Building green isn’t just a set of techniques or best practices; it’s a philosophy. What exactly the philosophy is will vary depending on who you talk to, but the root of it is always the same: building with a focus on reducing or eliminating your environmental impact. This focus can be immediate: you build with materials sourced locally and/or sustainably and you build in regions where the ecological impact will be minimal. The focus can also be long-term: designing your building with an eye for energy efficiency. You can also focus your efforts on the type of building you’re creating like multi-family housing instead of single-family housing.
The Benefits of Building GreenThere are a number of different benefits when building green, and most of them fall into three categories: environmental, financial, and personal.
Environmental BenefitsThe construction industry has been known to be one of the biggest carbon emitters on the planet. 23% of all global carbon emissions in 2009 were a result of construction. While not all of these emissions were as a result of constructing buildings (infrastructure construction has to be accounted for), it’s important to remember how demand drives supply. When you opt to build green, you’re doing your part to reduce emissions. What’s more, as demand for green, sustainable, and locally-sourced building materials increases, those materials will begin to decline in price as they become produced on a wider scale. This means that your role is even more important when viewed within the big picture.
There are a number of long-term benefits green building can have for the environment. Consider a standard like Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED). This standard focuses on reducing energy consumption, saving water, and reducing waste. There’s a different set of standards depending on the type of building that you are creating, and because each industry has different needs, following their standards is a great step toward a greener future.
There are even higher standards than LEED. Take, for example, Passive House. Passive House is one of the most stringent energy efficiency certifications for buildings and has many benefits. These homes use 75%-90% less energy than a conventional home and this means that less fossil fuels are being burned to keep you warm, less electricity is being used to keep you cool, and you’ve helped create a greener future for everyone.
Economic BenefitsNow that we’ve looked at the environmental benefits of green building, the economic benefits become obvious. You’re using less electricity, less water, and less fossil fuels in your home when you follow the standards detailed above. That means you’re saving money on your utility bills every month, and over time, these savings can more than make up for the initial costs of building green.
Secondary economic benefits can be found in the design of green buildings, as well. The desire to meet certain green goals means there’s more monitoring in a green building than there is in traditional construction, and these monitoring tools can help you gather data to make more economical decisions. Installing a smart thermostat can help improve your energy efficiency, not just because you can program it to use heat more efficiently, but because it will tell you exactly how much energy it’s using, and how much that’s costing you. You can calculate how much you’d save by lowering the temperature 1 degree in the wintertime or increasing it 1 degree in the summertime. This helps you save money while staying comfortable - you can find the perfect money-to-comfort ratio.
You should also consider the resale value of a green home. It’s important to find a real estate agent who understands the economic advantages of a green home - someone who can explain these advantages to prospective buyers. Matched with the right, environmentally-conscious buyer, your home could sell for a lot more than a traditionally-built one.
Personal BenefitsThe personal benefits of green building depend heavily on your own life. When you’re a person who cares deeply about the environment, the personal benefits are obvious - you’ll be happy you put the effort in to making the world a better place. You’ll have a sense of peace and serenity in a home that has low-to-no carbon emissions. Do you have friends and family that admire green living? They’ll admire your home and they’ll admire you even more for having put the work in, giving you a sense of satisfaction coupled with a sense of validation. Personal benefits are, by definition, completely individual, but there’s a lot to love about building green.
Barriers to Building GreenThe barriers to building green can be chiefly grouped into two categories: economic and legal. These barriers will vary heavily depending on where you live and the type of green building you intend to construct.
Economic BarriersThe upfront costs of building green are decidedly greater than in traditional construction; if they weren’t, everyone would build green by default. There are a number of economic barriers: Finding locally-sourced, environmentally friendly materials is difficult; they’re simply more scarce that traditional building materials.
When you’re following standards like LEED or Passive House, you may find you need more materials which can make the process even more difficult. One of the most important concepts in green building is proper insulation which reduces the amount of energy consumption for heating and cooling. You’ll also want smart lights, smart thermometers, and other smart technologies. High-efficiency furnaces, alternative energy sources like solar panels - all of this tech can be pricey. Depending on where you live, you might find subsidies, but the costs will almost certainly still amount to more than traditional construction upfront.
Legal BarriersConstruction standards aren’t always up to date on what’s green and zoning laws may restrict your ability to orient your house optimally for solar energy. It’s important to find a company with a lot of green construction experience to ensure you’re complying with all laws and by-laws in your area.
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