Green Building

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Introduction

In the United States alone, the building sector is responsible for 72% of electricity consumption, 39% of energy use, and 38% of carbon dioxide emissions. These numbers prove that it is necessary to build green in order to ensure the well being of the environment. In fact, by building green, there can be up to 35% of carbon dioxide reductions. [1] Countries, private sectors, and individuals have responded to these statistics and are partaking in the green revolution. They have found that building green is economically and environmentally beneficial.

Green Certification

In the United States, green buildings are labeled and certified by the United States Green Building Council (USGBC) Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED). There are four levels at which environmentally sustainable buildings can be categorized: LEED Certified, LEED Silver Certified, LEED Gold Certified, and LEED Platinum Certified. To effectively categorize and measure the efficiency of the buildings, certification points are awarded in numerous categories including, but not limited to indoor air quality, material and resource conservation, and sustainable sites. The points correlate with the efficiency and sustainability of the building.

Countries such as Canada, India, and China have used the LEED certification standards to measure green buildings. Many other countries, however, have their own measuring system. For example, Australia has the Green Star Program, Japan has the Comprehensive Assessment System for Building Environmental Efficiency (CASBEE), and Great Britain has the BRE Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM). These systems work because they give concrete guidelines that help architects, engineers, and developers successfully build green.

Political

Governments enforce and encourage developers to reach green building certification standards through policy. In cities and states throughout the United States there are tax benefits to building green. In Nevada, specifically, private development projects that achieve LEED Silver Certification can receive property tax abatement of up to 50 percent. For most projects, the tax abatement is higher than the spending it takes to get the building Silver Certified. As a result, developers actually make money from building green. [2] In other countries, such as Holland, there are strict laws and programs aimed at reducing energy use in the building sector. With enforced laws and incentives, developers have no choice but to go green.

Economic Costs

Developers, however, have realized that with or without policies, sustainable building is still beneficial economically. Green buildings, when compared to conventional buildings, use 30 percent less energy. Through energy savings alone, a 100,000 square foot building can save over half a million dollars within twenty years. Therefore, by investing in green buildings, developers have the potential to save over ten times the initial investment. [3]The upfront cost of building green may be a bit more costly, but it is a good investment because in the long run, it saves a large sum of money.

Not only will green building save money in energy consumption, but it will also add more value to the property in the real estate market. If capitalization rates remain the same at 6 percent, the value of a building with LEED, or any other equivalent certification standards, may increase by $625,000. The value of conventional buildings, on the other hand, will decrease over time. Richard Cook, a prominent architect states, “In five years, it will be clear that buildings not reaching the highest standard of sustainability will become obsolete.”[4] If private sectors and countries do not invest in green building now, it may be a disadvantage for them in the future.

Despite all of the benefits of sustainable buildings, there is a still a number of developers, mostly in the private sector, that are reluctant to build green. This is because “in private work the biggest barrier is the unequal distribution of benefits between developers and tenants.” [5] Developers, the ones who pay the initial costs do not receive the benefits. Instead, it is the tenants that do. However, this will change because as green building becomes more and more popular, the extra costs will drop.

There is a misconception that green building is much more costly than conventional buildings. In a test of randomly selected buildings, it was “indicated that there was no statistically significant [cost] difference between the LEED population and the non-LEED population.”[6] Costs of square feet in both types of buildings fluctuated. This shows that green buildings, like conventional ones, can be built in a cost-effective manner. In fact, with more research and experience, experts will be able to find additional ways to reduce the cost of green building. Recently at Harvard University, with careful planning, developers and architects were able to complete a LEED Platinum building at no additional cost. [7]It is possible to build green with little cost and without going over budget.

If large green building projects are not economically feasible, small, low cost changes can make vast amounts of differences. As stated by Yung Ho Chang, the Head of the Department of Architecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, “a design that reduces only a fraction of the typical energy consumption is better than none.” [8] There are many easy ways to save energy within a building. Energy efficient lights with occupancy and daylight sensors can be installed and trees can be planted around the building to act as shade and lower the need for air conditioning. In designs, developers can strategically place driveways on the north or south side of building, depending on the region, to either reduce heat buildup or help melt the snow. [9] Small additions and details like these are very important and should not be overlooked. Each adjustment can save hundreds of dollars in energy savings. And hundreds of dollars add up.

