Engineering Consultants (Green Solutions)
Green building (also known as green construction or sustainable building) refers to a structure and using process that is environmentally responsible and resource-efficient throughout a building’s life-cycle: from siting to design, construction, operation, maintenance, renovation, and demolition. This requires close cooperation of the design team, the architects, the engineers, and the client at all project stages. The Green Building practice expands and complements the classical building design concerns of economy, utility, durability, and comfort.
Although new technologies are constantly being developed to complement current practices in creating greener structures, the common objective is that green buildings are designed to reduce the overall impact of the built environment on human health and the natural environment by:
- Efficiently using energy, water, and other resources
- Protecting occupant health and improving employee productivity
- Reducing waste, pollution and environmental degradation
A similar concept is natural building, which is usually on a smaller scale and tends to focus on the use of natural materials that are available locally. Other related topics include sustainable design and green architecture. Sustainability may be defined as meeting the needs of present generations without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs. Green building does not specifically address the issue of the retrofitting existing homes.
A 2009 report by the U.S. General Services Administration found 12 sustainably designed buildings cost less to operate and have excellent energy performance. In addition, occupants were more satisfied with the overall building than those in typical commercial buildings.
Reducing environmental impact
Green building practices aim to reduce the environmental impact of buildings, and the very first rule is, do not build in sprawl (spreading in disordered fashion). No matter how much grass you put on your roof, no matter how many energy-efficient windows, etc., you use, if you build in sprawl, you’ve just defeated your purpose. Buildings account for a large amount of land. According to the National Resources Inventory, approximately 107 million acres (430,000 km2) of land in the United States are developed. The International Energy Agency released a publication that estimated that existing buildings are responsible for more than 40% of the world’s total primary energy consumption and for 24% of global carbon dioxide emissions.
Goals of green building
The concept of sustainable development can be traced to the energy (especially fossil oil) crisis and the environment pollution concern in the 1970s.The green building movement in the U.S. originated from the need and desire for more energy efficient and environmentally friendly construction practices. There are a number of motives to building green, including environmental, economic, and social benefits. However, modern sustainability initiatives call for an integrated and synergistic design to both new construction and in the retrofitting of an existing structure. Also known as sustainable design, this approach integrates the building life-cycle with each green practice employed with a design-purpose to create a synergy amongst the practices used.
Green building brings together a vast array of practices and techniques to reduce and ultimately eliminate the impacts of buildings on the environment and human health. It often emphasizes taking advantage of renewable resources, e.g., using sunlight through passive solar, active solar, and photovoltaic techniques and using plants and trees through green roofs, rain gardens, and for reduction of rainwater run-off. Many other techniques, such as using packed gravel or permeable concrete instead of conventional concrete or asphalt to enhance replenishment of ground water, are used as well.
While the practices, or technologies, employed in green building are constantly evolving and may differ from region to region, there are fundamental principles that persist from which the method is derived: Siting and Structure Design Efficiency, Energy Efficiency, Water Efficiency, Materials Efficiency, Indoor Environmental Quality Enhancement, Operations and Maintenance Optimization, and Waste and Toxics Reduction. The essence of green building is an optimization of one or more of these principles. Also, with the proper synergistic design, individual green building technologies may work together to produce a greater cumulative effect.
On the aesthetic side of green architecture or sustainable design is the philosophy of designing a building that is in harmony with the natural features and resources surrounding the site. There are several key steps in designing sustainable buildings: specify ‘green’ building materials from local sources, reduce loads, optimize systems, and generate on-site renewable energy.
Life cycle assessment (LCA)A life cycle assessment (LCA) can help avoid a narrow outlook on environmental, social and economic concerns by assessing a full range of impacts associated with all the stages of a process from cradle-to-grave (i.e., from extraction of raw materials through materials processing, manufacture, distribution, use, repair and maintenance, and disposal or recycling). Impacts taken into account include (among others) embodied energy, global warming potential, resource use, air pollution, water pollution, and waste.
