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Green Building, Green whatever

  Filed under: Information 

Green. Green used to be just a color in the box of crayons. You hadoptions of green depending on whether you got the “Big Box”, “64”, or“Collectors Edition”, but nonetheless it was just variations on the sametheme. Now, of course, Green is the broad stroke concept behindvirtually every major piece of marketing or advertising set in front ofus today. You now have the option of buying Green cars, Green food,Green fuel, Green cosmetics, Green – anything. How is it that all ofthese industries were able to so quickly adapt to the ever growingconcern over the Earth’s welfare?  Quite simply they didn’t. Green hasbeen building for years; it finally just has a nice little package to bepresented in. The fact of the matter is that Green, in many cases, isthe feel good result of science and progress.

This creates an interesting challenge for consumers as well as thosein the role of “expert” because science, as its known to do, workstirelessly to prove/disprove/improve anything that it can, creating aquickly moving target and ever expanding pile of data to stay on topof. The area that I am supposed to be an expert in is Homebuilding andEnergy. Not to minimize the advances in other industries, but theeffects of Building Science on homes is so monumental it has created anenvironment where literally every aspect of what we do needs to beexamined and evaluated. This process is most thoroughly laid out by theUnited States Green Building Council (USGBC) and their Leadership inEnergy and Environmental Design Green Building Rating System (LEED). You know it’s serious when you have to tack two acronyms together. TheUSGBC has set the most widely recognized standards and qualificationsfor “Green” Building. The primary categories that builders can accruepoints for certification are:

  • Innovation and Design Process
  • Location and Linkages
  • Sustainable Sites
  • Water Efficiency
  • Energy and Atmosphere
  • Materials and Resource
  • Indoor Environmental Quality
  • Awareness and Education

When performed in harmony these criteria create a home that has lessimpact on the environment, stimulates local economies, is healthier forthe people who live in them, and are more sustainable leading toconsiderably lower operating costs. It seems to be a no brainer,right?  Well, that depends.

The primary reason that every home now being built is not strivingfor LEED Certification is the initial investment that is required. Costs increase due to additional labor, material and facilitationcosts. While not inordinate, they can be substantial enough to deterthose that don’t consider themselves purist environmentalists – treehuggers if you will. I can say that, I have actually hugged a tree tocover my bases.

Fortunately the USGBC is not the only Green game in town. As ofApril 2008 (when I stopped trying to count them all) there were over 70different third party verification programs for GreenBuilding. Thefew that I focus on are the EPA’s Energy Star Program and the NAHB GreenBuilding Guidelines. I won’t associate with it if it doesn’t have asolid acronym.

The Energy Star program is the most straightforward for consumers tounderstand. Essentially they require some HVAC tests to confirm thesystems installation quality and size appropriateness; as well asrequire the use of Energy Star appliances and lighting fixtures.

The NAHB program is similar in many ways to the USGBC program, butwas designed to have less initial financial impact and easierimplementation.

Key point to note here is that there is no governing body on what“Green” means or how to qualify it. For you as the consumer to be Greenwill take an investment in your time and effort, and probablysuspending some long held beliefs. This is inevitable because there is ashade of green out there to match almost anyone’s level ofenvironmental concern and budget – you just need to find it. If itturns out that your match is simply changing a few light fixtures orbetter maintaining your homes mechanical systems, do not feel that youare being out-classed by those who invested in a field of solar panels. If every person does the part they are able to do, we may all be ableto breathe a little easier. Literally.