“Green Building” is a broad term used to describe the design and construction of sustainable and environmentally conscious buildings.
The driving force behind this is to lower our negative impact on the environment and, at the same time, make the buildings we live and work in safer and healthier for us.
According to the United States Green Building Council (USGBC) statistics, buildings are responsible for all of the following:
- 39% of US carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions
- 70% of US electricity consumption
- 15 trillion gallons of water consumption
Even though there is still some controversy over the effect of greenhouse gases on the environment, the last two statistics are very important for those of us living in urban areas experiencing continuous growth, especially the American Southwest. With our population expansion, aging water and electrical infrastructure, and shrinking landfills, designing and constructing green and sustainable buildings makes practical sense from a utilitarian perspective.
In fact, USGBC data shows that green buildings use 36% less energy, require fewer raw materials, and divert less waste to our landfills. Furthermore, the “increased” cost of green building is only one or two percent more expensive than a conventional building. This minute difference exemplifies the tangible and long-term benefits of sustainable design, primarily due to the fact that green buildings conserve water and electricity. Thus, while they are more expensive to build, green structures will save money by conserving more energy over time.
Another push towards the green build movement is by local governments. More and more municipalities are adopting the USGBC LEED® (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) guidelines for new and renovated buildings. In 2006, at the USGBC Greenbuild expo, the Mayor of Denver challenged other major cities to see who can have the most LEED® certified green buildings. They are accomplishing this by offering tax breaks to private corporations and mandating sustainable construction for city-financed projects.
This has led to a dramatic increase in the number of sustainable projects built by LEED® Certified general contractors. However, this growth has not come without challenges. Currently, the following issues are restricting the number of green projects being built:
- Increased demand for green products has lead to long lead times
- New and unspecified materials are labeled “green” products which are not necessarily certified
- Building officials are struggling with a steep learning curve on how to evaluate these new products and sustainable building techniques
Despite these difficulties, the USGBC, sustainability advocates, and green building construction management firms are meeting to overcome these challenges.
The LEED® process is constantly under review and continues to adopt the latest codes and products. This includes Standard 189, a new minimum standard for green building. The USGBC is currently developing LEED® 3.0 and working with national code writers to include new products and techniques.
The American Institute of Architects (AIA) has even rolled out a new initiative called “Sustainability 2030,” which at its roots, is looking to design all buildings by the year 2030 as carbon neutral. The USGBC has even initiated the Green Advantage Builders Certification for contractors to certify their knowledge in green building techniques.
So what does green building mean at the end of the day? It’s simple yet profound: Do the right thing for you, the environment, and the next generation. While most companies are concerned with their bottom line, they ought to embrace the idea that energy and water conservation, green building, and the use of “green materials” in construction stands to increase their savings over time while positioning them as a leader in environmental stewardship.
According to the USGBC, we spend 90% of our time indoors. Due to this fact, scientists have identified an increase in allergies, asthma, absenteeism from school, and even work. There have been numerous studies done on post occupancy productivity levels, which have increased within “green” built facilities. Not only does green adaptation result in less sick days taken, but also shows an increase in productivity, job
satisfaction, and in the case of schools, better grades.
If you are like me, you are constantly trying to reduce your carbon footprint and dependence on oil and other non- renewable energy sources. I drive a hybrid, am slowing converting all my incandescent light bulbs to CFL bulbs, recycle as much as possible and use water bottles instead of buying bottled water. Needless to say these are small steps and I often wonder if I could be doing more – much more.
As a realtor I tour homes every week in which the builder or homeowner has spared no expensive to upgrade the kitchen and baths, finish the basement, add decorative moldings, plant expensive landscaping, install automatic sprinkler systems, etc. But rarely do I see a home with an alternative, eco friendly heating and cooling system.
Here in Massachusetts about half of all homes are heated by oil. According to the National Energy Assistance Directors’ Association costs for heating a home by oil this winter are expected to increase by 47.3% from last winter. Projected increases for natural gas and electricity are less shocking, 9.2% and 8.6% respectively. Given these high costs you would think that more consumers would be going green and turning to alternative sources of energy, such as geothermal or solar, for home heating and cooling. Apart from the very progressive developer or builder, that is just not the case from what I see in my day to day adventures in real estate.
Many people are under the impression that 1) eco friendly systems for heating and cooling are too expensive install and/or 2) not possible without the perfect climatic conditions. These systems can be more expensive, but as the technology improves the price will and has decreased. There is also the additional offset of long term savings on heating and cooling costs. In regards to the second issue – geothermal and solar systems can be installed almost anywhere. Germany, not exactly the sunniest of locations, uses more solar energy than any other country in the world. Even in New England the ground is sufficiently warm enough to produce geothermal heat. Case in point – Monarch Lofts in Lawrence is installing a geothermal system to heat and cool 202 residential condo units.
Granted going green does often increase costs, at least in the short term, but should home heating costs continue to escalate, I am sure consumers will begin to demand homes with alternative heating sources and other eco conscious features. Recent surveys have shown that buyers are willing to pay extra for a new home with eco friendly features.
Of course in the interim there are options for those of us wanting to do our part for the environment, but unable to build a new home.
- Remodeling? Incorporate some green or renewable materials such as bamboo flooring, low toxic finishes, low flow toilets and showers, countertops made from recycled glass, etc. For inspiration and materials check out Ecohaus.
- Install programmable thermostats, compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFL), and solar or on-demand water heaters.
- Pay attention to the Energy Star ratings and buy energy efficient appliances.
- Install energy efficient windows and insulation.
By doing what we can now and demanding alternatives in the near future, perhaps we can make a difference in preserving the planet for our children and grandchildren.
As an internet platform for green, energy efficient and sustainable homes, we have reviewed some interesting and creative verbiage used by some sellers in the real estate marketplace. In the environmental business we call this “green washing”.
Green washing is when someone uses “green” terminology to help drive more interest to an otherwise typical (in this case) home for sale, in a currently flat and bloated real estate market.
This “green” terminology could be words such as:
- Healthy environment
We’ve seen ads that would say “a solar home”, when all they really had was a wall that faced south.
Or maybe the home just has CFL’s (compact florescent lighting) and not much else in the home. Although minimal improvements help the environment in a small way, there are cool innovative green homes out there that are making heads really turn in a BIG way. includes ( loves to promote) innovative building technologies that we believe will make the quickest (and the biggest) change in the environment regarding the way we live, the homes we live in and the way we build them.
Things we take for granted every day, do have a direct impact on global warming. The toilets we flush, the indoor air we breathe, the utility bills we pay; all these everyday duties affect the environment and our health.
There currently are so many new technologies in sustainable home building, that we could make a huge impact right now, not years later. We can currently heat most of our water with thermal solar and not the black stuff you see on roofs, but innovative glass tubes that absorb UV rays year-round; recycle all our grey water (sinks and showers) and redirect that water to flush our toilets; building design and orientation to take advantage of the natural heating and cooling effects in a particular location; construct living environments utilizing innovative building materials that may come from recycled or renewable sources that also offer a tremendous R-factor.
A one-two punch in not only saving our limited building material resources, but also less requirement from fossil fuels and the like, to heat and cool our homes everyday.