Green building (also known as green construction or sustainable building) is the practice of creating structures and using processes that are environmentally responsible and resource-efficient throughout a building’s life-cycle: from site planning to design, construction, operation, maintenance, renovation, and deconstruction. This practice expands and complements the classical building design concerns of economy, utility, durability, and comfort.
Although new technologies are constantly being developed to complement current practices in creating greener structures, the common objective is that green buildings are designed to reduce the overall impact of the built environment on human health and the natural environment by:
- Efficiently using energy, water, and other resources
- Protecting occupant health and improving employee productivity
- Reducing waste, pollution and environmental degradation
A similar concept is natural building, which is usually on a smaller scale and tends to focus on the use of natural materials that are available locally. Other related topics include sustainable design and green architecture. Green building does not specifically address the issue of the retrofitting existing homes.
Reducing environmental impact
Green building practices aim to reduce the environmental impact of new buildings. Buildings account for a large amount of land use, energy and water consumption, and air and atmosphere alteration. Considering the statistics, reducing the amount of natural resources buildings consume and the amount of pollution given off is seen as crucial for future sustainability, according to EPA. The building sector alone accounts for 30-40 percent of global energy use. Over 80 percent of the environmentally harmful emissions from buildings are due to energy consumption during the times when the buildings are in use. Green building does not typically include the concept of renovations although many of the 2050 homes are already built and UK homes account for 30% of UK Carbon Emissions . Domestic energy improvement targets of 20% between now and 2010, and again by a further 20% between 2010 and 2020 have been suggested by the UK government. The environmental impact of buildings is often underestimated, while the perceived costs of green buildings are overestimated. A recent survey by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development finds that green costs are overestimated by 300 percent, as key players in real estate and construction estimate the additional cost at 17 percent above conventional construction, more than triple the true average cost difference of about 5 percent.
Goals of green building
The concept of sustainable development can be traced to the energy (especially fossil oil) crisis and the environment pollution concern in the 1970s. The green building movement in the U.S. originated from the need and desire for more energy efficient and environmentally friendly construction practices. There are a number of motives to building green, including environmental, economic, and social benefits. However, modern sustainability initiatives call for an integrated and synergistic design to both new construction and in the retrofitting of an existing structure. Also known as sustainable design, this approach integrates the building life-cycle with each green practice employed with a design-purpose to create a synergy amongst the practices used.
Green building brings together a vast array of practices and techniques to reduce and ultimately eliminate the impacts of new buildings on the environment and human health. It often emphasizes taking advantage of renewable resources, e.g., using sunlight through passive solar, active solar, and photovoltaic techniques and using plants and trees through green roofs, rain gardens, and for reduction of rainwater run-off. Many other techniques, such as using packed gravel or permeable concrete instead of conventional concrete or asphalt to enhance replenishment of ground water, are used as well.
While the practices, or technologies, employed in green building are constantly evolving and may differ from region to region, there are fundamental principles that persist from which the method is derived: Site Planning and Structure Design Efficiency, Energy Efficiency, Water Efficiency, Materials Efficiency, Indoor Environmental Quality Enhancement, Operations and Maintenance Optimization, and Waste and Toxics Reduction. The essence of green building is an optimization of one or more of these principles. Also, with the proper synergistic design, individual green building technologies may work together to produce a greater cumulative effect.
On the aesthetic side of green architecture or sustainable design is the philosophy of designing a building that is in harmony with the natural features and resources surrounding the site. There are several key steps in designing sustainable buildings: specify ‘green’ building materials from local sources, reduce loads, optimize systems, and generate on-site renewable energy.
Site Planning and structure design efficiency
The foundation of any construction project is rooted in the concept and design stages. The concept stage, in fact, is one of the major steps in a project life cycle, as it has the largest impact on cost and performance. In designing environmentally optimal buildings, the objective is to minimize the total environmental impact associated with all life-cycle stages of the building project. However, building as a process is not as streamlined as an industrial process, and varies from one building to the other, never repeating itself identically. In addition, buildings are much more complex products, composed of a multitude of materials and components each constituting various design variables to be decided at the design stage. A variation of every design variable may affect the environment during all the building’s relevant life-cycle stages.
Buildings often include measures to reduce energy use. To increase the efficiency of the building envelope, (the barrier between conditioned and unconditioned space), they may use high-efficiency windows and insulation in walls, ceilings, and floors. Another strategy, passive solar building design, is often implemented in low-energy homes. Designers orient windows and walls and place awnings, porches, and trees to shade windows and roofs during the summer while maximizing solar gain in the winter. In addition, effective window placement (daylighting) can provide more natural light and lessen the need for electric lighting during the day. Solar water heating further reduces energy loads.
Onsite generation of renewable energy through solar power, wind power, hydro power, or biomass can significantly reduce the environmental impact of the building. Power generation is generally the most expensive feature to add to a building.
