Green building, also known as sustainable building, aims to reduce the environmental impact of the construction, use, and maintenance of buildings.
The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is responsible for environmental matters and mandates the criteria green buildings must satisfy.
EPA stipulates the green building components that must be used in projects intending to follow the principles of sustainable building design.
At the mention of the term “green buildings,” most people only think of energy efficiency.
However, green building also involves using environmentally friendly and sustainable building materials and technologies to conserve water, improve air quality, reduce construction waste, and conserve any natural resource used to provide raw materials.
In the rest of this article, I’ll discuss the seven best components of green buildings mandated by the EPA.
These are the components you need to consider if you’re a contractor or homeowner looking to incorporate sustainable building design principles into your next project.
The construction industry is responsible for 40 percent of global energy consumption. This enormous amount of energy can be reduced by employing sustainable building products and practices.
Energy efficiency is a crucial green building component that helps green buildings to use less energy and save on energy bills.
Assessing a building’s energy efficiency through life cycle assessment (LCA) is the best way to understand the reduced impact of sustainable building.
The following are the main phases of a building’s life cycle that impacts its energy efficiency:
- Material production
- The construction process
- Use (occupation)
EPA mandates that a green building must be energy-efficient throughout the above phases.
That is, energy efficiency must be considered in the design and construction of a building, its use, renovation, and ultimately, demolition and the end of its lifespan.
During the design and construction, materials can be manufactured onsite to eliminate transportation energy.
Moreover, instead of using cumbersome materials like concrete, you can use lightweight options like bamboo to reduce the construction energy incurred by using heavy plant equipment.
Other ways green building design is more energy efficient include:
- Using cool roofs: Cool roofs are highly reflective surfaces that minimize the building’s cooling demand, so less energy is needed for air conditioning.
- Using natural lighting: strategically placed windows, skylights, and other glazing options to reduce the demand for electricity-powered lighting by allowing more sunlight into the building.
- Green roofs are vegetative roofs that reduce energy costs, retain rainwater and snow, reduce stormwater runoff and provide insulation.
- Using high-grade insulation materials: Insulation materials like cellulose, fiberglass, and mineral wool reduce the energy used to heat and cool the building, saving money on energy bills and reducing carbon dioxide emissions.
- Energy efficient windows: these high-performance windows minimize heat loss and solar gain and can be identified from their ENERGY STAR label.
The second part of this component of green building entails using renewable energy sources. Mainly, this is applicable once the building is completed and occupied.
Green building design employs renewable energy in the following ways:
- Solar energy: The use of solar panels to generate energy from the sun.
- Wind energy: Wind turbines create energy from wind power.
- Hydropower: Buildings use hydropower, which is generated through the movement of water sources like rivers.
- Geothermal energy: This renewable source of energy is harvested using geothermal wells that use underground heat for efficient heating of living spaces as well as water heating. A good example is installing geothermal pumps to heat and cool the house, which uses less energy than traditional HVAC systems.
- Biomass energy: This renewable energy burns organic materials very efficiently for water heating and to generate heat for living areas. The fuel is often in pellet form and is made from wood, biofuels, municipal waste, or agricultural residues.
The EPA also recommends water efficiency as a component of sustainable building.
Like energy efficiency, water efficiency starts from the design and construction phase to the structure’s use (post-construction).
Green buildings rely on approaches for conserving water during construction. They include:
- Reducing evaporation by retaining sufficient vegetation around the site.
- Using brooms instead of hoses to clean gutters and paths.
- Using water in buckets to clean tools instead of running water.
- Installing water-efficient irrigation systems for landscaping purposes.
- Installing rainwater harvesting systems.
- Using Blue-green infrastructure to attenuate storm-water runoff and avoid flooding.
Post-construction water efficiency involves how the occupants of the building use water.
It is better for the environment and saves money on water bills.
Some popular water conservation techniques include the following:
- Installing water-efficient appliances like dishwashers and washing machines.
- Using low-flow showerheads to reduce water consumption in bathrooms.
- Installing low-flush toilets and other types of efficient toilets to minimize water used in toilet flushing.
- Reducing outdoor watering to only when needed or using a drip irrigation system.
- Planting drought-resistant plants for landscaping and turf.
- Using rainwater harvesting for irrigation purposes.
- Using greywater (recycled wastewater) to flush toilets, water gardens, and other low-demand activities.
Ultimately, the EPA’s WaterSense program serves as a guide in water efficiency within any building project.
The program provides certification for building components, products, and services that meet its water conservation and efficiency standards. Consequently, it ensures that any green building project is energy efficient and utilizes resources responsibly.
In addition to the above water efficiency requirements, green building projects must adhere to EPA’s lead content regulation in water.
According to this regulation, drinking water’s maximum allowable lead content must be a weighted average of 0.25%. The weighted average is based on the wetted surfaces of pipe fittings, fixtures, and plumbing fittings.
If you’re planning to invest in green building, check out these best green building resources to get started.
Material needs for the construction industry are staggering. Moreover, the materials used have a long-term impact on human health and the environment.