Methods

Although there are innumerable ways to architecturally build green, the goals and concepts behind the designs are similar. The main focus of all green designs is how to best insulate a building. Insulation is important because it can reduce the amount of heat lost in an average home by about 50%.[10] Most of the energy lost in a home is through the roof and attic. In warmer climates, a building gains heat from direct contact with the sun, while in cooler climates, the opposite occurs and heat is lost from warm air rising. To reduce these effects, the attic should be well insulated and forty-year composition roof shingles should be installed. Close attention also needs to be paid to walls, floors, and windows. Durable methods of insulation for attics, walls, and floors include using cellulose (recycled newspaper), fiberglass, cork, wool, recycled cotton, and structural insulated panels (SIPs).[11]For windows, low-emissive glass should be used to retain the ideal temperature depending on the climate.

To further lower energy costs, developers and architects must focus on how to design a building that efficiently utilizes natural sources of energy, particularly solar power. In cooler, cloudy climates, the building should have a cubical shape and a high floor area to surface area (F/S) ratio. This will maximize the heat gains of the building. In warmer, humid climates, to prevent from gaining too much heat, the building should be more rectangular and have a lower F/S ratio.[12]Inside the home, dark surface and thermal mass materials, such as brick, concrete, wet soil, stone, and masonry, should be used as opposed to the standard dry wall. These materials will maintain the temperature of a building by absorbing heat during the day and releasing it in the night. [13]If possible, photovoltaic solar panels should be installed to the roof to produce the electricity used in a building. These panels are becoming more and more affordable to install. In the 1980s, the price of photovoltaic energy cost over $20 per peak watt. In 2002, the price lowered to $4 per peak watt and in 2010 it is projected to only cost $1.50 per peak watt.[14]

Using solar energy to heat water can lower water utility bills by 50-80%. Two different categories of water heaters are passive and active. The difference between these categories is that active water heaters use pumps to circulate the water, while passive ones do not. Passive systems, although they are not as efficient, tend to last longer and are less expensive than active ones.[15]In addition to using solar water heaters to save energy, developers should find ways to lower the water consumption as a whole. To do so, they should focus on toilets. Toilets, alone, are responsible for 30% of residential water use. By switching to WaterSense Labeled Toilets, which are third party certified and use 20% less water than the current federal standard, $2000 can be saved over the lifetime of the toilet.[16]

In each region, buildings need to be designed to accommodate for their particular climate. Buildings built in New England cannot be the same as those built in the Southwest. In the Southwest, the focus of green building should be to shade the home and maximize the use of solar power for energy. Contrastingly, in New England, the focus should be on insulation and sheltering the north side of a building. A more specific example of a building that fits perfectly in its natural environment is the “Cape Schanck House” on the coastline of Australia. The house is built low to the ground to withstand the strong ocean winds. At the same time, the design of the house allows it to use those winds as natural ventilation to improve the indoor air quality. [17]

Geography

Green building tends to be cheaper in areas where materials and resources are readily available. In most cases, urban areas are able to obtain these resources easier than rural areas. The same goes for construction waste management. “While urban projects are typically able to achieve these points for minimal costs impact, rural projects may see cost greater impacts.” [18] As a result, green building projects tend to be located in major cities such as New York, Washington D.C., Boston, Seattle, and Portland. Although cities only account for 2% of the world land surface, they are responsible for over 75% of resource and energy consumption. [19] More green building still needs to be done in cities worldwide.

Health

Building green proves to be beneficial health wise. The United States Environmental Agency found that indoor air levels of pollutants range from 2.5 times to 100 times higher than outdoor levels. [20] This can lead to serious health problems, as humans tend to spend about 90 percent of their time indoors. With improved air quality and more lighting, humans are able lead healthier lifestyles and are more productive. Green buildings, therefore, improve the performance of employees by up to 7%. Green building increases output, which in turn benefits the corporation economically. In a different study performed on schools, it was discovered that students in classrooms with more natural daylight performed approximately 20 percent better than those in classrooms with poor lighting. [21] By building green and improving the environment in which students’ study, towns and cities can strengthen their public school systems.

