Bringing Green Design to Residential Projects

Innovations and alternative products support custom projects
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Sponsored by Bison Innovative Products and Cascade Architectural
By Peter J. Arsenault, FAIA, NCARB, LEED AP

Learning Objectives:

  1. Identify and recognize the challenges and potential solutions to creating healthy outdoor spaces when site restrictions might otherwise prevent this.
  2. Assess the health and energy concerns of providing windows with appropriate solar gain and glare control.
  3. Explain the ways that outdoor roof decks and patios/terraces can be sustainably designed using adjustable, modular pedestal deck systems.
  4. Determine the energy performance of using coiled wire fabric as a means to control solar heat gain and glare on residential buildings.


1 GBCI CE Hour
AAA 1 Structured Learning Hour
This course can be self-reported to the AANB, as per their CE Guidelines
AAPEI 1 Structured Learning Hour
MAA 1 Structured Learning Hour
This course can be self-reported to the NLAA.
This course can be self-reported to the NSAA
NWTAA 1 Structured Learning Hour
OAA 1 Learning Hour
SAA 1 Hour of Core Learning
This course can be self-reported to the AIBC, as per their CE Guidelines.
As an IACET Accredited Provider, BNP Media offers IACET CEUs for its learning events that comply with the ANSI/IACET Continuing Education and Training Standard.
This course is approved as a Structured Course
This course can be self-reported to the AANB, as per their CE Guidelines
Approved for structured learning
Approved for Core Learning
This course can be self-reported to the NLAA
Course may qualify for Learning Hours with NWTAA
Course eligible for OAA Learning Hours
This course is approved as a core course
This course can be self-reported for Learning Units to the Architectural Institute of British Columbia
This test is no longer available for credit

Residential projects take many different forms. Some people think only of suburban single-family homes which are mostly driven by homebuilder/developers with different levels of involvement by architects. But the reality is that architects design many other types of residential projects too. Completely custom homes have historically been portrayed as ideal opportunities for creatively using architecture to match the lifestyle needs of the owners and the opportunities of the building site. While some of those may be in greenfield locations or remote locations with views of nature, there are plenty that are located in urban settings as well with very different context, lifestyle, and site conditions. In many of these cases, the residence is not new construction but the renovation or adaptive reuse of an existing building. There are also emerging models of housing that are different from single family ownership such as co-housing which has become a popular alternative across North America. And, of course, there are prototypical homes that are used as model designs to portray the latest design thinking and state-of-the-art products, systems, and materials.

Photo courtesy of Cascade Architectural

Residential buildings come in many different types and categories, but all have a need to address green and sustainable attributes, including outdoor space design and solar control.

All of these various residential settings have one thing in common: the well-established preference for green and sustainable design in the form of higher energy performance, environmental consciousness, and healthy living spaces. Based on these various factors, this course will take a closer look at two very specific strategies that are being used in creative ways for these different types of housing design. The first is the creation of outdoor spaces where that space is at a premium, such as in urban settings or restrictive sites. The second is the innovative use of durable materials on residential interiors or exteriors that help with energy performance, daylight control, and general wellness. These strategies can serve as springboards for creative, sustainable, and well-designed residences of all different types in all climate zones and all geographic areas.

Outdoor Space Design Challenges

Homeowner desires to have a connection to the outdoors is natural and common. The COVID-19 pandemic has intensified this desire as many people find they are spending much more time at home and yearn for ways to connect with nature. Fresh air and sunshine are the usual desired attributes with a growing recognition that access to the outdoors in general helps with human health and wellness. Such outdoor connections can be easy to access in low-density housing arrangements with larger building lots. But as density increases, such as in urban areas or intentional communities, outdoor spaces become even more valuable. The key is their specific context: What defines them? Are they narrow spaces between other buildings or do roads and infrastructure create boundaries that need to be respected? Perhaps these spaces are not at ground level but are found on roof tops or terrace levels that extend outward from enclosed living spaces? In some cases they may even be overlooked spaces, such as alleys or sidewalk areas, which need the benefit of architectural design to be transformed from unused areas to appealing, outdoor settings.

