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L.Srikumar Pai
B.Sc( Engg.), MIE, MIWWA, MICI
Civil Engineer & CAD Specialist
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What is Green Building ?

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A green building is one which uses less water, optimises energy efficiency, conserves natural resources, generates less waste and provides healthier spaces for occupants, as compared to a conventional building

What makes a building "green"?

A green building is a structure that is environmentally responsible and resource-efficient throughout its life-cycle. These objectives expand and complement the classical building design concerns of economy, utility, durability, and comfort.

Green buildings are designed to reduce the overall impact of the built environment on human health and the natural environment by:

  • Efficiently using energy, water, and other resources
  • Protecting occupant health and improving employee productivity
  • Reducing waste, pollution and environment degradation

For example, green buildings may incorporate sustainable materials in their construction (e.g., reused, recycled-content, or made from renewable resources); create healthy indoor environments with minimal pollutants (e.g., reduced product emissions); and/or feature landscaping that reduces water usage (e.g., by using native plants that survive without extra watering).

What are the benefits of green building?

Buildings have an enormous impact on the environment, human health, and the economy. The successful adoption of green building strategies can maximize both the economic and environmental performance of buildings. Specific environmental, economic and social benefits are listed in Why Build Green?

Research continues to identify and clarify all of these benefits and costs of green building, and of how to achieve the greatest benefits at the lowest costs.

How is green building related to smart growth and sustainable development?

Smart growth is development that serves the economy, the community, and the environment by supporting healthy communities while creating economic development and jobs. Sustainability, or sustainable development, is the ability to achieve continuing economic prosperity while protecting the natural systems of the planet and providing a high quality of life for its people.

Green building fits nicely with these concepts, as it promotes building practices that conserve energy and water resources, preserve open spaces through brownfield development, and are accessible to public transportation. EPA has more information on smart growthand sustainability.

What are green building materials and products?

The Green Building Resource Guide defines green building materials and products as having at least one of the following characteristics: nontoxic; recycled content; resource efficient; long life cycle; or, environmentally conscious. Some materials and products have more of these chara*cteristics than others and are, therefore, considered "greener".

What are the consequences of building a residence with conventional materials and methods, and why should I consider a green alternative?

The well insulated buildings of today are not as leaky as they used to be. Toxic out-gassing of many synthetic materials used in construction can be trapped within a house much longer now because air infiltration has been greatly reduced in today's residences over the houses of even 20 years ago. Many of these toxic gases, such as, formaldehyde, are known to be carcinogens. Green products can not only create a healthier indoor air quality for people, but many products have recycled content that reduces waste and environmental pollution.

What is the first step to take towards building a green residence?

Green building is "state of the art" construction, and I would recommend first hiring an architect familiar with green building practices, details, and builders, if you really want to get it right. If you insist on proceeding on your own, begin with fundamental decisions, such as, what structural system to use in the foundation and framing.

I'm just starting a small addition and remodeling project. What simple measures can I take to make it green?

The Department of Health and Human Services has placed fiberglass insulation on its list of suspected carcinogens. Cellulose insulation is one attractive green alternative to the fiberglass batt insulation that typically is installed in most addition and remodeling projects today.

We're expecting a baby in a few months, and we'd like to redecorate an existing room to create a nursery. What simple measures can we take to make the indoor air quality as healthy as possible without tearing out walls?

Focus on the selection of carpeting and paints that will not off-gas toxins. Doctors claim that children's' lungs can be especially sensitive to airborne toxins and tend to absorb them more readily.

Does it cost more to build with green products and materials?

There are many green products and materials that cost the same or even less than conventional ones. The Green Building Resource Guide includes a unique feature that compares the cost of green products to conventional products that they are most likely to replace. It is significant to note that many of the products listed in the Guide are the same cost or less than conventional products.

Where can I purchase green building materials and products?

Many of the major suppliers have some green building materials, however, many of the materials and products must be purchased either directly from the manufacturer or special ordered. The Green Building Resource Guide has "800" numbers and order fax numbers for green building material and product manufacturers organized by Product Index, Manufacturer Index, and Construction Specification Institute Format for quick and easy reference.

We would like to consider using salvaged building materials for our project as a cost savings measure as well as environmental considerations. Is this a practical consideration?

