Green Building Impacts More than Just Environment

Green building is an approach that has become the future of both commercial and residential construction. The trend to green buildings has become commonplace in a short period of time due to several factors ranging from environmental economics, public awareness, and policy.

Governmental agencies, businesses, the construction sector, and society at large have all focused attention on the environmental and human health impact of building practices.

The goal of green building, also known as "sustainable or high performance building," is to help sustain the environment without disrupting the surrounding natural habitat. In other words, the construction and operation of a green structure will not disturb the land, water, resources and energy in and around the building.

The U.S. EPA defines green building as "the practice of creating structures and using processes that are environmentally responsible and resource efficient throughout a building's life, from site selection to design, construction, operation, maintenance, renovation, and deconstruction."

While the definition has changed over time, green building is now the planning, design, construction, and operation of a building or home with various considerations at the center, such as water use, energy use, material selection, indoor environmental quality and health aspects, as well as the long term effect of the building on the site and its surroundings.

LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) is a rating system devised by the United States Green Building Council (USGBC) to evaluate the environmental performance of a building and encourage market transformation towards sustainable design. The system is credit-based, allowing projects to earn points for environmentally friendly actions taken during construction and use of a building. LEED was launched in an effort to develop a "consensus-based, market-driven rating system to accelerate the development and implementation of green building practices.

Using LEED, and other green building measures, has produced a number of quantifiable outcomes. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, LEED certified buildings have lower CO2 emissions, consume less energy and water, and divert more waste from landfills than standard buildings. In addition to environmental benefits, new economies have been created as well. A recent U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) study reported that the market for green building materials reached nearly $44 billion in 2015, and could grow at a compound rate of 9.5 percent a year through 2019.

California leads the way in green building. The state continues to be the most forward thinking state in the nation in defining what it means to build green. As of this year, the state of California mandated that all new homes be Net Zero Complaint.

Net Zero Energy, defined as "The societal value of energy consumed by the building over the course of a typical year is less than or equal to the societal value of the on-site renewable energy generated," is quickly becoming a sought after goal for many buildings in Pleasanton.

It means buildings produce as much energy and they consume, and on site renewable energy sources are equal or equivalent to the amount of energy used.

Locally, Pleasanton has adopted measures that require all new commercial and residential projects to meet green building certification standards.

In Pleasanton, Avignon Luxury Homes, a community built by Centex Homes, was the first "green" community in Pleasanton of its kind to build "Zero Net Energy" homes. The project, which began building in 2006, includes 32 custom homes exuding energy efficiency.

The homes were built to save up to 70 percent in energy bills and, be eligible to receive a Federal tax credit of $2000. At completion, the homes were inspected by either CalCerts or The California Home Energy Efficiency Rating System (CHEERS), both of which are certified and qualified by California Energy Commission, to ascertain their Net Zero Energy status. In fact, the features and benefits to both the homeowner and the environment enable the entire development to be labeled "Zero Net Energy."

Sustainable design elements are incorporated into new projects in Hacienda. Every building constructed since the late 1990s has been designed to comply with the US Green Building Council's LEED threshold standard. Some have gone on to receive national recognition through LEED certification.

LEED certification through USGBC does not stipulate specific standards or technologies. Instead, green building certification programs allow for the adoption of customized solutions for individual buildings. This flexibility is a key feature of green building programs. Certification programs, such as LEED, offer a menu of building technologies and construction practices in many categories including Energy and Atmosphere, Water Efficiency, Materials and Resources, as well as others.

Builders earn credits by fulfilling certain criteria across a range of categories to achieve a tiered certification of the life cycle impact of a building (Certified, Silver, Gold, and Platinum). This flexibility also means that the evaluative criteria for green building span multiple categories of environmental and human health impacts, leaving the definition of what constitutes a green building ambiguous to some extent, which adds to some of the misconceptions about what constitutes a green building.

Other misconceptions concerning green building also revolve around the cost of construction and that green building materials are lesser quality than "regular" building materials. While it may cost more to get started because green materials and products can be more expensive, the savings over the life of the building frequently surpass upfront increases in cost. Green building is more of an investment, and the benefits of green building can range from environmental to social to economic resulting in an increase in value to the property.

According to the National Association of Home Builders, a green building can have a seven percent increase in net asset value, whether brought on by newer projects or by retrofitting, over more conventional buildings. On average, 18 percent of construction industry clients demanded that their projects be eligible for green certification. This number is expected to reach 37 percent over the next two years.

Another value of building green is the use of materials and designs that are well integrated for a variety of positive results. For instance, when a building's duct space is downsized by 30 percent, that space becomes available as rentable space or repurposed.

"Energy savings is one thing, but there are many other add on valuable benefits to building green that hit the bottom line. There are a lot of new design factors that can be used that can create more space within a building," says Brenden McEneaney, Pacific Region Director, U.S. Green Building Council.

New green building trends are getting integrated into practice regularly. These include: using highly efficient lighting, reducing heat load within the building, and installing windows that reduce solar radiation inside the building to reduce the building's energy demand. These practices often then translate into additional cost and energy saving measures such as the ability to downsize mechanical equipment.

"There is a connection with the equipment that makes a building green, like LED lights, highly efficient windows and solar, but there's a new trend that is the active management of those things that is enabled by technology, like clean tech advancements," says McEneaney.

Another new green building technology is high efficient windows made of electrochromic glass. They work by following the direction of the sun, and they react to temperature. Early in the morning, the windows are clear, but as the day heats up, the windows become tinted to prevent solar heat gain inside the building which reduces the strain on the cooling systems.

Electrochromic glass, also called "smart glass" is glass or glazing whose light transmission properties are altered when heat is applied. The glass changes from translucent to transparent, blocking some, if not all, of the heat radiation that would enter a building. The resulting benefits include cost savings for heating, air-conditioning, and lighting.

Developing efficient lighting has always been a part of green building. According to the US Department of Energy, lighting alone represents 19 percent of electricity consumption globally and 23 percent of all electricity consumption in the United States. Twenty five percent of that goes to residential, 15 percent for outdoor lighting for cities and 60 percent to nonresidential lighting.

According to McEneaney, another area at the forefront of green building is health and wellness. Builders are looking at air quality, using outdoor spaces and day light. A recent study, by Harvard, titled "The Impact of Green Buildings on Cognitive Function," shows that by providing better air quality inside a building, there is a reduction in stress and increase in cognitive function. The study showed an eight percent increase in productivity. The study also showed green buildings with better air quality and clean building materials are healthier which in turn creates more productive employees.

Managing water within a building is another trend in green building. New buildings are installing systems that allow for water to be reused and recycled within the building. Water efficiency and conservation are key elements for new green construction because water is used in several ways within the building, including bathrooms, cooling for heating systems and landscaping.

Sustainability in a building, either new or retrofitted, offers the best value on a long term basis, better health, and the conservation of energy. As green building becomes more commonplace, the benefits will go beyond economics and the environment today but will provide something lasting for the next generation as well.

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