When most people hear the term green building, they often think of photovoltaic solar panels, cisterns, wind turbines, or straw bale homes. With these images in mind, it's no wonder that people think green building is a fringe alternative.
But what most people don't understand about green building is that it fundamentally addresses a number of bad building practices that have become business as usual. As consumers, we assume that we get decent value for our money, but this is no longer the case with buildings. When you are ready to buy a new car, you can compare how many miles to the gallon each model will achieve, but when you go to buy a condo, where is that information? The design, construction, and operations of buildings are governed by building codes, but these codes do not insure building system integration or optimized systems, the two strategies that reduce capital costs as well as operating costs and create healthy living spaces.
Smarter Building Brings Better Results
When we think of home, we think of a haven, a safe place to enjoy family and relax from stresses of work and the outside world. At its most basic, a home provides shelter, comfort, and surroundings that are aesthetically pleasing. But over the past 100 years in this country, providing those basics has come at a very high price. Some of the not-so-obvious costs include deforestation, global toxicity, water degradation, and other unintended consequences. By way of example, it's a fact that every single person currently living on the planet has persistent bio-accumulative toxins in their organs and tissues, much of which is a result of industrial processes related to the manufacture of building materials and products. The toxins migrate through the air and water, and include the likes of PVC/vinyl and dioxin, heavy metals, and dyes.
Home should be a place where the needs for shelter and comfort are met without unintended negative consequences to the environment and to the owner's pocketbook. When a home is designed with those issues in mind, the owner benefits from energy savings (easily 30 percent), healthy interiors, and systems that are durable and high performing.
The elements that define a building as green are fundamental and include proper siting and passive design, properly sized mechanical systems, and nontoxic finish materials. They are not exotic or expensive, but they are smarter. One thing that sets green building apart is metrics: once you measure something, you can make decisions in a different way. Green buildings are designed with measured outcomes in mind. The Enterprise Foundation, a national nonprofit organization, has been funding affordable housing projects and has been measuring the benefits across 915 of their projects over several years. The results of their study have been, in a word, startling. Compared to traditional construction, green homes prevent the following amounts of greenhouse gases from being released annually: