It’s no longer just about energy-saving appliances and lighting. Now, even buildings are designed for maximum sustainability. When you look at a building, you might just see a structure. But today, the construction industry sees buildings as another frontier for reducing energy, emissions, water usage, and contributing to our overall quality of life. Here are 5 ways that green building design is driving innovation and sustainability.
It might be strange to think of a building as something that contributes to climate change, but they are responsible for up to 30% of global greenhouse gas emissions and 75% of carbon emissions. This presents a huge opportunity for suppliers, developers, and architects to limit emissions and improve our environmental footprint.
There are also huge benefits for cities that take these efforts to invest in and improve their building design. From smart city initiatives that can work with green buildings to renewable energy features added on for drastically lowered energy consumption, the potential to develop an infrastructure that is seamlessly connected with the environment is only going to become more popular in the coming years. Additionally, cities taking efforts to reduce emissions will improve air quality, effectively making the city a healthier place that can attract more residents, employers, and jobs.
Reduced to net zero energy
The cheapest energy is the energy we don’t use. You may have heard the phrase natural lighting or daylight harvesting, but what is that exactly and how does it contribute to achieving net zero energy standards?
To put it simply, daylight harvesting uses sunlight instead of interior lighting to illuminate the inside of a building. It can be as simple as leaving the blinds up to let in more light and leaving the lights off, or it can be as efficient as installing daylight sensors throughout the building to automatically adjust for the light that’s being let in. Pair that technology with already efficient LED lighting, and office buildings could cut as much as 17% of their total energy consumption. For buildings that may not have efficient LED bulbs installed, daylight harvesting could cut as much as 30% of total energy consumption.
These are two ways to help cut down on energy, but how does this help us achieve net zero standards for the most sustainable green building design? It may seem like an unattainable goal, but what is considered unattainable today is the new standard tomorrow, especially in this industry.
It basically comes down to this: pay extra now for a building that ultimately requires zero energy costs or pay more later through heating and cooling expenses. Although it may not pay for itself when looking at a project over the next 1-2 years, projecting the operating costs over five to 20 years shows the real savings. And just as renewable energy technology is becoming more affordable for everyday consumers, so too is the initial investment for net zero buildings.
Basically, going net zero requires builders to focus on several key features to truly offset a building’s energy consumption and effectively eliminate its carbon footprint.
- Install energy-efficient lighting (i.e., LED lighting)
- Harvest as much daylight as possible
- Insulate the building to keep in hot or cold air
- Install insulated windows and doors
- Install energy-efficient HVAC systems
- Add renewable energy technology (i.e., solar panels) to the building’s design
- Always use energy-efficient appliances and electronics
The good thing is that net zero isn’t just for commercial projects. Now, residential homeowners can go net zero as well if they follow a similar plan.
Improved health & workspace
Green building features, such as improved lighting, better air quality, and greenery, have been proven to positively impact health and wellbeing. Additionally, taking indoor air quality seriously is another area where employers can attract young talent. Indoor air quality is at the top of the list for younger employees when they’re looking for a new place to work.
According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, approximately 90% of our time is spent indoors, breathing indoor air that is more polluted than outdoor air. A green building that removes pollution from indoor air is a huge benefit to the health of its workforce.
You don’t have to build new to reap the benefits of green building design. Oftentimes, retrofitting existing buildings can be much more cost-effective than building new. Because most of the energy used by U.S. buildings is primarily centered around heating and cooling, green building retrofits should address this problem during any energy conservation project. Also, naturally ventilating buildings with fresh air intakes is another way to offset heating and cooling loads.
Retrofitting existing buildings can also include more sustainability initiatives that reduce operating costs and environmental impact. For instance, in addition to improving the HVAC system already in place, bringing energy and water systems to an optimally performing level and minimizing consumption is another recommendation.
It wouldn’t be sustainable design if there wasn’t a standard in place to exceed. Programs like Better Environmental and Economic Sustainability (BEES) and Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) help developers measure the sustainability of a project while providing a list of checks and balances. It goes beyond just efficient HVAC and water systems in its evaluation, including how the building is constructed, the types of building material used, and the site’s location. BEES and LEED certification can guarantee sustainable building performance in the future, leading to reduced operating costs overall.
After all, if a building won’t be sustainable in the next decade, is it really achieving a sustainable standard? These programs help ensure that the future is always considered to truly achieve long-term sustainability.
Written by Brad McElory, Copywriter at City Electric Supply