How to Build Green
A century ago, green building was all the rage. Homes and other structures were built with hand tools. They were built to be only as big as the owner could afford to fund and to heat or cool. They were built to keep out snow drifts and bitter wind, blistering heat and rain. As technology progressed and the population increased, we began to build bigger structures faster. But quality often suffered, and structures were either made with inefficient materials or with energy-wasting designs. Today, buildings in the US use 15 trillion gallons of water and consume 70 percent of the total electricity. Green building practices seek to have an impact on the environment, economy, and social well-being. How are we starting to build green?
Green building, which is also known as green construction or sustainable building, seeks to reduce the impact that building has on the earth and its energy sources. The Environmental Protection Agency reports that 30 to 40 percent of global energy use is attributed to building. More than 80 percent of the hazardous emissions from buildings relate directly to their voracious energy consumption when they’re in use. Green design and building is crucial for sustainability, and it seems to be catching on. The US Green Building Council reports that the demand for environmentally friendly building grew more than 60 percent in 2009 and continues to see an uptick in interest.
There is any number of ways to make an existing home or structure more efficient; green building seeks to design new structures that consume less energy and reduce impacts on the surrounding landscape. One of the most important factors in how that can be accomplished is the location of the structure, as well as its size. For example, one could build a home in a less populated area, particularly rural areas, using straw bales. Straw, or hay, is produced in excess and, if left, it can rob soil of nutrients. Fields can be hayed two, three, four, or even more times per summer, making this a readily renewable resource. Homes made with straw bales are incredibly efficient and very well-insulated.
This wouldn’t be an optimal building material for higher structures, however. Rastra is a better choice for structures up to ten stories. It is an efficient insulated concrete form that is made from recycled EPS plastic and cement. When used in conjunction with recycled steel and concrete, which uses natural replacements for cement, it is a remarkably efficient material.
For skyscrapers, the goal is to make operation of the structure as efficient as possible with solar panels, flooring made from renewable resources, such as bamboo, recycled wood, glass, and linoleum, natural finishes, and plastic plumbing tubes, and much more.
Green building is not just about the actual construction of a home or other structure; it is the careful planning, design, siting, construction, use, and even demolition of a building with the goal of reducing impacts on the surrounding environment. Green building techniques are as diverse as green architects, but they share a concern for the social, economical, and environmental impact of their structures.