In terms of green building, the last few years have seen a shift away from a prescriptive approach, which assumes that certain prescribed practices are better for the environment, toward the scientific evaluation of actual performance through LCA.
Although LCA is widely recognized as the best way to evaluate the environmental impacts of buildings (ISO 14040 provides a recognized LCA methodology), it is not yet a consistent requirement of green building rating systems and codes, despite the fact that embodied energy and other life cycle impacts are critical to the design of environmentally responsible buildings.
In North America, LCA is rewarded to some extent in the Green Globes® rating system, and is part of the new American National Standard based on Green Globes, ANSI/GBI 01-2010: Green Building Protocol for Commercial Buildings. LCA is also included as a pilot credit in the LEED system, though a decision has not been made as to whether it will be incorporated fully into the next major revision. The state of California also included LCA as a voluntary measure in its 2010 draft Green Building Standards Code.
Although LCA is often perceived as overly complex and time consuming for regular use by design professionals, research organizations such as BRE in the UK and the Athena Sustainable Materials Institute in North America are working to make it more accessible.
In North America, the ATHENA® EcoCalculator for Assemblies provides LCA results for several hundred common building assembles based on data generated by its more complex parent software, the ATHENA® Impact Estimator for Buildings. (The EcoCalculator is available free at www.athenasmi.org.) Athena software tools are especially useful early in the design process when material choices have far-reaching implications for overall environmental impact. They allow designers to experiment with different material mixes to achieve the most effective combination.
A more product-oriented tool is the BEES® (Building for Environmental and Economic Sustainability) software, which combines environmental measures with economic indicators to provide a final rating. Particularly useful at the specification and procurement stage of a project, BEES 4.0 includes data on 230 products (including generic and manufacturer brands) such as siding and sheathing.
Siting and structure design efficiency
The foundation of any construction project is rooted in the concept and design stages. The concept stage, in fact, is one of the major steps in a project life cycle, as it has the largest impact on cost and performance. In designing environmentally optimal buildings, the objective is to minimize the total environmental impact associated with all life-cycle stages of the building project. However, building as a process is not as streamlined as an industrial process, and varies from one building to the other, never repeating itself identically. In addition, buildings are much more complex products, composed of a multitude of materials and components each constituting various design variables to be decided at the design stage. A variation of every design variable may affect the environment during all the building’s relevant life-cycle stage.
An eco-house at Findhorn Ecovillage with a turf roof and solar panelsGreen buildings often include measures to reduce energy consumption – both the embodied energy required to extract, process, transport and install building materials and operating energy to provide services such as heating and power for equipment.
As high-performance buildings use less operating energy, embodied energy has assumed much greater importance – and may make up as much as 30% of the overall life cycle energy consumption. Studies such as the U.S. LCI Database Project show buildings built primarily with wood will have a lower embodied energy than those built primarily with brick, concrete or steel.
To reduce operating energy use, high-efficiency windows and insulation in walls, ceilings, and floors increase the efficiency of the building envelope, (the barrier between conditioned and unconditioned space). Another strategy, passive solar building design, is often implemented in low-energy homes. Designers orient windows and walls and place awnings, porches, and trees to shade windows and roofs during the summer while maximizing solar gain in the winter. In addition, effective window placement (daylighting) can provide more natural light and lessen the need for electric lighting during the day. Solar water heating further reduces energy costs.
Onsite generation of renewable energy through solar power, wind power, hydro power, or biomass can significantly reduce the environmental impact of the building. Power generation is generally the most expensive feature to add to a building.
