You’ve probably heard the term, and perhaps even considered the use of certain green materials or green building concepts for your new home or remodel. But what exactly is green building and how can it benefit you and the world around you? Green building encompasses many different areas of construction, and as such there is no single definition that sums it all up.
Basically, the concept of green building is any structure, whether it’s residential, commercial or industrial, that is designed, constructed, renovated or operated in such a manner as to minimize its impact on the environment, protect the health of its occupants and utilize resources efficiently.
That’s a tall order at first glance, but green building concepts are easier to achieve then you might think. Thanks to a growing consciousness among consumers and manufacturers of how building techniques and materials impact all of us, the cost of many of these products has come done as well, making green building not only smart, but cost effective as well.
Engineered Building Materials
If you have built or remodeled recently, there’s a good chance you may have already incorporated one important green building concept in your home: the use of engineered building materials. Plywood, oriented strand board, glu-laminated beams, I-joists and many other similar products make use of smaller, fast-growing trees harvested from tree farms like any other crop. The result is stable, uniform and structurally solid building materials that minimize the impact on existing old-growth and even second-growth forests.
Another area where this concept is seen with increasing frequency is in decking. Once solely made from solid-sawn lumber, more and more decking is now being made from recycled wood scrap, plastic and other materials. Even insulation is seeing an increase in the use of recycled materials in the manufacturing process.
It has long been acknowledged that the air inside a building can be worse, sometimes considerably worse, then the air outside. This is due in part to gasses, primarily formaldehyde, that are emitted from certain building materials after they are installed in the building. Certain floor coverings, particle board, insulation and other materials that utilize formaldehyde in their makeup can all contribute to this problem, and green building practices make extensive use of products that do not contain formaldehyde.
Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are another problem. Paints, finishes for floors and other components, some types of adhesives and other materials commonly found in building construction may cause VOCs that can be harmful to building occupants, and here again, the green building concept aims to utilize materials that are manufactured without VOCs.
Keep it in Mind When You Build
When considering the construction of a new home, there are several green building things you can do.
Orient the building with a good southern exposure. This allows for passive solar heating in the winter that reduces your heating bills and the impact your home has on the utility infrastructure. It also can greatly improve natural lighting, which in turn also reduces your energy usage.
Select a builder and a designer who are knowledgeable about green building design and construction techniques. Passive orientation, selection of materials for the home’s exterior shell and even the interior design and layout can all contribute greatly to the home’s efficiency.
Know what materials are being used in the house. Through discussions with your builder, designer and material suppliers, inform yourself on what your options are for everything from structural lumber to the paint on the walls, and make choices that are good for both you and the environment.
When building a room addition or doing substantial remodeling to an existing building, utilize the same concepts of orientation and smart material choices.