Greening Your Building: Design Phase

After completing the Pre-Design Phase, you are now ready to move on to the Design Phase. The Design Phase is where you will determine how the project will be constructed and maintained. There are some key considerations to make during this time, and we’ve outlined some important ones here.


How your project will reach it goals and whether or not it will comply with local ordinances will require a lot of research. If you are designing a new building or upgrading an older one, you may be required to install a green roof, or you might not. For example, the City of Denver is proposing a requirement for cool roofs on all buildings exceeding 25,000 square feet. Other options for compliance will exist, such as ground level green spaces, solar arrays, and partial green roofs (you can read the proposal here). Understanding your local laws and requirements first and basing your design off of them will help you avoid last minute changes or unexpected fines.

It is also recommended to do research on how your building might exceed the local and state requirements, in order to achieve a higher standard of sustainability and potentially attain special certifications, such as LEED. How can you go the extra mile with your green building project while staying within your budget and achieving your goals? The answer requires a lot of research, but it is worth it!


There are many financial options for sustainable and green buildings, whether it be new construction or upgrades. Green roofs or permeable parking lots can get you fee reductions for stormwater management, since they help alleviate the pressures of stormwater runoff. Low interest financing options, such a C-PACE, can get your energy efficient project off the ground with very competitive rates and a 20-year payback. This option is very attractive, since many green building projects, such as green roofs, can give you ROI in less than 10 years. Regardless of which options you choose, establishing a budget and discovering ways to maximize it will be essential to the design phase.

Site Analysis

Project design parameters will ultimately depend on the site and space your project will inhabit. Doing a thorough site analysis will help you understanding your limitations as well as bring opportunities to light. If the project includes a green roof or renewable energy, a climate evaluation for sunlight, wind shade, precipitation rates, and possible microclimates will be necessary for choosing the vegetation or technology that is most efficient and easiest to maintain.

Since many green building projects often utilize green roofs and other green spaces, understanding the vegetation needs, access to water and site accessibility for regular maintenance will need to be considered during the design phase. If you are greening an existing building, understanding the sites current systems, such as HVAC, stormwater drain, and energy use, will help you better understand ways to implement the project while taking advantage of these systems.

Cost/Benefit Analysis

We know buildings often cost money, but some buildings can save or even make money. Green building projects often cost more initially than traditional building materials and technologies. But green buildings offer a better return on investment per dollar due to their ability to conserve resources that will only get more costly as time passes (such as energy and water). When designing the project, look at the cost/benefit for all the options that are available to you, so that you can make a well informed decision about what to implement.

Everything established during the design phase will be difficult to undo later, especially if incentive programs are involved, so it is important to consider all decisions carefully during this time, and include as many stakeholders into the conversation as possible. Need help in designing and implementing your green building project? Sow Green has over 10 years of experience, and would love to help you get your project off the ground.