Green construction goes beyond basic aspects of the office or residential building, looking to create a space that besides providing comfort, invests in health and broader environmental context of the construction process.
Since construction is a demanding process that consumes energy, materials, land and water, green construction aims to create a balance between our needs and what our environment can support. Beyond benefits related to saving on energy and utility bills, green buildings appeal to an ever-growing pool of environmentally-conscious consumers, which opens up new business opportunities.
1. Generating clean energy
One of the easiest ways to decrease the impact of a building on the environment is to incorporate solutions that generate a high portion of the energy the building consumes.
Buildings that generate energy on their own are more independent of the grid, depending less on power plants that predominantly burn fossil fuels. Fewer energy resources means that less pollution is needed to generate energy that runs the systems in the building.
A building with solar panels on the roof generates energy, drawing from the grid only when the consumption increases. The residential units and businesses within use Energy Star appliances and motorized blinds to reduce the heat gain from the sun, increasing the already highly-efficient insulation. For the better part of a year, such a building generates more power than it’s using, returning the surplus back into the grid.
2. Using solar gains
Besides strictly generating electricity through photovoltaic solar panels, solar energy has other uses as well. Many homeowners and investors who are building properties for rent are including solar water heaters in their new constructions.
This option allows environmentally conscious owners and companies to reduce the carbon footprint of the building and save even more money on electricity since solar heating systems consume far less energy to heat water than traditional gas or electric water heaters would. What's more, solar heaters can easily be upgraded to many older homes as well, making renovations a good opportunity to tweak a home towards greater energy efficiency.
3. Water conservation and plumbing
Green construction experts suggest building efficiency from the inside of the home and working towards the exterior. In this way, efficient plumbing is a good place to start.
Water and sewer bills are going up, prompting more and more homeowners and businesses to think about water-efficient homes. Such a building includes water-conserving adjustments such as low-flow toilets, faucets and showers, with wireless water consumption monitors helping the occupants measure and manage their water usage.
A perfect example of such an innovative building is the new Australia’s capital airport terminal that includes two 650,000-litre water tanks for collecting rain and groundwater, which is used for irrigation and toilets.
4. Improving HVAC systems
Apart from using sustainable materials and energy- and water-conserving solutions, eco-friendly construction companies are finding new ways to make heating and cooling systems more environmentally acceptable.
When it comes to green building solutions, it seems that Australia is pioneering in many fields. As a part of a world-leading initiative, Sustainability Victoria is developing the world’s first online HVAC rating tool, aimed to reduce energy use in Australian HVAC systems. The tool will also be used to rank different HVAC systems and drive further improvements. On the other hand, leading installers of air conditioning in Sydney know that regular maintenance is essential for the system’s energy efficiency. Only regularly serviced systems and units can claim to be environmentally-friendly.
5. Green construction materials
Ancient as the construction itself, wood occupies a critical place in green building approach. It’s a clean material that generates neither radon nor static electricity, at the same time protecting itself naturally, as it contains polyphenols of vegetal origins which act as a disinfectant.
It offers good insulation properties, allowing for thinner bearing walls, while it attributes naturally to the thermal inertia which keeps the building cool during the summer and warm during the winter.
Another self-insulating material, the load-bearing clay brick is a concept that is getting increasingly appreciated by builders, since it’s a natural temperature controller that retains its thermo-insulating properties for a lifetime.
6. Reduction of waste and toxic substances
A green building incorporates solutions that help the occupants reduce the volume of waste going to landfills, such as separated recycling bins and composting areas. In order to retain the quality of the indoor air, the contractors need to reduce materials that contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and other impurities such as microbial contaminants. The ventilation system, on the other hand, must be sufficient to isolate areas like kitchens and dry-cleaning facilities from the residential areas.
As the awareness of the impact of the new construction on the environment grows, so does the green construction and design. In the future, we may expect to see more eco-friendly processes that emphasise greater sustainability and higher efficiency.
Mike Johnston is a home improvement blogger, DIY enthusiast and sustainability buff from Sydney. He is a regular writer at Smooth Decorator and contributor on several interior design, real estate and eco blogs, always on the lookout for new ideas and the latest trends in these fields.