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MAKING GREEN BUILDINGS HAPPEN

Green building concepts stem from the overall question of sustainability - can we meet our present needs without jeopardizing the future? Our current building traditions consume far too many resources and create great amounts of waste. For example, the standard wood-framed home consumes over one acre of forest and the waste created during construction averages from 3 to 7 tons. This "traditional" building often exhibits poor performance in energy and water usage plus costly maintenance requirements. Worldwide, buildings are responsible for 45% of all energy use, 60% of virgin wood use, 40% of raw stone and processed materials such as copper, steel, and plastics, and 16% of water withdrawals. The following Green Building Themes are promoted to inform these choices:

Green Building Themes:

Use recycled and recyclable resources:
Our active recycling programs will falter if we do not use materials made with recycled content. This is called closing the recycling loop. Similarly, using resources that can be reused directly or recycled into new products after use are better choices.

Use renewable resources:
Solar energy, geothermal energy, wood and other plant-based materials that are harvested in a responsible manner keep us from expending what is called ecological capital.

Localize resource inputs:
Buying locally leads to improved management of resources since we can visibly see our impacts. It also reduces transportation impacts which require ever larger roads and energy use. The "multiplier effect" of cycling money within the local economy is an additional benefit that creates more economic vitality - an important facet of a sustainable economy.

Eliminate toxins:
Poisonous byproducts obviously do not create a better environment for the present or the future. There are alternatives to toxic materials and these should be used.

Protect and restore Nature:
Building requirements should harmonize with or actively enhance ecological integrity.

Improve quality:
Buildings should work well plus be pleasing to look at and use.

Conserve resources:
The term conservation should not imply doing without, it actually means doing more with less.Implementing the above themes in building can guide us to a sustainable future. The following specific principles - in the areas of water, energy, materials, and waste - in building help implement these themes.

Green Building Principles for Water:

  1. Install plumbing fixtures and appliances that use water conservingly.
  2. Plant a water efficient landscape - such as xeriscape or permaculture.
  3. If landscape watering is required, use an efficient irrigation system with timers, rain sensors, and effective sprayers.
  4. Collect rainwater for irrigation or other purposes.
  5. Recycle wastewater or greywater for irrigation or other reuse opportunities.
  6. Design the landscape to prevent runoff.
  7. Make a water budget to better understand the amount and way you use water.
Green Building Principles for Energy:

  1. Design the home to use local energy sources such as solar, wind, and the earth's thermal energy.
  2. Design to get maximum benefit from both natural and artificial light.
  3. Provide for a healthier indoor environment through effective ventilation and carefully-planned electrical system.
  4. Save energy with a tight, well-insulated structure and duct system.
  5. Install energy efficient appliances, light fixtures, and heating and cooling equipment.
  6. Use "waste" heat, such as waste heat from the air conditioner to heat water.
  7. Plant a landscape that reduces heating and cooling needs.
Green Building Principles for Materials:

  1. Buy lumber that comes from ecologically-managed forests.
  2. Choose materials that require low amounts of energy to get from raw material to delivered product (low embodied energy).
  3. Avoid materials that are toxic (during production and use) to people and the environment.
  4. Select products that are engineered to accomplish more performance with less raw material.
  5. Choose materials that are made of recycled and recyclable materials.
  6. Use locally produced materials.
  7. Use durable materials.
Green Building Principles Addressing Waste:

  1. Design for standard-sized materials to reduce waste.
  2. Estimate material needs accurately.
  3. Choose products that avoid excessive packaging.
  4. Construct a secure space, ventilated to the outside, for household hazardous materials.
  5. Build in a recycling area in a convenient location in the building.
  6. Provide a composting system for organic wastes.
  7. Recycle construction and demolition waste.
Green Building, so vast in its scope, embodies still more issues such as the reuse of existing buildings especially those located within existing infrastructures of streets, power and water systems, and with close proximity to public transportation, stores, and other services.

In summary, Green Building is an approach and a practice. It is a goal never complete but constantly worth striving for. While ecological support and supply mechanisms evolve within our culture, the incremental improvements we make now, take us closer to the sustainability needed to realize our future.

Written by: W. Laurence Doxsey Coordinator - Green Builder Program - City of Austin Environmental and Conservation Services Department. From: GreenBeat Magazine


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