Conclusion

Individuals, regions, and countries are taking the initiative and investing in green building. They have realized that by building green now, they will not only benefit economically, but they will also make, as stated by the authors Mann and Kump, “the interior space where [they] spend much of our time healthier and more comfortable.” [22] The green building revolution has taken off and more and more green buildings are being built everyday. What will you do to contribute?

Notes

  1. "Green Building Facts." September 2008. United States Green Building Council. 27 Oct 2008 <http://www.usgbc.org/DisplayPage.aspx?CMSPageID=1718.
  2. Yudelson, Jerry. The Green Building Revolution. Page 33. Washington D.C.: Island Press, 2008.
  3. Kats, Greg. "The Costs and Financial Benefits of Green Building." California's Sustainable Building Task Force. Page 19. October 2003. United States Green Building Council Leadership.
  4. Yudelson, Jerry. The Green Building Revolution. Page 27-32. Washington D.C: Island Press, 2008.
  5. Yudelson, Jerry. The Green Building Revolution. Page 64. Washington D.C: Island Press, 2008.
  6. Langdon, Davis, and Lisa Fay Matthiessen, and Peter Morris “Costing Green: A Comprehensive Cost Database and Budgeting Methodology.” Page 19. United States Building Council Leadership.
  7. “46 Blackstone Renovation Case Study.” May 2006. Harvard Green Campus Initiative. 27 Oct 2008.<http://www.districtenergy.org/pdfs/08CampConference/BlackstoneCaseStudy.pdf>.
  8. Feireiss, Kristin, and Lukas Feireiss. Architecture of Change: Sustainability and Humanity in the Built Environment. Page 137. Berlin: Gestalten, 2008.
  9. Wilson, Alex. “Greening Federal Facilities.” Second Edition. Page 34. United States Department of Energy, May 2001.
  10. Harland, Edward. Eco~Renovation. Port Mills, Vermont: Chelsea Green Publishing Company, 1993.
  11. "Insulation and Air Sealing." Build it Green. December 2005. Green Affordable Housing Coalition. 30 Oct 2008 <http://www.builditgreen.org/insulation-and-air-sealing-build-it-green-fact-sheet-pdf>.
  12. "Passive Solar Design Part 1." Build it Green. Jun 2007. Green Affordable Housing Coalition. 30 Oct 2008 <http://www.builditgreen.org/passive-solar-design-part-1-build-it-green-fact-sheet-pdf>.
  13. "Passive Solar Design Part 2." Build it Green. Jun 2007. Green Affordable Housing Coalition. 30 Oct 2008 <http://www.builditgreen.org/passive-solar-design-part-1-build-it-green-fact-sheet-pdf>.
  14. "PV Primer." Jun 2002. Building Science Corporation. 30 Oct 2008 <http://www.buildingscience.com/documents/reports/rr-0212-pv-primer/view?searchterm=pv%20primer>.
  15. "Solar Water Heaters." Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. 14 Sep 2005. Department of Energy. 30 Oct 2008 <http://apps1.eere.energy.gov/consumer/your_home/electricity/index.cfm/mytopic=12850>.
  16. "Water Sense Labeled Toilets." Jun 2002. Environmental Protection Agency. 30 Oct 2008 <http://www.epa.gov/watersense/pubs.het>.
  17. Feireiss, Kristin, and Lukas Feireiss. Architecture of Change: Sustainability and Humanity in the Built Environment. Page 52-60. Berlin: Gestalten, 2008.
  18. Langdon, Davis. Lisa Fay Matthiessen. Peter Morris “Costing Green: A Comprehensive Cost Database and Budgeting Methodology.” Page 10. United States Building Council Leadership.
  19. Feireiss, Kristin, and Lukas Feireiss. Architecture of Change: Sustainability and Humanity in the Built Environment. Page 35. Berlin: Gestalten, 2008.
  20. Hasegawa, Takahiko. Environmentally Sustainable Buildings. Page 28. Paris: Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, 2003.
  21. Kats, Greg. "The Costs and Financial Benefits of Green Building." California's Sustainable Building Task Force. Pg. v. October 2003. United States Green Building Council Leadership.
  22. Mann, Michael, and Lee Kump. Dire Predictions. New York, NY: DK Publishing Inc., 2008.