How to Increase Your Building’s Lifespan: Durability and Sustainability in Green Building Practices

Karim Allana
3 min readOct 3, 2023

These days, “legacy” is a popular term: we hear about legacy students, legacy bands (Rolling Stones), and even legacy job boards (Monster) that may or may not be relevant to our lives now.

But how about legacy houses? Is the place you dwell built to last a century? Designing for durability makes all the difference in how well a building will endure through time and how often you’ll need to replace or upgrade various components. The more durable the construction, the greater the savings and the lower the environmental impact over time.

Why Durability Matters

Sustainable and renewable are also big buzzwords today. A building built for legacy status is typically low maintenance, which is the definition of a durable material: made to last. For example, a pultruded fiberglass window frame is highly durable and ought to hold up well even without maintenance, whereas vinyl tile has to be stripped and re-waxed consistently. This maintenance becomes part of the product’s environmental impact and ends up costing more in the long run.

Passive House is one type of construction intended for both durability and sustainability in green building. Passive House is an ultra-low energy building standard that creates structures so efficient they don’t require typical heating or cooling systems. Relying on maximum insulation, a Passive House building exceeds LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) requirements.

In a Passive House, every element optimizes energy to prevent leakage: the house as a unit is more efficient than any single appliance or room. And the benefits extend beyond the durability and sustainable nature of the building itself: in German schools built to the Passivehaus Institute standard, students were found to perform significantly better than those enrolled in ordinary school buildings — perhaps because they were more alert due to improved air quality.

The Durable Design

Here’s a checklist for improving durability through design and construction:

· Moisture. Surprisingly, to most people who are not in the industry, the vast majority of durability issues stem from moisture (think mold). HUD’s Partnership for Advanced Technology in Housing (PATH) devotes 75 percent of its coverage to moisture issues in the publication Durability by Design.

· Heat. This is where the materials used can make or break durability, literally. Thermal issues can affect window performance, degrade roofs, create leaks, and loosen fasteners over time, to give you a few examples.

· Building Function. Durability also means the capacity to adapt to changing needs over time. A 200-year-old home that is structurally sound and started out minus electricity, plumbing or central heat can be upgraded to meet the 21st century. However, it isn’t easy to adapt a design that requires frequent updating, and such a structure is more likely to be demolished than retrofitted.

· Style. Timeless architecture that is aesthetically appealing in any era will create a desire to take care of the building. Beauty without trendiness is the essence of durability: a building that can be flexible enough to change with the times, adding green features when and where appropriate, is built to last. It must also address the needs of time itself, and be built to withstand such natural disasters as fires, floods, earthquakes or hurricanes. This, of course, depends to a large extent on location, but the design principles are the same.

Complacency and trendiness are the antithesis of durable, green design. Architecture can be bold, original, and simultaneously beautiful, functional, and designed with longevity as the goal. The Passive House model is inaugurating one style of legacy building. Many others are possible. If you want your design to leave a legacy, focus on durability, with the future firmly in mind and in the plans.

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Karim Allana

Karim Allana is founder and CEO of Allana Buick & Bers. He is an industry leader in building envelope architectural engineering and construction management.