Even if you are not an architect, contractor, developer, building owner, or realtor, chances are you have heard the term green building or sustainable building. You may even live or work in a green or high-performance building.
In this post, we will discuss what green building is and why it is important.
Since childhood, I have been fascinated by buildings—the way they look, how they are built and function, and especially their ability to positively impact how people live and work. When a former employer and client embarked on a green building program, I took the opportunity to learn as much as I could about green design and green building.
Why is Green Building Important?
Conventional buildings have a substantial impact on the health and wellbeing of people and the planet. They use resources, generate waste, and emit greenhouse gases throughout their life cycle which can be 50, 75, or more years. For example:
According to the U.S. EIA, roughly 41% of total U.S. energy consumed in 2011 was used in buildings (about 40 quadrillion BTUs).
U.S. EPA 2010 statistics show commercial andresidential economic sectors accounted for 11% ofgreenhouse gas emissions which include burning fossil fuels for heat, use of products containing greenhouse gases, and waste.
The U.S. EPA estimates landscape irrigation accounts for about 1/3 of all residential water use, more than 7 billion gallons per day.
What is Green Building?
Green building is not new. Humans been building with local materials such as mud, straw, wood, and stone, and using renewable energy from the sun, the wind, and water for thousands of years.
Today, green building is the practice of designing, constructing, and operating buildings to:
- Minimize resource use
- Reduce waste and negative environmental impacts
- Maximize occupant health and productivity
- Decrease life cycle costs
A green building:
- Makes efficient use of land, materials, energy, and water
- Generates minimal or no waste
- Provides a healthy indoor environment for its occupants
- Restores, improves, or enhances the natural environment
How is Green Building Different than Conventional Building?
A few of the differences between green or sustainable building and conventional building practices are described below.
Green Building Integrative Project Approach
In a conventional building, the people responsible for designing, constructing, and operating the building may not meet each other until well into the project, at the end, or never.
“…70% of the decisions associated with environmental impacts are made during the first 10% of the design process.”
— U.S. Green Building Council LEED Green Associate Study Guide
Green building uses an integrative project approach which brings people together at the front end to collaborate and share ideas that can enhance building performance and save money during construction and building operation.
Green Building Life Cycle Costs
Green building considers costs over the entire life of the building, whereas conventional building is often focused on initial design and construction costs.
For example, a residential home developer may scrimp on insulation to save money without considering how that impacts the energy costs of the future homeowners.
Green Building Operation
A key factor of high-performance green buildings is commissioning. This is the process of confirming the building operates as designed, resolving any issues, and training the people who will be operating the building.
Building operations personnel are the true heroes of green building. They are the ones responsible for monitoring, tweaking, fixing, and maintaining a building and its systems throughout the building’s life cycle.
Greening Existing Buildings
Green building is not just for new construction. Think of how many homes, office buildings, manufacturing plants, hotels, restaurants, and sports stadiums are a ready built. Green retrofitting, renovating, and remodeling of existing buildings is perhaps where we can get the most for our green dollar. Existing building green projects include:
- Installing solar panels on the roof of a home
- Replacing the lighting system in an office building with one that uses LEDs
- Retrofitting factory plumbing fixtures with low-flow toilets, urinals, faucets, and showerheads
An American Icon Goes Green
The 102-story Empire State Building built in New York City in 1931 recently underwent a ground-breaking energy retrofit and renovation which included refurbishment of all 6,500 windows, a chiller plant retrofit, new building controls, and a web-based tenant energy management system.