As concerns over global warming rise, you’ve probably heard discussions about using green construction methods. Such conversations almost inevitably end with someone pointing out the high upfront costs for green technology. But that is quickly becoming a misconception. The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) points out that “A landmark study by the firm Davis Langdon found no significant difference between the average cost of a LEED-certified building and other new construction in the same category.” The gap between green building costs and their traditional counterparts thus seems to be closing.
You may still find in researching the costs of certain green technologies that price tags seem higher, but that doesn’t take into account what many experts point out, which is that green technology costs are best expressed long-term. Even where upfront costs are more expensive, there are a number of benefits that make green construction an attractive alternative:
- Increased efficiency: The Harvard Business Review reports that green buildings can show energy savings as high as 40% per year and savings on water costs as high as 30%. Even retrofitting buildings can result in decreased operations costs of as much as 10% in the first year according to the USGBC.
- Maintenance savings: Studies show that green buildings have a longer lifespan and report much lower maintenance costs, which results in long-term savings.
- Increased valuation: Green buildings have become increasingly desirable, which means that incorporating green technology raises resale values an average of $25,000 over comparable traditional buildings.
- Credits, rebates and tax incentives: Both the federal and your state governments offer rebates, savings, and tax credits for the use of green technology in construction.
The lifetime cost savings of green construction alone then makes it a wise investment. But there are other benefits to going green as well. The most obvious is that green technology reduces a building’s carbon footprint and thus lowers the greenhouse gases emitted into our atmosphere. But even on a smaller scale, green materials are far less likely to emit harmful toxins in the building space and are thus safer for occupants. Green building materials are also often made of recyclables and thus reduce waste. Green technology, additionally, preserves our most valuable resources, such as freshwater.
So How Do I Make It Green
There are a variety of ways to incorporate green technology into construction, from the basics of choosing more energy-efficient doors and windows to the more advanced use of alternative energy sources such as wind, solar, and geothermal. The greatest impacts, both economically and environmentally, come from the earliest incorporation of green alternatives in the construction process. That’s why it’s wise to build green from the ground up. That doesn’t mean, however, that you won’t get good results from retrofitting as well.
If you have the opportunity to use green methods from the very beginning of your construction process, there are some basic considerations that offer green investment. Locating your construction close to public transportation allows for a reduced impact on the environment by reducing individual vehicle usage. You might also consider prefabricated or modular construction, which has shown to reduce costs, to have a less environmental impact, and to be safer for construction employees. Finally, you might use nature to your advantage by considering the orientation of your building to resources such as sunlight or wind. Passive solar power, for example, can be used as an effective strategy for both heating and lighting in your building.
Much of what constitutes green building technology has to do with construction methods, materials used, and the incorporation of advanced technologies. While trying to cover all the possibilities would be overwhelming, here are a few effective strategies:
- Using alternative energy sources: sun, wind, geothermal, and hydroelectric power sources not only provide carbon-free energy but they also dramatically reduce energy costs. In fact, some sources can provide enough energy to give back to the grid!
- Biodegradable materials: organic paints and sustainably sourced bamboo, timber, and mycelium contribute less to waste and degrade far faster than most traditional materials.
- Smart, energy-efficient appliances: Consider the energy efficiency of the appliances you choose and smart functions that help lower energy consumption. LED lighting and tankless water heaters, for example, are excellent ways of conserving energy.
- Cool roofs: these specially designed and painted tiles reflect solar radiation and absorb less heat thus acting as an effective means of cooling spaces.
- Electronic smart glass: using small electrical signals to control the amount of light allowed in, smart windows can be controlled to maximize solar warming or to keep a space cool.
Green In All Ways
The USGBC has instituted the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification (also known as the LEED). Based on the level of incorporation of green technology into your building design, a rating from certified to platinum is awarded. Each certification level shows you the savings you are offered and the decreased impact on our planet. What this tells the environmentally conscious builder is that your green in pocket and green for the planet. What could be better?