Reducing water consumption and protecting water quality are key objectives in sustainable building. One critical issue of water consumption is that in many areas, the demands on the supplying aquifer exceed its ability to replenish itself. To the maximum extent feasible, facilities should increase their dependence on water that is collected, used, purified, and reused on-site. The protection and conservation of water throughout the life of a building may be accomplished by designing for dual plumbing that recycles water in toilet flushing. Waste-water may be minimized by utilizing water conserving fixtures such as ultra-low flush toilets and low-flow shower heads. Bidets help eliminate the use of toilet paper, reducing sewer traffic and increasing possibilities of re-using water on-site. Point of use water treatment and heating improves both water quality and energy efficiency while reducing the amount of water in circulation. The use of non-sewage and greywater for on-site use such as site-irrigation will minimize demands on the local aquifer.
Building materials typically considered to be ‘green’ include lumber from forests that have been certified to a third-party forest standard, rapidly renewable plant materials like bamboo and straw, dimension stone, recycled stone, recycled metal, and other products that are non-toxic, reusable, renewable, and/or recyclable (e.g., Trass, Linoleum, sheep wool, panels made from paper flakes, compressed earth block, adobe, baked earth, rammed earth, clay, vermiculite, flax linen, sisal, seagrass, cork, expanded clay grains, coconut, wood fibre plates, calcium sand stone, concrete (high and ultra high performance, roman self-healing concrete) , etc. The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) also suggests using recycled industrial goods, such as coal combustion products, foundry sand, and demolition debris in construction projects Building materials should be extracted and manufactured locally to the building site to minimize the energy embedded in their transportation. Where possible, building elements should be manufactured off-site and delivered to site, to maximise benefits of off-site manufacture including minimising waste, maximising recycling (because manufacture is in one location), high quality elements, better OHS management, less noise and dust.
Indoor environmental quality enhancement
The Indoor Environmental Quality (IEQ) category in LEED standards, one of the five environmental categories, was created to provide comfort, well-being, and productivity of occupants. The LEED IEQ category addresses design and construction guidelines especially: indoor air quality (IAQ), thermal quality, and lighting quality.
Indoor Air Quality seeks to reduce volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, and other air impurities such as microbial contaminants. Buildings rely on a properly designed ventilation system (passively/naturally- or mechanically-powered) to provide adequate ventilation of cleaner air from outdoors or recirculated, filtered air as well as isolated operations (kitchens, dry cleaners, etc.) from other occupancies. During the design and construction process choosing construction materials and interior finish products with zero or low VOC emissions will improve IAQ. Most building materials and cleaning/maintenance products emit gases, some of them toxic, such as many VOCs including formaldehyde. These gases can have a detrimental impact on occupants’ health, comfort, and productivity. Avoiding these products will increase a building’s IEQ. LEED, HQE and Green Star contain specifications on use of low-emitting interior. Draft LEED 2012 is about to expand the scope of the involved products. BREEAM limits formaldehyde emissions, no other VOCs.
Also important to indoor air quality is the control of moisture accumulation (dampness) leading to mold growth and the presence of bacteria and viruses as well as dust mites and other organisms and microbiological concerns. Water intrusion through a building’s envelope or water condensing on cold surfaces on the building’s interior can enhance and sustain microbial growth. A well-insulated and tightly-sealed envelope will reduce moisture problems but adequate ventilation is also necessary to eliminate moisture from sources indoors including human metabolic processes, cooking, bathing, cleaning, and other activities.
Personal temperature and airflow control over the HVAC system coupled with a properly designed building envelope will also aid in increasing a building’s thermal quality. Creating a high performance luminous environment through the careful integration of daylight and electrical light sources will improve on the lighting quality and energy performance of a structure.
Solid wood products, particularly flooring, are often specified in environments where occupants are known to have allergies to dust or other particulates. Wood itself is considered to be hypo-allergenic and its smooth surfaces prevent the buildup of particles common in soft finishes like carpet. The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of American recommends hardwood, vinyl, linoleum tile or slate flooring instead of carpet. The use of wood products can also improve air quality by absorbing or releasing moisture in the air to moderate humidity.
