Thursday, April 10, 2008

How to Practice Green Building

How to practice green building?
Green building brings together a vast array of practices and techniques to reduce and ultimately eliminate the impacts of buildings on the environment and human health. But effective green buildings are more than just a random collection of environmental friendly technologies. They require careful, systemic attention to the full life cycle impacts of the resources embodied in the building and to the resource consumption and pollution emissions over the building's complete life cycle.
On the aesthetic side of green architecture or sustainable design is the philosophy of designing a building that is in harmony with the natural features and resources surrounding the site. There are several key steps in designing sustainable buildings: specify 'green' building materials from local sources, reduce loads, optimize systems, and generate on-site renewable energy.
Building materials typically considered to be 'green' include rapidly renewable plant materials like bamboo and straw, lumber from forests certified to be sustainably managed, dimension stone, recycled stone, recycled metal, and other products that are non-toxic, reusable, renewable, and/or recyclable. Building materials should be extracted and manufactured locally to the building site to minimize the energy embedded in their transportation.
Low-impact building materials are used wherever feasible: for example, insulation may be made from low VOC (volatile organic compound)-emitting materials such as recycled denim or cellulose insulation, rather than the building insulation materials that may contain carcinogenic or toxic materials such as formaldehyde. To discourage insect damage, these alternate insulation materials may be treated with boric acid. Organic or milk-based paints may be used. However, a common fallacy is that "green" materials are always better for the health of occupants or the environment. Many harmful substances (including formaldehyde, arsenic, and asbestos) are naturally occurring and are not without their histories of use with the best of intentions. A study of emissions from materials by the State of California has shown that there are some green materials that have substantial emissions whereas some more "traditional" materials actually were lower emitters. Thus, the subject of emissions must be carefully investigated before concluding that natural materials are always the healthiest alternatives for occupants and for the Earth.
Architectural salvage and reclaimed materials are used when appropriate as well. When older buildings are demolished, frequently any good wood is reclaimed, renewed, and sold as flooring. Any good dimension stone is similarly reclaimed. Many other parts are reused as well, such as doors, windows, mantels, and hardware, thus reducing the consumption of new goods. When new materials are employed, green designers look for materials that are rapidly replenished, such as bamboo, which can be harvested for commercial use after only 6 years of growth, or cork oak, in which only the outer bark is removed for use, thus preserving the tree. When possible, building materials may be gleaned from the site itself; for example, if a new structure is being constructed in a wooded area, wood from the trees which were cut to make room for the building would be re-used as part of the building itself.
To minimize the energy loads within and on the structure, it is critical to orient the building to take advantage of cooling breezes and sunlight. Daylighting with ample windows will eliminate the need to turn on electric lights during the day (and provide great views outside too). Passive Solar can warm a building in the winter — but care needs to be taken to provide shade in the summer time to prevent overheating. Prevailing breezes and convection currents can passively cool the building in the summer. Thermal mass stores heat gained during the day and releases it at night minimizing the swings in temperature. Thermal mass can both heat the building in winter and cool it during the summer. Insulation is the final step to optimizing the structure. Well-insulated windows, doors, and ceilings and walls help reduce energy loss, thereby reducing energy usage. These design features don't cost much money to construct and significantly reduce the energy needed to make the building comfortable.
Optimizing the heating and cooling systems through installing energy efficient machinery, commissioning, and heat recovery is the next step. Compared to optimizing the passive heating and cooling features through design, the gains made by engineering are relatively expensive and can add significantly to the projects cost. However, thoughtful integrated design can reduce costs — for example, once a building has been designed to be more energy-efficient, it may be possible to downsize heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) equipment, leading to substantial savings. To further address energy loss hot water heat recycling is used to reduce energy usage for domestic water heating. Ground source heat pumps are more energy efficient then other forms of heating and cooling.
Finally, onsite generation of renewable energy through solar power, wind power, hydro power, or biomass can significantly reduce the environmental impact of the building. Power generation is the most expensive feature to add to a building.
Good green architecture also reduces waste, of energy, water and materials. During the construction phase, one goal should be to reduce the amount of material going to landfills. Well-designed buildings also help reduce the amount of waste generated by the occupants as well, by providing onsite solutions such as compost bins to reduce matter going to landfills.
To reduce the impact on wells or water treatment plants, several options exist. "Greywater", wastewater from sources such as dishwashing or washing machines, can be used for subsurface irrigation, or if treated, for non-potable purposes, e.g., to flush toilets and wash cars. Rainwater collectors are used for similar purposes.
Green building often emphasizes taking advantage of renewable resources, e.g., using sunlight through passive solar, active solar, and photovoltaic techniques and using plants and trees through green roofs, rain gardens, and for reduction of rainwater run-off. Many other techniques, such as using packed gravel for parking lots instead of concrete or asphalt to enhance replenishment of ground water, are used as well.


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