Reducing water consumption and protecting water quality are key objectives in sustainable building. One critical issue of water consumption is that in many areas, the demands on the supplying aquifer exceed its ability to replenish itself. To the maximum extent feasible, facilities should increase their dependence on water that is collected, used, purified, and reused on-site. The protection and conservation of water throughout the life of a building may be accomplished by designing for dual plumbing that recycles water in toilet flushing. Waste-water may be minimized by utilizing water conserving fixtures such as ultra-low flush toilets and low-flow shower heads. Bidets help eliminate the use of toilet paper, reducing sewer traffic and increasing possibilities of re-using water on-site. Point of use water treatment and heating improves both water quality and energy efficiency while reducing the amount of water in circulation. The use of non-sewage and greywater for on-site use such as site-irrigation will minimize demands on the local aquifer.
Building materials typically considered to be ‘green’ include rapidly renewable plant materials like bamboo (because bamboo grows quickly) and straw, lumber from forests certified to be sustainably managed, ecology blocks, dimension stone, recycled stone, recycled metal, and other products that are non-toxic, reusable, renewable, and/or recyclable (e.g. Trass, Linoleum, sheep wool, panels made from paper flakes, compressed earth block, adobe, baked earth, rammed earth, clay, vermiculite, flax linen, sisal, seagrass, cork, expanded clay grains, coconut, wood fiber plates, calcium sand stone, concrete (high and ultra high performance, roman self-healing concrete) , etc.) The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) also suggests using recycled industrial goods, such as coal combustion products, foundry sand, and demolition debris in construction projects Building materials should be extracted and manufactured locally to the building site to minimize the energy embedded in their transportation. Where possible, building elements should be manufactured off-site and delivered to site, to maximize benefits of off-site manufacture including minimizing waste, maximizing recycling (because manufacture is in one location), high quality elements, better OHS management, less noise and dust.
Indoor environmental quality enhancement
The Indoor Environmental Quality (IEQ) category in LEED standards, one of the five environmental categories, was created to provide comfort, well-being, and productivity of occupants. The LEED IEQ category addresses design and construction guidelines especially: indoor air quality (IAQ), thermal quality, and lighting quality.
Indoor Air Quality seeks to reduce volatile organic compounds, or VOC’s, and other air impurities such as microbial contaminants. Buildings rely on a properly designed HVAC system to provide adequate ventilation and air filtration as well as isolate operations (kitchens, dry cleaners, etc.) from other occupancies. During the design and construction process choosing construction materials and interior finish products with zero or low emissions will improve IAQ. Many building materials and cleaning/maintenance products emit toxic gases, such as VOC’s and formaldehyde. These gases can have a detrimental impact on occupants’ health and productivity as well. Avoiding these products will increase a building’s IEQ.
Personal temperature and airflow control over the HVAC system coupled with a properly designed building envelope will also aid in increasing a building’s thermal quality. Creating a high performance luminous environment through the careful integration of natural and artificial light sources will improve on the lighting quality of a structure.
Operations and maintenance optimization
No matter how sustainable a building may have been in its design and construction, it can only remain so if it is operated responsibly and maintained properly. Ensuring operations and maintenance(O&M) personnel are part of the project’s planning and development process will help retain the green criteria designed at the onset of the project. Every aspect of green building is integrated into the O&M phase of a building’s life. The addition of new green technologies also falls on the O&M staff. Although the goal of waste reduction may be applied during the design, construction and demolition phases of a building’s life-cycle, it is in the O&M phase that green practices such as recycling and air quality enhancement take place.
Green architecture also seeks to reduce waste of energy, water and materials used during construction. For example, in California nearly 60% of the state’s waste comes from commercial buildings During the construction phase, one goal should be to reduce the amount of material going to landfills. Well-designed buildings also help reduce the amount of waste generated by the occupants as well, by providing on-site solutions such as compost bins to reduce matter going to landfills.
To reduce the impact on wells or water treatment plants, several options exist. “Greywater“, wastewater from sources such as dishwashing or washing machines, can be used for subsurface irrigation, or if treated, for non-potable purposes, e.g., to flush toilets and wash cars. Rainwater collectors are used for similar purposes.
Centralized wastewater treatment systems can be costly and use a lot of energy. An alternative to this process is converting waste and wastewater into fertilizer, which avoids these costs and shows other benefits. By collecting human waste at the source and running it to a semi-centralized biogas plant with other biological waste, liquid fertilizer can be produced. This concept was demonstrated by a settlement in Lubeck Germany in the late 1990s. Practices like these provide soil with organic nutrients and create carbon sinks that remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, offsetting greenhouse gas emission. Producing artificial fertilizer is also more costly in energy than this process.
The most criticized issue about constructing environmentally friendly buildings is the price. Photo-voltaics, new appliances, and modern technologies tend to cost more money. Most green buildings cost a premium of <2%, but yield 10 times as much over the entire life of the building. The stigma is between the knowledge of up-front cost vs. life-cycle cost. The savings in money come from more efficient use of utilities which result in decreased energy bills. Also, higher worker or student productivity can be factored into savings and cost deductions. Studies have shown over a 20 year life period, some green buildings have yielded $53 to $71 per square foot back on investment. It is projected that different sectors could save $130 Billion on energy bills.
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