the site mature with native hedges, flora and fauna to encourage wildlife)?
  • Have natural materials been used in hard landscaping, paths and driveways around the development?


An ecological property is a healthy property which sustains the health and well being of the occupants. In modern construction materials are often treated with chemicals which can be transferred into the building and effect occupants. The paints we use to decorate our dwellings can be highly toxic, petrochemical based and effect our health. Timbers are often treated with chemical based preservatives which in many cases are unnecessary and ultimately effect the occupants health. Radon can be a problem and should be minimized to acceptable levels, as determined by the appropriate Building Regulations. In some cases the effects of harmful gases can be counteracted by using plants.

  • Has the development excluded the use of upvc based materials in finishes such as floor coverings and generally throughout the property?
  • Have natural paints been used to decorate the property?
  • Is there adequate ventilation in kitchens and bathrooms to avoid condensation?
  • Is the built in furniture including kitchens made from natural timber without the use of MDF (Medium Density Fiberboards)?
  • Has the development been checked for Radon levels and if high has the necessary remedial works been undertaken to reduce Radon levels to satisfactory standards?
  • Are the natural lighting levels above normal and produce a bright interior which minimizes the need for artificial light during daylight hours?
  • Have plants been used extensively in the interior to created a natural environment and spider plants used to counteract areas where formaldehyde may be prominent?


Some of the issues in relation to pollution have already been dealt with under Health, but this section deals primarily with external pollution.

  • Is the sewage treatment and foul sewer link to the town mains?
  • Does the sewage treatment installation incorporate sustainable
    methods such as wetlands or reed-beds?
  • Is the sewage treatment installation a dry-system such as composting toilets?
  • Is the waste from the house separated and recycled?
  • Is waste food composted or used in a wormery?
  • Are the open fires or stores restricted to using seasoned timber as fuel and is suitable storage for drying of timber provided?
  • Is the boiler or heat source regularly maintained and full maintenance records available?
  • Are the majority of insulating materials used in the construction non ozone depleting in manufacture and composition (i.e. avoid upvc based insulations).


The use of sustainable technologies obviously helps ecological design and construction achieve more sustainable projects but they must be viewed in an overall perspective along with the other areas of design and construction previously discussed. For example, a dwelling with upvc windows, insulated using expanded polystyrene with a concrete driveway and solar water heating panels on the roof is not in any way ecological. However, solar water heating along with some of the other criteria already discussed in previous sections, would be more ecological.

Is the main source of energy for heating in the development from
sustainable technologies such as one of the following:

  • Woodpellet Boiler
  • Wind generation
  • Photovoltaics
  • Hydro turbine
  • Is the hot water requirement for the development partly provided by solar water heating?


The assessment and accreditation for the “Ecological Best Practice
Guidelines” of properties will be based on the above criteria. It should be noted that these criteria are not conclusive. Some properties may have ecological aspects to the design and construction not mentioned in the criteria. If properties have other ecological features then this should be viewed favourably. For example, a property may not have a rainwater salvaging system, but if the owner can clearly demonstrate that they are actively pursuing water conservation with some form of water storage for use in gardens or for washing vehicles, then this would be an acceptable alternative.

The aim of each property would be to achieve a score, (to be agreed) in order to receive the “Ecological Design Certification”.

Sources of further reading and research

  • Borer, P. & Harris, C., 1998, “The Whole House Book”. CAT
  • Pearson, D., 1989, “The Natural House Book”, Gaia Books
  • Alexander, C., 1977, “A Pattern Language”, Oxford University Press
  • Brand, S., 1997, “How Buildings Learn”. Phoenix
  • Energy Research Group UCD, 1996. Green Design- Sustainable Building for Ireland. OPW.
  • Wooley, T., Kimmins, S., Harrison, P., Harrison, R., 1997, “Green Building Handbook”. E & F.N. Spon.
  • The Construction Industry Resource and Information
    Association (CIRIA), 1995, “Environmental Impact of Materials”.
  • Berge, B., 2001. “The Ecology of Building Materials”, Oxford,
    Architectural Press
  • Broome, J., & Richardson B., 1991 “The Self-Build Book” . Green Books
  • Matthews, R. 1990, “Talking about Self-build”, Blackberry Books
  • Borer, P. & Harris, C., 1998, “Out of The Woods”. CAT Publications
  • Walter Segal Self –Build Trust. “You Build 14. ““The Self Build Resource Pack”
  • Energy Research Group, School of Architecture. UCD, 1992,
    Energy in Architecture. “The European Passive Solar Handbook”
  • Trimby, P. “Solar Water Heating: A DIY Guide”, CAT Publications
  • Laughton, C., “Tapping the Sun: A Guide to solar water heating”. CAT Publications.
  • Thornton, J., “The Water Book”, CAT Publications
  • Langley, B., & Curtis, D., “Going with the flow”.

Useful Websites

  1. (Sustainable Energy Ireland)
  2. (Centre for Alternative Technology)
  3. (Timber Research and Development Association).
  4. (Coillte)
  5. (Tree Council for Ireland)
  6. (Woodlands of Ireland)
  7. (The National Sustainable Development partnership)
  8. (Crann)
  9. (Convergence Sustainable Living Festival)
  10. (Organic Centre, Rossinver)
  11. (Segal Method Timber Frame Construction)