Green Building: What to Know, What to Buy and Where to Get Started
Whether you’re building a school or remodeling a classroom, it’s the perfect opportunity to use sustainable alternatives in the construction process. Greening your space does not necessarily add to the long-term cost of the project; it can, in fact, reduce operating and maintenance costs. It’s always a good idea to hire a builder that is familiar with green building techniques, but here are some basic principles of green building to get you started in thinking about your project.
Energy Efficiency. Conventional energy prices are likely to rise over the next few decades as reserves of fossil fuels diminish, so reducing heating and cooling loads by installing energy-efficient appliances and fixtures is a very sound investment.
Insulation. Adding insulation to the roof and crawl spaces and sealing doors and windows are the two most cost-effective strategies for maximizing energy efficiency. As the outer shell that protects indoor environments, the building’s physical components are essential to controlling moisture and temperature inside, and contributing to the overall efficiency of the building.
Foliage. Well-planned landscaping can also improve energy efficiency. Planting trees and bushes for shelter against sun and wind is an effective and aesthetically pleasing strategy.
Water Conservation. Here are a few suggestions that will also save you money on water bills and conserve this precious resource:
- Purchase the most water-efficient toilets you can afford, and consider installing water-saving urinals.
- Choose a water- and energy-efficient dishwasher.
- Install low-flow showerheads in school locker rooms and low-flow faucet aerators throughout the school.
- Plumb for grey water separation and design for rainwater collection for landscape watering.
- Design water-wise lawns. Make it small and easy to maintain. Ask your local nursery which grasses are native to your area. Indigenous grasses work with the local conditions and are easier to cultivate—meaning less fertilizer, pesticide, water and maintenance.
- Avoid losing water to evaporation, run-off and over-watering by planting drought-resistant plants, a technique known as xeriscaping. Some common plants used in xeriscaping are agave, cactus, juniper, lavender, sedum and thyme.
- Install a smarter landscape watering system. Micro-irrigation and drip irrigation systems minimize the use of water and fertilizer by allowing water to drip slowly to the roots of plants, either onto the soil surface or directly onto the root zone, through a network of valves, pipes, tubing and emitters. A soaker hose system (made entirely of recycled tire rubber) has millions of pores along the entire length and circumference of the hose, releasing the water drip by drip to avoid evaporation and run off.
Indoor Air Quality.
- To assure optimal air quality, design with pollution control and adequate indoor ventilation in mind. Sources of indoor air pollutants include building materials and furnishings that off-gas toxins.
- Allow building materials and furnishings to off-gas before classroom installation. Off-gassing refers to the release of vapors from a product straight from the manufacturer that can be inhaled. Any product that has a strong manufacturing smell should be left outdoors to off-gas for a few days, or until the odor has diminished.
- Avoid materials made with urea formaldehyde, found in some wood products, vinyl flooring, building insulation and art supplies. Also stay away from paints and sealants containing high levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Look for water-based or no-VOC products.
- Invest in an air purifier to rotate and purify indoor air quality. Some options include Clearflite and Austin Air Purifiers.
- Use natural cleaning products and solvents from manufacturers, such as Seventh Generation or Shaklee.
Low-Impact Site Design.
- Be cognizant of maintaining the purity of school land.
- Protect and retain existing trees during the construction process.
- Consider a porous paving system, a concrete paving system designed to take the load of vehicles yet with enough open space that water can drain and grass can grow. Two quality options are Eco-Grid from Hanover Architectural Products and Turfstone from Belgard. Both of these products permit drainage to the underlying soil, therefore reducing storm water runoff.
- Save the topsoil from excavation for landscaping.
- Consider wildlife habitats and natural landscapes to protect and maintain them throughout design and construction should be a goal of any conscious sustainable builder.
- Use only native and adapted plants in order to respect the natural ecology of the area.
Resource Efficiency. Think about how much space you actually require. A smaller space uses fewer resources to build and maintain. To determine the environmental burden of materials and products you plan to use, perform a life cycle analysis on your project. Keep these tips in mind when choosing materials:
- Use pre-cut and pre-assembled building components when possible, and ask your builder to use advanced framing techniques to reduce waste.
- Use salvaged and recycled materials whenever possible. The following sites offer options: Environment Furniture and 2Modern.
- Use materials manufactured from readily renewable resources such as agricultural waste, cork and bamboo, and only use wood that is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) to be from a sustainable source.
- Use local, indigenous materials that minimize the project’s negative impact on the environment.
Minimize Waste. Lower the impact of the building or remodeling process by considering how much waste will be created from materials. Specify building materials in sizes that require little cutting and recycle any construction debris that your project creates. See what you can outsource or donate:
- Contact a local salvage operation to see if anything you are removing is of use to them. Contacting them prior to demolition is important to ensure the content is removed intact and with as little damage as possible.
- If sorting materials is too daunting, consider contacting EcoHaul, a socially and environmentally responsible waste management company, which will sort and haul your debris and recycle whatever materials it can.
Operation & Maintenance Education. To ensure that your project lives up to its green potential, familiarize yourself with all of the technology and techniques used in the building process. If you understand how they work, it will be easier to pinpoint problems and keep up with proper maintenance.
- Visit Building Green to keep up on green building news.
- Go to the EPA’s website for more information on water conservation and indoor air quality.
- Check out GreenBuilder.com’s Sourcebook and information on construction waste.
- A list of green building resources and recommended products can be found in the book Healthy Child Healthy World: Creating a Cleaner, Greener, Safer Home.