Green Building Basics
A sustainable building, also known as a green building, is a structure that is designed, built,
renovated, operated, or reused in an environmentally-sound and resource-efficient manner. Green
building is defined by the United States Green Building Council as: Design and construction
practices that significantly reduce or eliminate the negative impact of buildings on the environment
and occupants in the five broad areas of:
SEA Street low
Sustainable Site Planning
Buildings have a dramatic affect on the land upon which they are built. The environmental
- Loss of habitat.
- Increased storm-water runoff and erosion.
- The 'heat island' effect: impermeable, dry, and un-shaded developed areas absorb
and emit more heat than natural, moist and shaded environments.
- Increased transportation needs for occupants to travel to and from the building.
Establishing sustainable site objectives both in and outside of the building can limit
the environmental impact on local ecosystems. Strategies for minimizing site impacts of
a project include:
- Avoid development on inappropriate sites (agricultural land, wetlands, floodplains).
- Control soil erosion and water sedimentation by limiting site and habitat disturbance
and by using best management practices during construction.
- Locate the building near basic services (utilities, bus routes, bank, stores, daycare
facilities, fitness center).
- Avoid landscaping that requires the use of pesticides and herbicides.
- Use compost as soil amendment.
- Minimize impermeable surfaces.
Recycled carpet, glass,
ceramics, and ceramic tiles
in the - Ballard Branch of
the Seattle Public Library.
Conservation of Materials and Resources
Building and remodeling often creates waste as well as uses new materials made from natural resources.
In 2007, approximately 33 percent of solid waste generated in Washington was
construction and demolition debris. For more information, the Solid Waste in Washington State
16th Annual Status Report is available at:
Energy is required to extract and transport raw materials and to manufacture final products. This
energy investment is known as the "embodied" or "embedded" energy of a product. When choosing
building materials, consider their embodied energy, durability, and what will become of the
product after its useful life. Selecting materials that last longer and can be re-used or recycled
reduces the amount of pollutions and potential waste buried in landfills. Consider the following
when making material choices:
- Reuse/remodel existing buildings - the greenest building is the one already built!
- Design for easy deconstruction, rather than demolition. Deconstruction allows the future
salvage and reuse of valuable building materials.
- Develop and implement a construction waste management plan during construction to divert
material from disposal.
- Choose durable materials with recycled content, that are locally or regionally produced
and/or are rapidly renewable.
- Plan for occupant recycling and include space for recycling bins and on-site composting
in the structure.
- Use chipped woody debris generated on site as mulch to suppress weeds, retain moisture,
control erosion, and provide a base for pathways.
Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy
According to the U.S. Department of
Energy, 30 to 40 percent of U.S. primary energy consumption is attributed to buildings. Primary
energy refers to all fuels or other forms of energy that are used to produce electricity or heat,
including non-renewable and renewable energy sources. The generation and use of energy are major
contributors to air pollution and global climate change.
EPS foam (1 inch) applied
to OSB sheathing to provide
continuous thermal break and
additional R-5 wall insulation.
Courtesy of Tacoma-Pierce
County Habitat for Humanity.
Energy efficiency is central to green building strategies. Reducing building energy needs and thereafter
choosing renewable energy increases energy security, and helps to mitigate climate change. Energy
efficiency also saves money by reducing utility bills. Consider the following energy-saving
strategies when building, remodeling, or retrofitting an existing building:
- Passive solar building design (shape and orientation, overhangs on south windows,
use of natural lighting).
- Well ventilated, thermally-efficient envelope with properly sized and energy-efficient
heating and cooling systems.
- Energy-efficient appliances and lighting to minimize electric loads.
- On-site renewable energy generation (solar water heaters, photovoltaic systems, wind
turbines, ground heat pumps).
Safeguarding Water and Water Efficiency
Clean water is an increasingly scarce resource world-wide. Treating water to drinking water
standards is energy intensive and expensive. Treated water should be reserved for priority
uses like drinking, bathing, and cooking. Green building practices place significant emphasis
on reducing a building's water needs and re-using water (grey-water and reclaimed water) for
Green roof at The
Low-flow fixtures and water-efficient appliances dramatically reduce water
use. Landscaping and irrigation choices can also make a significant impact on a
building's overall water consumption. Today's buildings can take advantage of a new generation
of cost-effective, high-efficiency appliances and landscape management systems. Consider the
following water-saving strategies for your next building project:
- Use water-efficient fixtures (ultra low-flush toilets, low-flow shower heads, and faucet
- Landscape with drought tolerant and native plants to eliminate or reduce irrigation needs.
- Explore subsurface irrigation with grey-water or reclaimed water.
- Meter landscape irrigation separately and audit water use.
- Zone plants by water need and match with irrigation requirements.
- Harvest rainwater for use in irrigation or flushing toilets where permitted by law.
- Install green roofs.
Indoor Environmental Quality
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), we Americans spend approximately
90% of our time indoors, where pollution levels can run two to five times higher than
outdoors. Much of this pollution originates from building materials and finishes chosen
during construction. The first rule of good indoor air quality is: if you don't put it into the
building, you won't have to remove it later.
Low VOC paints and
sealants. Strawbale home
in Spokane, WA.
When thinking about issues related to indoor environmental quality, consider:
Strategies for improving indoor environmental quality include:
- Thermal comfort
- Implement a no-smoking policy during construction and post-occupancy.
- Plan and implement a construction indoor air quality management plan.
- Choose materials and finishes (paint, carpeting, adhesive, composite wood) and
cleaning supplies that do not emit toxins.
- Plan for sufficient air exchanges to maintain a good air quality and control the
level of moisture in the house.
- Design for maximum use of daylight and occupant views.
Buildings that are constructed or renovated using these principles can have substantial influence
on reducing the impacts of climate change, reducing toxics in our environment, safeguarding our
waterways, and ensuring healthy work and living environments for building occupants.
In addition to the environmental and human health benefits, the green building sector is contributing
to the emerging green economy and creating what may become hundreds of 'green' jobs in
Washington. As energy costs climb up and continued emphasis is placed on climate change, storm-water
management, and toxics reduction, the importance of having well-trained trades people to build and
retrofit buildings will become even more evident.