Every structure that is built has an effect on the environment, and not just the immediate area around the construction site. Depending on where your materials come from the effects can be felt half way around the world.
Green building has become a high priority for the U.S. government as they take a leadership role in reducing the world’s total carbon emissions. Over the last decade, they have used green building for their own properties and seen huge success. A 2009 report from the General Services Administration (GSA) found that their green buildings had 26% less energy use and 27% higher occupancy satisfaction rate compared to standard office buildings.
There are two primary things that make a building green – sustainability and energy efficiency. Sustainability refers to building in a way that minimizes environmental impact. Energy efficiency is a measure of how well a building conserves energy and reduces energy use.
You can reduce your carbon footprint by simply selecting the right materials, features and building techniques.
The materials that are used build your home have to be sourced, processed and shipped before the construction crew can begin their work. That means the carbon footprint of a building starts long before you break ground.
Many people make the mistake of thinking wood is the most eco-friendly material, but isn’t always the case for a number of reasons. Often steel is the better selection because of its longevity, minimal maintenance, lighter load, energy efficiency and ability to be recycled. Steel building cost per square foot can also be comparable to other material options, which is why it’s a popular choice.
The energy efficiency of a building material varies depending on the climate of a region so that should be taken into consideration when deciding which structure materials to use.
Tight Construction Building Technique
There is a new building technique called tight construction that builders across the country are using to improve energy efficiency. It’s so much more efficient than traditional techniques it’s typically a requirement to qualify as an ENERGY STAR rated building.
Tight construction focuses on making the envelope of the structure as seamless as possible so there is less air infiltration. This will make the structure more energy efficient and comfortable for the occupants. ENERGY STAR notes that 25-40% of heating and cooling energy use is attributed to air leakage that can be corrected with tight construction. Air quality and noise reduction are two other benefits of using this building technique.
Renewable Energy Sources
Today buildings don’t have to strictly be energy consumers. They can also generate their own energy when the right systems are in place.
Solar Panels – Solar power by way of photovoltaic panels is one of the most commonly used renewable energy systems. New innovations like the Tesla Powerwall are making solar power even more convenient and efficient.
Wind Turbines – Even if you don’t have a field for towering turbines smaller rooftop options are available.
Microhydro and geothermal systems can also be utilized depending on the buildings location. These systems are an upfront investment. However, they can help a business or homeowner save money over time by reducing or even eliminating the need to purchase energy from a utility.
Efficient Heating and Cooling System
In some parts of the country heating and cooling accounts for the largest portion of energy use. Often energy is wasted because the system is not appropriately sized or there are simple fixes like duct leaks.
The best thing you can do to reduce heating and cooling energy consumption is to install an efficient system. It’s also extremely important to use programmable thermostats and set them up so that the building isn’t being heated or cooled when no one is inside. Insulation is another important factor for increasing the efficiency of heating and cooling systems.
Lighting is another huge energy consumer. The Energy Information Administration (EIA) has found the lighting accounts for 15% of residential and commercial energy use. This can be dramatically reduced by creating an efficient lighting plan before construction begins.
Natural Lighting – ENERGY STAR rated double pane windows can be strategically positioned to maximize the natural lighting throughout the day while minimizing heat transfer. Shades should also be added to every window to control the natural lighting and solar heat gain.
LED and CFL Bulbs – Using LED and compact fluorescent (CFL) bulbs in place of incandescent lighting can reduce energy use by as much as 80%. They will also last much longer than incandescent bulbs, which helps to minimize waste.
Motion Sensors – Sensors that can detect movement are very beneficial in areas like bathrooms. The lighting can be connected to the sensor so that lights automatically turn off and on as needed.
Low Flow Water Features
In many parts of the country, water conservation has become a serious issue due to droughts and contamination. Manufacturers have stepped in with new innovative products that reduce water usage. Some of the top options include:
· Low-flow toilets
· Dual flush toilets
· Low-flow showerheads
· Efficient dishwashers and washing machines
· Aerators on faucets
· Rainwater capture systems for watering lawns, etc.
· Soaker hoses and drip irrigation systems
Building a net-zero structure, whether it’s residential or commercial, requires careful planning. The design needs to be well thought out to consider energy use and efficiency at all stages. By accounting for efficient systems and building techniques from the very beginning you’ll create a greener structure that costs less upfront and over the long-term.