Information about green building in Washington


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
    impact development
    in Seattle.

  1. Sustainable Site Planning

    Buildings have a dramatic affect on the land upon which they are built. The environmental impacts include:
    • 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.

  2. Recycled carpet, glass,
    ceramics, and ceramic tiles
    in the - Ballard Branch of
    the Seattle Public Library.

  3. 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.

  4. Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy

    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.

    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.

    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).

  5. Safeguarding Water and Water Efficiency

    Green roof at The
    Columbian in
    Vancouver, WA.

    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 non-consumptive purposes.

    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 aerators).
    • 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.

  6. Indoor Environmental Quality

    Low VOC paints and
    sealants. Strawbale home
    in Spokane, WA.

    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.

    When thinking about issues related to indoor environmental quality, consider:
    • Ventilation
    • Lighting
    • Acoustics
    • Thermal comfort
    Strategies for improving indoor environmental quality include:
    • 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.