Interactions among all the indoor components and the occupants together form the processes that determine the indoor air quality. Operations and maintenance optimization, no matter how sustainable a building may have been in its design and construction, it can only remain so if it is operated responsibly and maintained properly. Ensuring operations and maintenance (O&M) personnel are part of the project’s planning and development process will help retain the green criteria designed at the onset of the project. Every aspect of green building is integrated into the O&M phase of a building’s life. The addition of new green technologies also falls on the O&M staff. Although the goal of waste reduction may be applied during the design, construction and demolition phases of a building’s life-cycle, it is in the O&M phase that green practices such as recycling and air quality enhancement take place.
Waste reduction Green architecture also seeks to reduce waste of energy, water and materials used during construction. For example, in California nearly 60% of the state’s waste comes from commercial buildings. During the construction phase, one goal should be to reduce the amount of material going to landfills. Well-designed buildings also help reduce the amount of waste generated by the occupants as well, by providing on-site solutions such as compost bins to reduce matter going to landfills.
To reduce the amount of wood that goes to landfill, the CO2 Neutral Alliance (a coalition of government, NGOs and the forest industry) created the website dontwastewood.com. The site includes a variety of resources for regulators, municipalities, developers, contractors, owner/operators and individuals/homeowners looking for information on wood recycling.
When buildings reach the end of their useful life, they are typically demolished and hauled to landfills. Deconstruction is a method of harvesting what is commonly considered “waste” and reclaiming it into useful building material. Extending the useful life of a structure also reduces waste – building materials such as wood that are light and easy to work with make renovations easier.
To reduce the impact on wells or water treatment plants, several options exist. “Greywater”, wastewater from sources such as dishwashing or washing machines, can be used for subsurface irrigation, or if treated, for non-potable purposes, e.g., to flush toilets and wash cars. Rainwater collectors are used for similar purposes.
Centralized wastewater treatment systems can be costly and use a lot of energy. An alternative to this process is converting waste and wastewater into fertilizer, which avoids these costs and shows other benefits. By collecting human waste at the source and running it to a semi-centralized biogas plant with other biological waste, liquid fertilizer can be produced. This concept was demonstrated by a settlement in Lubeck Germany in the late 1990s. Practices like these provide soil with organic nutrients and create carbon sinks that remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, offsetting greenhouse gas emission. Producing artificial fertilizer is also more costly in energy than this process.
Cost and payoff
The most criticized issue about constructing environmentally friendly buildings is the price. Photo-voltaics, new appliances, and modern technologies tend to cost more money. Most green buildings cost a premium of <2%, but yield 10 times as much over the entire life of the building. The stigma is between the knowledge of up-front cost vs. life-cycle cost. The savings in money come from more efficient use of utilities which result in decreased energy bills. It is projected that different sectors could save $130 Billion on energy bills.Also, higher worker or student productivity can be factored into savings and cost deductions.
Studies have shown over a 20 year life period, some green buildings have yielded $53 to $71 per square foot back on investment. Confirming the retain ability of green building investments, further studies of the commercial real estate market have found that LEED and Energy Star certified buildings achieve significantly higher rents, sale prices and occupancy rates as well as lower capitalization rates potentially reflecting lower investment risk.
Regulation and operation
As a result of the increased interest in green building concepts and practices, a number of organizations have developed standards, codes and rating systems that let government regulators, building professionals and consumers embrace green building with confidence. In some cases, codes are written so local governments can adopt them as bylaws to reduce the local environmental impact of buildings.
Green building rating systems such as BREEAM (United Kingdom), LEED (United States and Canada), DGNB (Germany) and CASBEE (Japan) help consumers determine a structure’s level of environmental performance. They award credits for optional building features that support green design in categories such as location and maintenance of building site, conservation of water, energy, and building materials, and occupant comfort and health. The number of credits generally determines the level of achievement.
Green building codes and standards, such as the International Code Council’s draft International Green Construction Code are sets of rules created by standards development organizations that establish minimum requirements for elements of green building such as materials or heating and cooling.