Decades ago, you didn’t hear much talk about global warming or saving the planet. It was all about building bigger and better. Studies now show construction — everything from sourcing materials to putting them together — is responsible for 23 percent of air pollution, 40 percent of water pollution and 50 percent of landfill waste.
Now, people are more aware of the Earth’s dwindling resources and are taking steps to implement green initiatives.
This growing awareness — along with sustainability becoming more profitable and desirable in the construction market — has led to a demand for more building options. In fact, experts say green building is the fastest growing industry worldwide.
Strategies for Green Buildings
New and improved strategies for implementing sustainable building practices are emerging each day. Builders should consider their options beforehand to determine which will provide the most cost savings.
1. Get an Energy Audit
An energy audit is an evaluation and analysis of a building and its energy usage. Builders can use these audits during a renovation project to determine how to best implement energy-saving techniques. Any existing structure, especially one that consumes excessive energy, is eligible for a review.
The process involves an expert coming to the building to complete tests and use specialized equipment. The blow door, which measures a building’s air tightness, can find any leaks. Infrared cameras are used to measure various surface temperatures, which will identify any filtration or insulation issues.
2. Upgrade Existing Structures
Since the economic crisis of 2008, which cost the U.S. $3.4 trillion in real estate wealth, it’s not uncommon to see abandoned buildings, no matter how wealthy the city. Many builders are now repurposing these structures to bring them up to modern standards.
One example of this is the modernization project of the Edith Green-Wendell Wyatt Federal Building in Portland, Oregon. This 18-story building was originally built in 1974, but major renovations were done to improve sustainability, including the installation of new solar panels, power-generating elevators and energy-efficient lighting systems.
3. Pursue LEED Certification
Many contractors choose to pursue LEED certification, a globally recognized green building rating system. Through this program, builders gain access to learning materials and resources to implement green initiatives in their construction projects.
Besides benefiting the environment, following LEED regulations has been shown to generate around $1.2 billion in energy savings. A LEED certification is also a verification that a building features a green design with quality craftsmanship.
4. Reduce Waste Output
Waste isn’t just excessive product — it’s anything that doesn’t add value to the building or its occupants. Many contractors are searching for ways to reduce their waste output, increasing sustainability and saving money.
Besides careful planning and precision, builders are reducing waste by using lean manufacturing vendors and reusing salvaged materials. Many builders have also found it helpful to set trash reduction goals, which outline clear, actionable plans for adopting waste reduction strategies.
5. Adopt Efficient Energy
Some of the most popular renewable energy methods include solar, wind and geothermal power. While implementing efficient and renewable energy comes with initial startup costs, they are quickly outweighed by the overall savings and benefits.
Solar power, where energy is harnessed from the sun’s rays, has grown rapidly in the past few years and is one of the most popular ways for builders to reach zero-carbon goals. Currently, there are 64.2 gigawatts (GW) of solar capacity in the United States alone, which can power more than 12.3 million homes.
6. Change Out Windows
You may think there’s no way to improve the window, but it’s been proven that 30 percent of heating and air conditioning is lost through windows. That’s a large chunk of valuable — and costly — energy being wasted without purpose.
Many builders are saving money by utilizing energy-efficient windows, which use a combination of glazes, multiple panes and insulation to seal in air and reduce the amount of visible light passing through. It’s estimated that replacing just one single-pane window will save $401 in a year. For a business with hundreds of windows, that could mean huge savings.
A Shifting Landscape
Many builders have taken steps to make their buildings more environmentally friendly. However, experts are still developing new ways to harness energy, reduce waste and reverse the effects of global warming. The landscape of architecture will continue to shift and evolve as long as dwindling fossil fuels are still a threat.
One goal is to convert all buildings into net-zero or living, buildings. Net-zero structures are designed to generate as much power as they use, while living buildings produce more energy than they consume, feeding the excess back to the grid.
Ultimately, scientists and builders share a goal, which is to implement more sustainable practices and save the planet — including all the buildings on it — from the effects of climate change.