On this site you may have read about the general benefits and considerations in building green. Here we would like to give you a bit more detail into the process and things to consider. As is true with any building project, no two projects are alike and what you may need to consider for one could be very different for another. We hope these pages are helpful and encourage you to ask more questions of your design and construction team. Please look to our links page for some helpful links if you wish to gain an even deeper understanding of the benefits to sustainable design and construction. There is no substitute for a well informed design and construction professional and you are welcome to contact ECO Structures at any time with your questions.
The benefits of green construction and sustainable design are generally well understood today but here are some interesting statistics from the United States Green Building Council. "The built environment has a profound impact on our natural environment, economy, health, and productivity. In the United States buildings account for: 39% of total energy use, 70% of electricity consumption, 39% of greenhouse gas emissions, 40% of raw materials use, 25% of wood harvest, 30% of waste output (136 million tons annually), and 12% of potable water consumption."
There is a process one can follow in order to build a sustainable home. It will take several steps to get the process started beginning with choosing the right team to be working with. You would want to consider the experience and knowledge of the design and construction team in sustainable building as well as their understanding of your goals and lifestyle. It is important to set design goals and to decide the focus of the project with regards to sustainable building early and a well educated team can help you in this process.
A truly sustainable building must address all environmental and health impacts in its design and construction but no measure is too small. It can address some or all of the following components: site development, water consumption, energy use, material selection, waste management and indoor environment. It should take into consideration the needs of the occupants, the needs of the site, locality issues, and global issues.
Energy efficiency is often the primary goal as it provides significant sustainable benefits as well as cost savings to the occupants. It is wise to develop a simple energy model based on the floor plans in order to begin testing the role of each of the components on building performance. This model can be updated as the design progresses. Tax incentives and rebates are most common with regards to energy efficient applications. Those savings, along with the actual savings on utilities, should be calculated early as they will inform the budget. Energy efficient plans should address all energy and uses: heating, cooling, fans, lighting, water heating and process loads.
Most energy efficiency technologies have an impact on the size, design and requirements of the building heating, cooling and lighting systems. An integrated and comprehensive approach to the design is important. For example, an energy efficient building envelope may allow for downsizing in mechanical equipment and elimination of perimeter heating. An energy analysis and a full cost accounting analysis can identify the best choices and where energy efficiency measures result in financial benefits as well.
Energy is the ability to do work. Alternative energy refers to energy sources which are not based on the burning of fossil fuels. Fortunately there are many means of harnessing energy which have less damaging impacts on our environment. Here are some possible alternatives:
Solar electricity is most commonly created in the form of Photovoltaics, or PV, a solar power technology that uses solar cells or solar photovoltaic arrays to convert light from the sun directly into electricity. The manufacture of photovoltaic cells has expanded dramatically in recent years. PV installations may be ground-mounted or building integrated. Financial incentives, such as preferential feed-in tariffs for solar-generated electricity and net metering, feeding electricity back to the grid, make PV a very desirable alternative choice to traditional electricity
Solar hot water is, of course, water heated by solar energy. Solar heating systems are composed of solar thermal collectors , a fluid system, which moves the heat from the collector to a reservoir or tank for heat storage. The systems may be used to heat domestic hot water, swimming pool water, space heating or as an energy input for cooling equipment.
Wind power is the conversion of wind energy into electricity by converting the rotation of turbine blades into electrical current by means of an electrical generator. Wind energy is plentiful, renewable, widely distributed, clean, and reduces toxic atmospheric and greenhouse gas emissions when used to replace traditional electricity which is derived from fossil fuels. The intermittency of wind seldom creates problems when using wind power at low to moderate penetration levels.
Zero Energy is a new concept in sustainable energy. When solar panels are installed, a home is not taken off the electrical grid. On cloudy or overcast days, when panels aren't generating optimum electricity, traditional electricity supplements the excess. On days when solar electricity is being overproduced, electricity is put back into the grid. This generates a credit on your utility bill. You could eventually be making money from the power company when your solar energy output is greater than your needs. For a home to be zero energy, one needs to factor in loss of energy issues. This means that a tight envelope is necessary to prevent heat loss and electrical usage considerations must be applied.
Geothermal heat pumps use the relatively constant temperature of the soil or surface water as a heat source and sink for a heat pump, which provides heating and cooling for buildings. Geothermal Heat pumps are durable and require little maintenance. Most components are underground, sheltered from the weather. The underground piping used in the geothermal system is often guaranteed to last 25 to 50 years and is virtually worry-free. The components inside the house are small and easily accessible for maintenance.
Fuel cell technology is under development that could permit a freezer chest-sized fuel cell to power an entire home. Fuel cells produce electricity through a hydrogen-induced chemical reaction rather than burning fuel, and therefore have very low emissions. In residential applications, fuel cells are expected to eventually compete with traditional electricity costs. While fuel cells are not yet commercially available for residential use, they are available for large-scale power production, and may be commercially available for residential use within the next five years.
The Indoor environment is another major focus in sustainable design. Creating an indoor environment that impacts positively on the health of the occupant(s) is a major goal. There are many choices today for sustainable products for the construction and interior finishes of the home. The standards of what makes a building product sustainable evolves over time. For reviewing products, following are a few standards to be thinking of: made from recycled content, conserve natural resources, avoid toxic or other emissions, reduce material use, reduce construction impact, low maintenance requirements, saves local resources such as water, certification of the wood products, are rapidly renewable (<10 yrs harvest rotation), and contribute to a healthy indoor environment.
There are many programs that are well recognized and reputable in evaluating green products and programs. Two of the oldest are Greenguard and Green Seal. The Greenguard Environmental Institute (GEI) is a non-profit organization that provides independent, third party testing for low-emitting products (volatile organic compounds – VOCs) and materials through its Greenguard Certification Program to determine if they perform within their indoor quality standards. Green Seal is an independent, non-profit organization that identifies and promotes products and services, as well as operations and maintenance strategies, which strive to be more environmentally friendly.
There are also other industry certifications and codes to consider. For instance salvaged materials intended for structural use must be inspected and grade stamped. Wood that is certified green comes with an FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certification. Consumer Reports also provides their own information and evaluations of green products via their Greener Choices program and web site. Remember that a product may not be 'certified' green but still have very sustainable benefits so do not restrict your thinking .
The Outside Environment can extend from the immediate backyard to globally. The goal is to create a home that has minimal adverse impact on the environment. There are many factors to consider with regards to the environment and the building process such as: topography, soils, storm water management, groundwater, vegetation, wildlife, temperature, humidity, wind, sun, precipitation, and history of the land and surrounding local. Looking at these elements in your site assessment with your design professional will guide you in locating your house, having minimal impact to the land and ecosystems, and create a building that is responsive to the climate thereby minimizing energy use.
Water management/efficiency means minimal potable water use. This can be achieved through reduced water consumption fixtures, on-site treatment of wastewater, and use of rain catchment or gray-water for irrigation and for toilets. Water efficiency provides a dual cost savings by reducing the volume of water used and sewage treated.
Sustainable sites alleviate the impact of the landscaping and building exterior on the ecosystem and the region. Helpful strategies include use of indigenous plants, appropriate shading, control erosion, reduction of impervious and non-reflective surfaces, use of storm water run-off, and features to reduce reliance on cars. Homes can be sited to reserve undeveloped land and capitalize on natural resources such as wind and sun. These measures simplify maintenance, reduce disturbance of habitats and water, and help to revitalize local areas.
If you have any more specific questions concerning green technology or have an interest in building or renovating a sustained energy home, please feel free to call or email Eco Structures at 508-541-4108 or firstname.lastname@example.org.