In recent years, the building industry, especially in California, has evolved to a point where today, the inclusion of “green” features, materials, and technologies is routine and pervasive. A combination of factors—some regulatory, some environmental, and some economic—have sped this evolutionary process.
Not too long ago, the perception of the public was that environmentalism and green building and living, were issues that only really mattered to hippies. The image of communes, organic farms, and old school buses painted with rainbows and flowers would come to mind when thinking about green issues. Today, green has gone mainstream, with various aspects of green building techniques appearing in virtually every new construction project, and not just in California, but all over the country and the world as well.
Recent changes to California building codes, according to local architect Jeff Shelton (of Jeff Shelton Architects and builder of “El Andaluz”, and nine-unit mixed-use project on Chapala that will have an open house on July 22nd during an event sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce to benefit the Coastal Housing Coalition), have made all newly-constructed buildings and homes in California really green. The most recent changes came in January of this year, which now require things like motion sensors for lights in bathrooms and LED bulbs that are highly efficient. Shelton relates that new buildings in California today are well insulated and are highly energy efficient, so in a sense, they are already really green.
According to Shelton, there is much more than one can do, to lessen the impact on the environment, when building a new project. Shelton states that the top three areas that can make the largest impact are:
1. Materials – Using materials like recycled wood; straw, bamboo, and other renewables; and concrete, which may not fit a strict definition of green since it does require a lot of energy to produce, but as Shelton points-out, does not rot or burn; may cost more, but can make a significant impact on the environment. Another key issue with materials is where they are manufactured, harvested, quarried, etc. By acquiring as many construction materials from local supplies as possible, the overall environmental impact of the construction process can be minimized. Shelton points-out that just because a product like a window is manufactured locally, does not mean it is automatically good for the environment. Many companies order materials from places like China or South America, and then assemble their products for sale to the local construction industry. One needs to understand where a supplier is getting their materials to know if their products are truly green.
2. Orientation – the positioning of the building on the site can in large part determine how energy-efficient the structure will be. By orienting the building in relation to the sun to take advantage of natural light, avoid its heating effects in the summer, and take advantage of the heat from the sun in winter, meaningful efficiency gains can be achieved. The process of using the orientation of the structure to capture benefits from the sun is known as “passive solar.” Shelton says that orienting the building to benefit from passive solar can result in one of the largest gains in energy efficiency for the entire project.
3. Systems – Things like water-saving toilets and sinks, motion sensor activated lighting systems, efficient heating and cooling systems, and even gray water systems that capture water used in the structure to be reused for things like landscaping, can dramatically improve the efficiency of a building.
For those interested in the formal process of building a certified green project, the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), has developed the LEED certification program, which provides building owners and operators a concise framework for identifying and implementing practical and measurable green building design, construction, operations and maintenance solutions. (LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.)
LEED is an internationally recognized green building certification system, providing third-party verification that a building or community was designed and built using strategies aimed at improving performance across all the metrics that matter most: energy savings, water efficiency, CO2 emissions reduction, improved indoor environmental quality, and stewardship of resources and sensitivity to their impacts on the environment.
LEED is flexible enough to apply to all building types—commercial as well as residential. It works throughout the building lifecycle—design and construction, operations and maintenance, tenant fit-out, and significant retrofit. And LEED for Neighborhood Development extends the benefits of LEED beyond the building footprint into the neighborhood it serves.
With a community comprising 78 local affiliates, more than 20,000 member companies and organizations, and more than 100,000 LEED Accredited Professionals, USGBC is the driving force behind an industry that is projected to soar to $60 billion by 2010. The USGBC leads an unlikely diverse constituency of builders and environmentalists, corporations and nonprofit organizations, elected officials and concerned citizens, and teachers and students.
According to the USGBC, buildings in the United States are responsible for 39% of CO2 emissions, 40% of energy consumption, 13% water consumption and 15% of GDP per year, making green building a source of significant economic and environmental opportunity. Greater building efficiency can meet 85% of future U.S. demand for energy, and a national commitment to green building has the potential to generate 2.5 million American jobs.
The LEED green building certification system is the foremost program for the design, construction and operation of green buildings. The USGBC’’s LEED rating system is the preeminent program for the design, construction and operation of green buildings. 35,000 projects are currently participating in the LEED system, comprising over 4.5 billion square feet of construction space in all 50 states and 91 countries.
By using less energy, LEED-certified buildings save money for families, businesses and taxpayers; reduce greenhouse gas emissions; and contribute to a healthier environment for residents, workers and the larger community. The process of having a project LEED-certified involves a points system, where points are awarded for the various aspects of the building process and the long-term operation and maintenance of the building. Architects like Jeff Shelton, as well as many of our local builders, are well versed in the LEED process, as well as in green design and building techniques required to meet LEED standards for certification.
Shelton states that an architect usually acts as philosopher first, helping clients understand their true needs. Often, according to Shelton, clients have the initial desire to build larger than they need. He says that the greenest thing most people can do is to simply build smaller. With proper design, and sometimes with the artistry of a good architect, subtle things like simplifying the design of a project can significantly reduce the amount of materials needed, which of course helps reduce the environmental impact of the building.
It is widely known throughout the building industry, that more energy is used in the production and transportation of the building materials used in the building’s construction, than the building will use throughout its entire existence. As Shelton rightly points-out, building smaller and simpler can have a huge, positive influence on the environmental impact of a project.
For those interested in building a green project, the place to start is with a good architect or builder that understands the materials and methods involved in green building, and that has experience with the LEED certification process. By working with experts, and spending a little more time (and money) on the process, those looking to lessen the environmental impact of their new building project truly can make a difference.