Consequently, EPA mandates green building projects to use environmentally preferable materials and specifications to minimize this impact.
A rule of thumb for this component is that green buildings must use green materials. Green building materials occur naturally, are renewable, and are environmentally friendly.
Examples of green building materials include bamboo, cork, and wool. Additionally, wood obtained from certified sustainable forests is also suitable for a green building project.
Recycled steel is also suitable since it is more durable and has a lower production cost than new steel.
The use of green building components also extends to other elements of the building. For instance, it’s advisable to use low Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) paints and coatings for interior surface finishings.
Overall, green building projects must use environmentally preferable building components in line with EPA’s Environmentally Preferable Purchasing Program.
Doing so will reduce environmental impacts associated with the construction industry while keeping occupants safe and healthy.
Highly sustainable building materials such as straw bales are becoming popular these days. For more info on straw bale construction, check out our article “All About Straw Bale Homes: Pros And Cons (Is It Efficient?)“
The construction industry produces enormous amounts of waste.
For instance, this industry accounts for 600 million tons of waste in the form of debris in the U.S. annually. As a result, waste reduction is one of the best components of green building mandated by the EPA.
Waste reduction for green building entails reducing the waste generated during the construction, renovation, deconstruction, and demolition phases.
The types of waste generated during these phases include:
- Emissions from plant operators
- Runoff from excavation activities
- Debris like bricks, cement bags, and sheet rocks
You can reduce waste as part of an approach to achieve a greener building by using sustainable materials. For instance, you can use earthbag building or sustainable wood, which are eco-friendly.
Alternatively, you can use prefabricated components like insulation panels to reduce emissions from transport and minimize waste on site.
You can also promote onsite waste reduction by encouraging source separation and recycling. Doing so promotes the segregation and recycling of construction materials for use in other areas.
Shifting to modular construction is an excellent waste management and reduction approach to use during the construction phase.
Modular construction involves the prefabrication of components in a factory setting before installation. This technique leads to fewer emissions, less material waste, and improved durability.
Buildings can have different types of toxins that can be harmful to human health. The most common examples are asbestos, radon, formaldehyde, and lead.
These toxins can have adverse effects on the occupants’ health and well-being.
The EPA mandates green building projects to adhere to the toxics reduction regulations according to the Design for the Environment Program (DfE).
Using DfE-certified products in construction goes a long way in reducing toxins and ensuring good indoor air quality along with other factors important for good health.
These products are evaluated based on the following:
- Human health
- Environmental safety
- Product performance
Toxin reduction in the construction industry promotes safer chemistries in all products.
For instance, shifting to chemical flame retardants, mercury-free lighting, formaldehyde-free cabinetry, and low VOC paint are some ways to reduce construction toxins and safeguard indoor air quality.
It is also essential to install adequate mechanical ventilation systems.
Moreover, it’s advisable to adhere to safety and health information on spray polyurethane foam (SPF) for roofing, wall insulation, and other uses.
As a rule of thumb, using DfE-certified products is an excellent way to promote toxin reduction in construction.
Indoor air quality, also referred to as Indoor Environmental Quality (IEQ), is the indoor conditions of a building in relation to its occupants’ health.
It’s one of the most important components of green building mandated by the EPA.
Conventional construction methods rely on chemicals that can leach and affect indoor air quality. The consequence of this leaching can be sick building syndrome (SBS) or other respiratory-related illnesses.
Besides using sustainable materials like bamboo, air filtration, ventilation, and moisture control can be used to achieve the following:
- Protect occupant health
- Promote comfort and productivity
- Enhance the house’s durability
These products protect the quality of the air we breathe because they are non-toxic, and further steps will also help, such as proper ventilation, and moisture control systems.
These measures ensure that the occupants are safe and healthy in their living or working environment.
The most effective approach to maintaining the quality of the air in a building is the installation of adequate mechanical ventilation systems.
These systems can be natural or energy-efficient Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning (HVAC).
The concept of sustainability in the construction sector is evolving. Therefore, it pays to keep up with the latest developments in this field.
Smart growth and sustainable development involve keeping up with urban sprawl by developing and assessing the environmental impact of the building over time.
The EPA’s smart growth program promotes the development of sustainable neighborhoods and communities. It also stipulates that green building must consider smart transportation choices that ensure the efficient use of energy and resources.
Finally, smart growth also entails incorporating location efficiency in green building.
In this case, it’s recommended to locate a building within or near an existing community. This reduces the energy required to move people and equipment to and from the site.
Smart growth and sustainable development promotes:
- Better air quality
- Energy saving
- Efficient land use
- Increased public health
Final Thoughts On Energy-Efficient Green Buildings
Green building is a comprehensive approach to building that encompasses the best initiatives such as waste reduction, toxics reduction, and indoor air quality.
These green building components are crucial in creating a greener built environment that is both environmentally friendly and economically viable.
Using building materials with a small carbon footprint is an important part of green building. We have an article about this on the blog if you’d like more info.