Sustainable/ Green Building
There has been a growing concern over the environment in almost every aspect of living. As the reality of our planet’s limited resources and gradual degradation sinks in, many people are looking for ways to supplement the necessities of everyday life with something more sustainable, renewable, efficient, and environmentally friendly and safe. In recent years, this has especially been a concern when it comes to the building and construction of new architecture such as homes, apartment complexes and commercial buildings. Thus the trend of sustainable building or green construction has been on the rise, and for very valid reasons.
What is Sustainable Building?
Dating back to the fossil fuel and pollution crises of the 1970’s, the pressing economic, political and environmental issues of the modern world have driven a demand for safer and more endurable building practices. Therefore, sustainable building practices today aim to achieve the design and construction of architecture that is environmentally conscious throughout its lifetime. Looking to keep the negative environmental impacts to a minimum, the main goal of green construction and sustainable design/ building techniques is to meet the needs of today without hindering in any way the abilities to meet the needs of the future.
Sustainable design revolves around attempts to make all systems within a structure efficient, focusing on water, energy, and materials efficiency, the optimization of operations and maintenance, and the reduction of waste and toxins, all in an effort to design buildings that not only function well, but that also function harmoniously with the environment that surrounds them; serving their purpose with as little damage to their surroundings as possible.
Sustainable Construction Materials
There are countless construction materials being used in sustainable development today that are considered healthier choices for the environment and the inhabitants of the building. Many of these materials stem from recycled materials. These are materials that have already been used, such as reclaimed lumber or stone. Such materials require less energy in their production, and are much more resourceful than using brand new materials.
Many builders are in the business of retrofitting old structures to meet more modern needs, and in this case much of the original structure can be reused again. Parts of the structure such as doors, windows, mantels and interior and exterior hardware can be saved and used again in green construction, reducing the need for producing new construction materials that can be costly both for our pockets and the environment.
If new materials are required, those seeking sustainable design try and use materials that are highly renewable such as bamboo, sorghum or wheat straw, and cork oak. Builders in green construction also try and use local materials whenever possible to reduce the use of energy, fossil fuels, and other resources required for the transportation of materials.
Likewise, in sustainable building, low impact materials are preferred and used whenever possible. For example, rather than building materials that are carcinogenic or that contain toxic substances (like formaldehyde), green construction uses materials that are considered low VOC-emitting (volatile organic compound) such as recycled denim or cellulose insulation instead. Even materials such as organic or milk-based paints may be used in the construction of green buildings to boost the level of environmental integrity, safety and efficiency.
Other materials that are considered green and often used in sustainable building are trass, linoleum, sheep wool and concrete. Panels made from paper flakes, baked earth, rammed earth, clay vermiculite, flax linnen, sisal, seegrass, cork, expanded clay grains, coconut, wood fiber plates, calcium sand, and bamboo are all further materials that are used in green construction. These materials usually tend to be renewable and natural and when used in the construction of a new building aim to offer functionality along with a minimal environmental impact.
There are many systems and programs in operation in the United States that regulate, assess and advocate for green construction and sustainable building.
One of the leading ways of assessing the sustainability of any building in the United States today is through the U.S. Green Building Council’s certification program known as LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design). The LEED program provides building owners and operators with a set of guidelines for recognizing and executing methods and materials that offer solutions that can support green construction, designs, operations and maintenance. To obtain LEED certification the construction of a building must meet very specific criteria and must rank in accordance with the program’s system for measuring the potential environmental impacts and human benefits of each of the different aspects of the building process and materials used.
Prerequisites for the program include conforming to environmental laws and regulations, occupancy scenarios, building permanence and pre-rating completion, site boundary regulations, and the agreement to share the building’s energy and water use data for up to five years.
It is vital to know the basics about this new movement in sustainable architecture, as it is sweeping the globe. The next time you make decisions on improving your home, building, or even choosing a new apartment community to live in, you might want to consider the environment and the energy efficiency of the structure in question, as it may have a greater impact on your environment, your future, and your health than you may think.