“It’s not Rocket Science – It’s Building Science”
– a look at High Performance Energy Efficient “Green Building” from 35,000 feet. What it is and Why it’s Important.
‘Green Building’ is an over used phrase that can have numerous meanings and interpretations. Manufacturers boast about their ‘eco-friendly’ products, ‘energy efficient’ features, ‘environmentally friendly’, and ‘sustainable practices’. Builders tout the ‘green features’ of their homes. Appliances and new homes can achieve Energy Star ratings, and for construction the USGBC has its LEED Certification Programs. How does one navigate through the minefield of ‘green’ messages to make informed decisions?
It’s not Rocket Science – It’s Building Science.
Green Building is the science of integrating architecture, engineering and construction to design and build the most high performance, energy efficient, healthy, environmentally responsible, durable building possible. We have the knowledge and systems available to day to design and build structures that are ‘net-zero’ (energy neutral) or ‘energy plus’ (creating more energy than needed to operate), as well as buildings where the indoor air quality is more healthy than outdoors.
Every individual building or structure will have a unique set of solutions due to differences in ‘siting’ (how a building is oriented on its site), its climate zone, and the property owner’s long term goals. Renovations present different challenges, but similar analysis is employed to come up with the solutions. Some vital aspects are:
- Building orientation for passive solar design, renewable energy application
- How to maximize an existing structure while minimizing waste
- Site water management, landscaping and irrigation
- Building exterior component durability and maintenance
- Insulation & Thermal Efficiency
- HVAC (Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning) system requirements
- Indoor water use, Hot Water system & distribution
- Lighting and appliance design & efficiency
- Indoor environment quality,
- Evaluation of different scenarios - ROI.
Painting your family room with Low or No-VOC paint is a simple and easy ‘green’ activity. It contributes to higher indoor air quality. Caulking existing windows and doors to reduce drafts (infiltration) is a energy efficient activity with low cost and big impact. In fact, more than 50% of a homes heating and cooling loads are often due to air leaks around windows, doors, at building corners and joints, vented crawl spaces, penetrations of pipes & ducts etc. Installing a new high performance window with the best glass in the world won’t make much difference if its improperly installed and leaks air around the edges. Many of these kinds of projects can be done by home owners. More complex and larger projects usually require professionals.
Much of the US was built on the premise of cheap oil and manifest destiny . Drafty windows were fine. If it was too hot or cold you simply turned up the heat or air conditioning because it was though t that the environment and ene rgy were there for our use. Those wasteful days are fast fading into history. Energy costs , environmental pollution an d climate change demand our attention. It is important to be efficient both for environmental but also f inancial reasons.
A centralized power system was built in the 20 th century, with coal and natural gas power plants providing electricity to buildings via a wired distribution network. It’s not talked about much, but 70% of the embodied energy in the coal or natural gas combusted to make electricity is wasted, lost in the combustion and transmission of the electricity. Commercial and residential buildings use 48% of the nations energy, transportation 24%, industrial 24% and other is 2%. Imagine if we re duced building energy use by 50%, it would reduce the carbon footprint of the US by over 30%.
Why is ‘green building’ important? On a personal level it’s important because it will lead to wonderful spaces to live and work th at are healthy, comfortable, energy efficient and sustainable. On a national level it’s important because it can help us to achieve energy independence, which would improve our economy in a meaningful way, as we deploy American ingenuity and entrepreneurial spirit to lead the way to an energy efficient, sustainable future. On a global level it’s important because we have the know how and resources to tackle this issue and help our children ’s children and fellow global citizens to the path of sustainable energy use and sustainable env ironmental practices. Our dependence on energy is killing us and our very planet. Every thing each of us can do to reduce energy use, re - use resources and recycle helps incrementally. When tens of millions of people join in, big things happen.
Welcome to the future.
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