Vol 6 No. 33 - May 10, 2006

Building green reduces impact on environment

By Louise Bolger

It's not easy being green; just ask Kermit the frog. If you happen to be a building, say your home, being green can be confusing, inconvenient and costly. So why do it and just what the heck does it mean?

A green building, also known as a sustainable building, is a structure that is designed, built, renovated, operated or reused in an ecological and resource-efficient manner. Since buildings account for one-sixth of the world's fresh water withdrawals, one-quarter of its wood harvest and two-fifths of its material and energy flows, building green represents a significant opportunity to improve the environment and human health.

Green buildings are designed to meet certain objectives. Reducing the overall impact to the environment and improving human health are probably the most important, but green buildings can also improve employee productivity, and create financial savings as a result of more efficient energy use.

If you're building a new home, the site of the structure should be considered in order to protect and retain existing landscaping and natural features. The shape of the building and orientation should make maximum use of natural lighting and passive solar design. Install a properly sized energy efficient heat/cooling system and maximize light colors for roofing and minimize glass on east and west exposures. Also, high-efficiency lighting systems with advanced lighting controls including motion sensors and dimmable controls will reduce lighting requirements.

Green construction materials include recycled materials, materials that emit zero or few harmful air emissions or toxicity, durability and have along life. When possible, reuse and recycle construction and demolition materials to keep them out of landfills and keep costs down.

Homeowners should keep water efficiency in mind for both new construction as well as in their current residence. Green homes are designed with dual plumbing to use recycled water for toilet flushing or a gray water system that recovers rainwater or other nonpotable water for irrigation. Use ultra low-flush toilets and low-flow shower heads. I noticed the last time I was in Europe that the hotels had state of the art toilets which gave you the option of a full flush or a limited flush. Also, using irrigation controllers with self-closing nozzles on hoses will conserve outside water usage.

Water efficiency should also extend to our everyday lives, including taking short showers, not letting water run in sinks while shaving or brushing teeth, scraping rather than rinsing dishes before loading them into the dishwasher and operating it only when full, using appropriate water levels in washing machines, not running water to defrost frozen foods and taking youcar to a commercial car wash that uses recycled water.

When building or remodeling, choose construction materials and interior finish products with zero or low emissions to improve indoor air quality. Building materials can emit toxic gases such as formaldehyde. Choosing the proper building materials combined with adequate ventilation and a high-efficiency filtration system will provide a good overall environmental quality that can reduce the rate of respiratory disease.

We're all not perfect, but we should make an effort to become more environmentally aware. One way is to think green when building, renovating or simply living our everyday lives. After all, just like Kermit says, "Green is the color of spring."

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