Ultimately, it is up to the design professional to seek out these outdoor space opportunities and find ways to create them. Indeed, it has been common for centuries to find residences designed with outdoor roof terraces, decks, and even enclosed gardens in many different geographic locations. The primary design issue, of course, is how to take advantage of the available space but still coordinate with the rest of the building design and construction. For example, if the available space is a low-slope (i.e., “flat”) roof, then there is a need to protect and preserve the roof membrane system. Since the primary purpose of a roof is to maintain a waterproof barrier to weather, then anything covering the roof to create an outdoor space needs to be consistent with that objective. Hence, a roof terrace or deck support system will need to avoid roofing penetrations that could void a roofing warranty or otherwise create damage to the roof. The second design issue is that even low-slope roofs are still sloped. Therefore, if this is the selected location for an outdoor space, then a means to create a level surface is needed.

A Solution: Pedestal Deck Systems

Recognizing the opportunity and the challenges of creating appealing, healthy, outdoor spaces, the building industry has responded with complete systems for creating rooftop environments. The usual goals are to create spaces that are functional, environmentally friendly, visually appealing, and remain affordable for many budgets. The most widely adopted approach is based on the use of adjustable height pedestals that sit on top of the roof membrane with modular tiles or pavers resting on top of the pedestals. Rain water passes through the joints in the deck tiles and drains down onto the roof as always intended. In fact, the deck tiles can actually help preserve and protect the roofing since it becomes the primary weathering surface instead of the roof membrane. The adjustability of the pedestals allows the system to be leveled to create a continuous, safe, walking surface.

Rooftop decks constructed this way create a valuable amenity in the form of recreational or leisure space for building owners/residents. Mark Fusco, LEED AP, GRP, national sales manager for Bison Innovative Products, has witnessed this firsthand. Mark points out that architects have been incorporating more roof decks into their projects because of the availability of these systems. “Architects can now design and specify tested, innovative systems for raised decks, including rooftop decks, terraces, and other architectural features. Further, they can do so using maintenance-free adjustable pedestals and low-maintenance deck surfaces.”

From a sustainability standpoint, pedestal roof deck systems contribute to green design in a number of ways. The outdoor spaces offer residents a viable means to help improve their own health and wellness in a controlled manner. Solar heat build-up from dark colored roofing can be mitigated using air-permeable pedestal deck systems which can help reduce the cooling loads of a residence. The materials used can be specified to meet green building criteria based on life-cycle assessments, product transparency or sustainable wood certification. The materials can also be selected to be durable for a longer service life, can contain recycled content, and/or be recycled/reused when no longer in place on the building. Overall, a modular and versatile pedestal deck system gives architects the design flexibility to create unique, sustainable, and beautiful rooftop environments and outdoor spaces.


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Originally published in Architectural Record
Originally published in November 2020


Bringing Green Design to Residential Projects
Buyer's Guide
Bison Rooftop Deck Systems
Manufactured in the USA with 20 percent post-industrial recycled materials, Bison Pedestals create level decks over sloped surfaces. Bison Pedestals elevate and support wood tiles, pavers, site furnishings, and a variety of other surfaces. Bison Wood Tiles are commercial-grade, constructed from sustainably harvested hardwoods, and available in standard and FSC-certified options.
Bison Innovative Products
Fabricoil Coiled Wire Fabric Systems
Cascade Architectural is committed to serving the product and service needs of our architectural customers. Since 1987, Cascade has provided a full range of functional Fabricoil woven wire mesh fabric systems to domestic and international markets. Suited for projects of any scale, exterior or interior, Cascade reflects our continued commitment to provide architects, engineers, and channel partners with aesthetically pleasing and affordable mesh systems.
Cascade Architectural