What Does Green Building Mean Exactly?

Published May 14, 2014 by Whirlwind Team

green buildingsAll this talk of sustainable, GREEN construction can be rather confusing. Are materials considered "Green" if they're made from pre- and post-consumer recycled products? Is an energy efficient HVAC system enough to market your building as "green"? Or, do you need to have full-on LEED certification to achieve Green status?

When it comes to Green buildings, we tend to follow the EPA's Fundamental Principles of Green Building and Sustainable Site Design. By following these guidelines, you can feel good about the buildings you design and construct.

Green Building 101 - Straightforward Methods for Planning a Green Building

According the the EPA, a Green building, "...is one whose construction and lifetime of operation assure the healthiest possible environment while representing the most efficient and least disruptive use of land, water, energy and resources." Without this level of attention, we'll find it increasingly hard to maintain a healthy supply of clean soil, water, and air for future generations.

The following considerations can help you complete buildings that meet Green building standards.

1) Start with a Green Team

The easiest way to keep Green throughout the duration of your project is to align yourself with others who are committed to the same goal. While it's true that a Green design costs more at the outset, these costs are recouped and then some throughout the lifespan of the building. Green designs begin with site selection and planning so every member of your team, from engineers and architects to suppliers should be experienced and/or committed to Green design principles.

2) Sustainable Site Location and Design

Your site location should be one that allows for passive solar design, and minimizes elemental exposure - such as wind - which will detract from overall heating/cooling efficiency. A building's design should minimize impact on surrounding habitat and green space, reduce urban sprawl, and focus on building upward, not outward, as much as possible. The benefits of this approach include:

  • Reducing the heat island effect typical of urban and suburban developments
  • Avoiding the development of lots that play a key part in the local ecosystem
  • Making use of public transportation, pedestrian and bike-friendly routes, etc.

3) Water Quality and Preservation

Water is undeniably our most precious resource and its conservation is imperative to a Green building design. In order to improve water quality and preservation on your jobsites, focus on the following concepts:

  • Design building and site designs that work with the site's natural flow of water forstorm-water drainage and reclamation.
  • Minimize the disturbance of topsoil layers during the excavation and building process.
  • Preserve existing mature vegetation as they play a fundamental role in storm water absorption. Use only native, drought-resistant plants in your landscape plan.
  • Install some form of water reclamation for irrigation and/or a grey water system for optimal water conservation.

4) Energy and the Environment

Obviously, energy efficiency is a major factor in Green design. There are several ways to accomplish an energy efficient design:

  • Use passive solar design, working with lot and building orientation to use sun exposure and shading to the building's year-round advantage.
  • Sealing, high-efficiency windows, and insulation are key to energy-efficiency. These investments are well-worth their savings down the road.
  • All electrical components, lighting, and appliances should have the Energy Star label. A high-efficiency HVAC system is a must since as much as 50% of the average home or business' energy consumption is generated by heating and cooling.
  • Install natural energy sources, such as solar, wind, hydro- or geothermal power options whenever possible.

5) Indoor Environmental Air Quality

Most customers are oblivious to the fact that their indoor air quality (IAQ) is often significantly more toxic than the air outside. A Green home or commercial building places emphasis on a healthy IAQ.

  • Use finishing materials that are low-VOC to reduce toxic off-gassing.
  • Optimize natural daylighting.
  • Prioritize windows that open/close and high-quality ventilation equipment to provide a fresh air supply and healthy air circulation. The ventilation system should accommodate for fluctuations in temperature, air pressure, and humidity.

6) Materials and Resources

The more you can use Green products, or products that have a long low-maintenance lifespan as well as the ability to be recycled at the end of their life, the better.

  • Optimize the use of proven, engineered materials to maximize manufacturing/construction efficiency.
  • Use a "waste equals food" mentality, so 75% of your construction waste is able to be recycled.
  • Use high levels of recycled and/or bio-based materials.
  • Keep the long-view, focusing on construction materials that can be recycled at the end of their lifespan.
  • Seek local products and distributors to reduce the fossil fuel required for transportation.

New to the idea of Green building? Just focus on an item or two from each category and slowly but surely, you'll become a Green builder. Contact Whirlwind Steel for more information about Green building design and construction.


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