What Makes a Building Green?
A green building, also known as a sustainable building,
is a structure that is designed, built, renovated, operated,
or reused in an ecological and resource-efficient manner.
Green buildings are designed to meet certain objectives
such as protecting occupant health; improving employee productivity;
using energy, water, and other resources more efficiently;
and reducing the overall impact to the environment.
What Are the Economic Benefits of Green Buildings?
A green building may cost more up front, but saves through lower operating
costs over the life of the building. The green building approach applies
a project life cycle cost analysis for determining the appropriate up-front
expenditure. This analytical method calculates costs over the useful life
of the asset.
These and other cost savings can only be fully realized when they are
incorporated at the project's conceptual design phase with the assistance
of an integrated team of professionals. The integrated systems approach
ensures that the building is designed as one system rather than a collection
of stand-alone systems.
Some benefits, such as improving occupant health, comfort, productivity,
reducing pollution and landfill waste are not easily quantified. Consequently,
they are not adequately considered in cost analysis. For this reason,
consider setting aside a small portion of the building budget to cover
differential costs associated with less tangible green building benefits
or to cover the cost of researching and analyzing green building options.
Even with a tight budget, many green building measures can be incorporated
with minimal or zero increased up-front costs and they can yield enormous
savings (Environmental Building News, 1999).
What Are the Elements of Green Buildings?
Below is a sampling of green building practices.
Start by selecting a site well suited to take advantage of mass transit.
Protect and retain existing landscaping and natural features. Select plants
that have low water and pesticide needs, and generate minimum plant trimmings.
Use compost and mulches. This will save water and time.
Recycled content paving materials, furnishings, and mulches help close
the recycling loop.
Most buildings can reach energy efficiency levels far beyond California
Title 24 standards, yet most only strive to meet the standard. It is reasonable
to strive for 40 percent less energy than Title 24 standards. The following
strategies contribute to this goal.
Passive design strategies can dramatically affect building energy performance.
These measures include building shape and orientation, passive solar design,
and the use of natural lighting.
Develop strategies to provide natural lighting. Studies have shown that
it has a positive impact on productivity and well being.
Install high-efficiency lighting systems with advanced lighting controls.
Include motion sensors tied to dimmable lighting controls. Task lighting
reduces general overhead light levels.
Use a properly sized and energy-efficient heat/cooling system in conjunction
with a thermally efficient building shell. Maximize light colors for roofing
and wall finish materials; install high R-value wall and ceiling insulation;
and use minimal glass on east and west exposures.
Minimize the electric loads from lighting, equipment, and appliances.
Consider alternative energy sources such as photovoltaics and fuel cells
that are now available in new products and applications. Renewable energy
sources provide a great symbol of emerging technologies for the future.
Computer modeling is an extremely useful tool in optimizing design of
electrical and mechanical systems and the building shell.
Select sustainable construction materials and products by evaluating
several characteristics such as reused and recycled content, zero or low
off gassing of harmful air emissions, zero or low toxicity, sustainably
harvested materials, high recyclability, durability, longevity, and local
production. Such products promote resource conservation and efficiency.
Using recycled-content products also helps develop markets for recycled
materials that are being diverted from California's landfills, as mandated
by the Integrated Waste Management Act.
Use dimensional planning and other material efficiency strategies. These
strategies reduce the amount of building materials needed and cut construction
costs. For example, design rooms on 4-foot multiples to conform to standard-sized
wallboard and plywood sheets.
Reuse and recycle construction and demolition materials. For example,
using inert demolition materials as a base course for a parking lot keeps
materials out of landfills and costs less.
Require plans for managing materials through deconstruction, demolition,
Design with adequate space to facilitate recycling collection and to incorporate
a solid waste management program that prevents waste generation.
Design for dual plumbing to use recycled water for toilet flushing or
a gray water system that recovers rainwater or other nonpotable water
for site irrigation.
Minimize wastewater by using ultra low-flush toilets, low-flow shower
heads, and other water conserving fixtures.
Use recirculating systems for centralized hot water distribution.
Install point-of-use hot water heating systems for more distant locations.
Use a water budget approach that schedules irrigation using the California
Irrigation Management Information System data for landscaping.
Meter the landscape separately from buildings. Use micro-irrigation (which
excludes sprinklers and high-pressure sprayers) to supply water in nonturf
Use state-of-the-art irrigation controllers and self-closing nozzles on
Occupant Health and Safety
Recent studies reveal that buildings with good overall environmental quality
can reduce the rate of respiratory disease, allergy, asthma, sick building
symptoms, and enhance worker performance. The potential financial benefits
of improving indoor environments exceed costs by a factor of 8 and 14
(Fisk and Rosenfeld, 1998).
Choose construction materials and interior finish products with zero
or low emissions to improve indoor air quality. Many building materials
and cleaning/maintenance products emit toxic gases, such as volatile organic
compounds (VOC) and formaldehyde. These gases can have a detrimental impact
on occupants' health and productivity.
Provide adequate ventilation and a high-efficiency, in-duct filtration
system. Heating and cooling systems that ensure adequate ventilation and
proper filtration can have a dramatic and positive impact on indoor air
Prevent indoor microbial contamination through selection of materials
resistant to microbial growth, provide effective drainage from the roof
and surrounding landscape, install adequate ventilation in bathrooms,
allow proper drainage of air-conditioning coils, and design other building
systems to control humidity.
Building Operation and Maintenance
Green building measures cannot achieve their goals unless they work as
intended. Building commissioning includes testing and adjusting the mechanical,
electrical, and plumbing systems to ensure that all equipment meets design
criteria. It also includes instructing the staff on the operation and
maintenance of equipment.
Over time, building performance can be assured through measurement, adjustment,
and upgrading. Proper maintenance ensures that a building continues to
perform as designed and commissioned.
Steps to Ensure Success
Establish a vision that embraces sustainable principles and an integrated
Develop a clear statement of the project's vision, goals, design criteria,
Develop a project budget that covers green building measures. Allocate
contingencies for additional research and analysis of specific options.
Seek sponsorship or grant opportunities.
Seek advice of a design professional with green building experience.
Select a design and construction team that is committed to the project
vision. Modify the RFQ/RFP selection process to ensure the contractors
have appropriate qualifications to identify, select, and implement an
integrated system of green building measures.
Develop a project schedule that allows for systems testing and commissioning.
Develop contract plans and specifications to ensure that the building
design is at a suitable level of building performance.
Create effective incentives and oversight.