Today, the government, businesses, and communities in general are interested in ways that they can reduce pollution and their overall impact on the environment. One of the ways that this is happening is through the development of sustainable buildings. Sustainable building, also commonly referred to as green building, is a method of building in which environmentally friendly practices and resources are used for construction, maintenance and renovation. This ranges from the selection of the building site to the types of materials that are used to build it. Green building techniques also greatly impact the efficiency of a structure’s energy usage and can be applied to both non-residential and residential buildings and homes.
In the United States, the current trend in green building began to truly grow in popularity during the 1990s, with Austin, Texas forming the first green building program in 1992 and the formation of the U.S. Green Building Council in 1993. Traditionally, the construction of homes consumes large amounts of natural resources, water and energy. They cause both air and water pollution through waste, noise, and the runoff of storm water. As a result, the construction of homes and buildings has had a harmful effect on both human and animal health. It has also been harmful to the environment in terms of the loss of natural resources and the degradation of the environment.
Green buildings have a more positive effect not only on human health, but also to the environment and on the community in which they are built. Green buildings are designed to use resources, such as water and energy, more efficiently. They use sustainable materials that are local, durable, renewable or recycled. They are also built to reduce air pollution and improve the quality of water by reducing the waste that eventually makes its way into streams. For the community there are a number of benefits that green buildings offer to citizens, businesses, and contractors. These benefits are both economic and social. On an economic level, businesses often see a reduction in long-term operating costs and through certain choices may even improve the productivity of their employees. In addition, green buildings offer employees a healthier workplace and reduce absenteeism. Both businesses and contractors may use green building as a way to increase their customer base. Contractors may focus their business efforts around green building while businesses may make changes such as adding natural lighting, which has been found to improve sales. Socially, the community often experiences a heightened quality of life, a better preserved natural environment, and less stress on the local infrastructure.
How to Go Green
Even people who already own a home or business can make improvements using green building standards, products, and materials. Adding recycled insulation, for example is a common and useful green improvement that can be made to an existing home in efforts to improve energy efficiency. Recycled paints, flooring, and carpets are also a few of the available products for home improvement projects. Prior to hiring a contractor, it is important to look for one that is a part of a green building program or who has received certification from an energy efficiency program. This will ensure that the contractor has received the proper training and has the knowledge to make green improvements to the home or building. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) taxpayers in some states may receive federal tax credits for certain types of building projects that are energy-efficient. Tax credits may also be available for homeowners who purchase certain energy-efficient products. For example, solar energy systems may be eligible for a tax credit of 30 percent of the cost when purchased for new or existing homes.
In efforts to improve the environment and human health, and to save money, the expected growth of energy efficiency and sustainable building efforts are to be expected. This is because buildings are guilty of consuming large percentages of natural resources and releasing pollutants in the air. Sustainable building can help by creating less pollution and waste. In addition, green buildings consume as much as 25 percent less energy than non-sustainable buildings.
Building Green and Increasing Efficiency
Environmentally friendly construction, or green building, is a concept that involves building structures in a way that minimizes their harmful impact on the environment. The most important elements of green building are maximizing energy efficiency, reducing water usage, using less building materials, and reducing or eliminating waste. The benefits of eco-friendly building include higher market values, reduced energy costs and operating costs, and lower pollution levels. Green building standards are managed by the United States Green Building Council, through its Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating systems. LEED ratings range from “Certified” for basic compliance, to Silver, Gold, and finally Platinum for buildings whose eco-friendliness are exceptional in magnitude.
- Buildings can save up to a tenth of their energy costs with the installation and proper use of programmable thermostats to regulate the building’s internal climate.
- Allowing in sunlight during the winter months can reduce heating and lighting costs, while using window blinds with lighter colors during the summer, can reduce air conditioning costs.
- Proper maintenance and cleaning of ducts can save up to a quarter of energy costs, especially in a home.
- Installing Energy Star-rated windows can reduce energy usage by up to ten percent.
- Insulate pipes, electrical outlets, electrical switches, and water heaters.
- Set lights to turn off in areas where there is no activity. Set office equipment and computers to go into sleep mode when they are not being used, and be sure to turn everything off when the office closes. This can cut a building’s electricity costs by up to 40 percent.
- Install energy-efficient light bulbs to further reduce a building’s energy costs.
- Diffusing skylights can maximize the benefits of skylights in the winter, while minimizing the problems with skylight heating during the summer.
- Solar energy panels generate energy from the sun without using fossil fuels, and when placed on roofs they can reduce a building’s dependency upon utility grid power.
- Check for leaks on a regular basis, and fix any leaks immediately.
- Replace old toilets with water-efficient, low-flush toilets. Replace old sink faucets with sensors to detect when someone is using them. Alternately, replace old sink faucets with faucets that use spring loaded valves.
- Use drip-irrigation instead of traditional water sprinklers. Programmable sprinkler systems are another option. Moisture sensors can detect the level of moisture in the soil and determine whether irrigation is necessary.
- Rooftops designed to catch storm water can provide water for irrigation, among other benefits.
- Instead of water hosing sidewalks, sweep them clean with a broom.
- Watering should be done in the early hours of the day or after the sun has gone down, when there is less of a chance of evaporation.
- Use plants that are native to the area when planning landscaping projects, particularly plants that are adapted to local weather conditions, to reduce the need for watering.
- Replace toxic cleaning products with environmentally friendly versions, to reduce the risk of water pollution.
- If possible, consider using gray water, or non-potable water, in urinals and toilets.
- Use thermoplastic polyolefin (TPO) roofing materials to reduce the amount of heat that roofs can absorb from sunlight. Light colored materials can also work. These materials help reduce the problem of urban heat islands, which can heat up the entire neighborhood.
- Use materials obtained locally to reduce the greenhouse gases used to transport materials.
- A variety of eco-friendly materials can be used in the making of triple-paned windows. These include wide insulated glass, sustainable foam, argon or other inert gases, and a fiberglass frame. These windows can reduce a building’s heating and cooling costs.
- Reuse and recycle packing materials rather than throwing them away.
- Avoid packaging that is designed only for one use. Purchase items in bulk to reduce their per-unit cost and how much packaging is used overall.
- Prefabricated building materials can reduce the amount of material used during construction, as well as the amount of material that is wasted.
- Avoid using plastic utensils in cafeterias.
- Reusing wood, glass, concrete, metal, and other construction materials, prevents such materials from going into landfills.
- When recycling is impractical, it is also possible to prevent landfill usage by selling the remaining building materials that might otherwise go to waste, or donating the material to receive tax breaks.
- Switching to a paperless office can save a business thousands of pounds of paper per year.
- Pallets and corrugated paper boxes can be reused, and broken ones can be repaired and reused.
- Replace bathroom paper towels with air-dry units.
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