Thursday, April 12, 2012
What is a green building?
Broadly, “green building” refers to an attempt to consciously create buildings with an eye to how they interact with the environment. But this can mean different things to different people. For some, it means focusing on creating a healthy indoor environment inside buildings. For others, it makes sense to focus on improving the mass-produced materials that predominate in modern construction. For still others, it’s about avoiding or shunning mass-produced components and centralized systems altogether in favor of site-harvested resources, including building materials, electricity, water, and food.
Green building centers on the concept of “sustainability”: the simple notion that the way of life we choose must not lead to circumstances that prevent that way of life from continuing. In order to create a house to serve that end, five basic traits may be considered:
1) Low construction impact. Building, almost by definition, is initially a destructive act. Land usually has to be at least minimally cleared and reshaped, holes need to be dug, and material resources refashioned to serve the building. A “green” building minimizes its impact on the building site and the environment at large through careful, conscious design and by utilizing replenishable materials that create a minimum of ecological destruction through their use.
2) Resource Efficiency through the Life of the building. The impact of a building’s construction is only part of the story. Once a building is built, people move in and use it. This human use requires environmental resources for such things as heating, cooling, water, and electricity. A “green” building provides these human needs efficiently, conserving resources.
3) Long Lasting. Natural resources in the form of building materials, tools, and fuels, as well as human energy and ingenuity, come together to create a building. The longer that building lasts, the longer the time before the environment is asked to give up those resources again to replace the building. Therefore, the longer a building lasts, the “greener” it is.
4) Nontoxic. To sustain healthy lives, we need to sustain a healthy indoor and outdoor environment. A “green” building then needs to provide a healthy indoor environment while doing nothing to harm the outdoor environment.
5) Beautiful. One of the biggest sources of our environmental woes is the constant and polluting movements of humans about the planet. To create a sustainable lifestyle, we need to stay put more of the time and derive more of our social, physical, and spiritual sustenance from our own backyards. A green house needs to be beautiful, a place that is hard to leave as a love and as unthinkable to neglect as your own child.
Grappling with these issues in their full depth is complex. It often requires compromise, and always demands a combination of idealism and realism. For example, imagine two neighbors building houses of exactly the same size. One person is determined to build using only site-harvested “natural materials” that require little energy to produce and it creates almost no pollution in the process. The other person is using some site-harvested materials in combination with some mass-produced materials that are more energy-intensive in order to create a building that will use less energy through its lifetime to provide warmth and other services to its inhabitants.
Which builder is “greener”? To even try to answer this question you’d need to know the embodied energy (the energy required for production, transportation, and installation) of all the materials involved, the relative energy efficiency of the two buildings, how long each will last, how much maintenance each will require, and many other factors, both technical and personal to those involved.
In the end “building green” is a deep process in which judgements are made as to how a building will best merge with the occupants mode of survival. An ideally “green” building then must be a very specific thing, matching the occupant’s personal needs with the fabric of the exact local environment.
Green building may also incorporate design and construction practices that significantly reduce or eliminate the negative impact of buildings on the environment and occupants in five broad categories:
1) Sustainable site planning.
2) Safeguarding water and water efficiency.
3) Energy efficiency and renewable energy.
4) Conservation of materials and resources.
5) Indoor environmental quality.
6) Culturally Relevant/Socially Acceptable
Shawn Brigman, Antithesis Research