Yes, if you take responsibility for locating salvaged materials and delivering them to your site, you will reduce the cost of construction. Care should be taken to select materials and products that are useable without too much time consuming preparation, such as the removal of hardware and fasteners, such as nails in wood which can destroy saw blades. You will discover that salvaged wood is typically of a higher quality than comparable wood available today.

Are there any building code restrictions on the use of salvaged materials in a residential project?

Yes, all wood intended for structural use must be inspected and grade stamped prior to use, or it will not comply with the building code. Ask the supplier for grade stamps, some provide this service in house for a reasonable fee.

We hear a lot in the news about steel construction in residences. Is a steel framed house considered green?

Yes, very much so. The Green Building Resource Guide gives steel framing its highest 5 icon rating. Steel in construction has about a 70% recycled content. Its resource efficient because there is very little waste, and it won't rot or be consumed by termites. Steel studs are also available with thermal breaks that allow less heat loss than wood. Also, steel is nontoxic because it will not off-gas and contaminate indoor air quality. Since steel screws together, steel members can be unscrewed and reused when a structure is demolished providing a structure for another residence. Steel structures have many environmental benefits and are considered very green.

How do buildings affect natural resources?

Buildings and development have significant environmental impacts on our natural resources, including:

  • According to surveys conducted in 2002, 107.3 million acres of the 1.983 billion acres of total land area in the U.S. is developed, which represents an increase of 24 percent in developed land over the past 10 years.
  • In terms of energy, buildings accounted for 39.4 percent of total U.S. energy consumption and 67.9 percent of total U.S. electricity consumption in 2002.
  • Building occupants use 12.2 percent of the total water consumed in the U.S. per day.
  • Buildings, and the transportation infrastructure that serves them, replace natural surfaces with impermeable materials, creating runoff that washes pollutants and sediments into surface waters. Urban runoff constitutes a major threat to water resources, as it has been identified as the fourth leading source of impairment in rivers, third in lakes, and second on estuaries.

How do buildings affect climate change?

The energy used to heat and power our buildings leads to the consumption of large amounts of energy, mainly from burning fossil fuels - oil, natural gas and coal - which generate significant amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2), the most widespread greenhouse gas. Buildings in the U.S. contribute 38.1 percent of the nation's total carbon dioxide emissions.

Reducing the energy use and greenhouse gas emissions produced by buildings is therefore fundamental to the effort to slow the pace of global climate change. Buildings may be associated with the release of greenhouse gases in other ways, for example, construction and demolition debris that degrades in landfills may generate methane, and the extraction and manufacturing of building materials may also generate greenhouse gas emissions. More information is available on EPA's Climate Change Website.

What is the history of green building in the U.S.?

In the U.S., the green building field began to come together formally in the 1990s. A list of milestones in the U.S. is available on the Basic Information Web page.

What building types can be green?

Any type of building has the potential to become a green or sustainable building, however every building type has different design and efficiency needs depending on its particular function. New buildings may be designed, built and operated to be green buildings. Existing building can also become green through remodeling, retrofitting and improved operations. The EPA offers helpful tools for improving the environmental performance of new and existing:

Where can I see an example of a green building in my area?

Green buildings are being constructed all over the globe. You can search for green buildings in your area in the U.S. Department of Energy's High Performance Buildings Database.

Two of the most commonly used green building rating systems in the United States are the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) and the and the Green Building Initiative's (GBI) Green Globes. USGBC maintains a database of LEED-registered or certified building projects  GBI provides case studies of Green Globe rated projects 

How can I incorporate green building concepts into my home?

EPA provides a list of programs that can help you incorporate green building concepts into your home.

The Public-Private Partnership for Advancing Housing Technology also maintains a list of regional Green Building Certification Programs for housing

Is there federal or state legislation related to green buildings?

On the federal level, the Energy Policy Act of 2005 and the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 included energy efficiency and sustainable design requirements for Federal and other buildings. Additionally, there have been a series of Executive Orders and agency-specific rules promoting green building since the early 1990s and the federal government has instituted sustainable practices at many of its buildings. The Federal Commitment to Green Building: Experiences and Expectations (PDF) (89 pp, 2.1 MB, About PDF), a report of the Office of the Federal Environmental Executive, provides a history of these rules and the greening of federal facilities.

The Library of Congress THOMAS Web site has the most current information about federal legislation. Search Bill Text for "green building" to find relevant legislation.

Many state and local governments also have green building laws, mainly applying to public buildings, though an increasing number are applicable to private buildings as well. Two third-party organizations maintain lists of green building legislation:

What is Life-cycle Assessment?

Life-cycle assessment (LCA) is the science of measuring the environmental effects of a building "from cradle to grave," from the harvesting and extraction of the materials used to make the building to its ultimate disposal. There are a number of tools to assist with LCA, including those listed at:

What are the economic benefits of green or sustainable building and development?

Well-designed, constructed, operated and maintained green buildings can have many benefits, including durability; reduced costs for energy, water, operations and maintenance; improved occupant health and productivity; and the potential for greater occupant satisfaction than standard developments.

A green building may cost more up front, but can save money over the life of the building through lower operating costs. These savings may be more apparent through life-cycle assessment (LCA).

Cost savings are most likely to be fully realized when incorporated at the project's conceptual design phase with the assistance of an integrated team of building professionals. The integrated systems approach aims to design the building as one system rather than a collection of potentially disconnected systems.

Are green buildings more expensive to construct and operate?

Perhaps surprisingly, good green buildings often cost only a few percentage points or no more to build than conventional designs. Integrated design processes that identify the most efficient, holistic approaches to building green can reduce these initial costs. For example, in some cases, when buildings are carefully designed to be energy efficient, heating/ventilation/air conditioning (HVAC) equipment can be downsized for significant savings. There are also many green products and materials that cost the same or even less than conventional ones.

The General Services Administration (GSA) did a cost study evaluating the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards, estimating the cost to develop "green" federal facilities. The study looks at two types of buildings (a courthouse and office building) and the costs associated with renovating each to the three different LEED levels: gold, silver and certified. More information is available in the final report: GSA LEED Cost Study (PDF) (578 pp., 3.9 MB, About PDF)

Where can I find sources of funding for my green building project?

EPA has developed a list of funding opportunities for green building on the national, state, and local levels for homeowners, industry, government organizations, and nonprofits.

Please contact us with suggestions on additional green building funding opportunities for our guide.

Can I get a tax break for building green?

There are some federal tax credits for specific energy efficiency projects in buildings. More and more states are beginning to introduce and pass legislation establishing green building tax benefits, including New York and Maryland. Links to more information regarding tax breaks for green building are available in our list of funding opportunities for green building.

Please contact us with suggestions on additional green building tax credits for our guide.

Where can I find more information about the components of green building, like energy efficiency or reduced waste?

Please see the Components of Green Building Web page for links to EPA programs addressing energy efficiency and renewable energy, water efficiency, environmentally preferable building materials and specifications, waste reduction, toxics reduction, indoor air quality and smart growth and sustainable development.

What standards exist for green building?

Several voluntary consensus-based standards organizations are developing standards for green buildings, including:

Does green building cost more?

Considerable research and analysis has been carried out with regard to the cost impacts of a green building. The cost could be slightly higher than a conventional building. But then, this needs to be seen with a different paradigm. The question is how do we compare the costs? There needs to be a baseline cost for all comparisons to be alike. 
The incremental cost is always relative and depends on the extent of eco-friendly features already considered during design. The incremental cost would appear small if the baseline design is already at a certain level of good eco-design; It would appear huge if the base design has not considered green principles.
The second and rather a critical paradigm is to look at the incremental cost in relation to the life cycle cost. This kind of an approach could be revealing. Over its life cycle, the operating cost would work out to 80-85 % of the capital cost while the incremental cost which is a one-time cost is only about 8-10 %. Due to substantial reductions in operational cost, the total cost of ownership of green buildings is invariably lesser than conventional buildings. The incremental initial cost for the first few green buildings in India can be found in the following table. The declining incremental cost over the years is evident. 


Building Year awarded Built-in Area (Sqft) Rating Achieved % increase in cost Payback (Yrs)
CII-Godrej GBC, Hyderabad 2003 20,000 Platinum 18 % 7 years
ITC Green Centre, Gurgaon 2004 1,70,000 Platinum 15 % 6 years
Wipro, Gurgaon 2005 1,75,000 Platinum 8 % 5 years
Technopolis, Kolkata 2006 72,000 Gold 6% 3 years
Spectral Services Consultants Office, Noida 2007 15,000 Platinum 8% 4 years
HITAM, Hyderabad 2007 78,000 Silver 2% 3 years

( Reference : , , )


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