Pondering the Sorry State of Green Building

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Pondering the Sorry State of Green Building

Something new: Carl is feeling grumpy — this time, it's because clients hire him after their project has already been designed

Posted on Nov 12 2012 by Carl Seville, GBA Advisor

After several months off from my blog, I am finally inspired to start writing again. I clearly don’t have the stamina of Allison Bailes of Energy Vanguard, who seems to put up a blog post about every 10 minutes, but I do need to get back on track so I don’t fade into obscurity (if I haven’t already).

Over those many moons I have done some contract writing for the USGBCUnited States Green Building Council (USGBC). Organization devoted to promoting and certifying green buildings. USGBC created the LEED rating systems. on the LEED for Homes Version 4 Reference Guide, completed the Georgia energy code required Duct and Envelope Testing on countless new homes, given presentations in Colorado, Baltimore, Greenville, and Atlanta, had three new minisplit HVAC(Heating, ventilation, and air conditioning). Collectively, the mechanical systems that heat, ventilate, and cool a building. units installed in my house, certified single and multifamily buildings under different green programs, and done some general green consulting for owners and builders.

Too little too late

It’s this last portion of my work that brings me the most frustration. Too often I am called in to help make projects “green” far to late in the design process. Plans are done, sometimes construction has even started, and suddenly someone decides they want their home to be green.

There is a huge gap in understanding of what it takes to make a green building. Too many people, many of them otherwise knowledgeable design and construction professionals, believe that they can take any design and successfully “green it up” after the fact.


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When this happens, buildings can be made better, but in almost every case, decisions are made that compromise the quality of the building that cannot be changed without significant expense, if at all. HVAC equipment is located in unconditioned space. Unshaded glazingWhen referring to windows or doors, the transparent or translucent layer that transmits light. High-performance glazing may include multiple layers of glass or plastic, low-e coatings, and low-conductivity gas fill. leads to overheating, larger HVAC systems, and higher energy bills. Bathrooms, kitchens, and water heaters are spread out to create the least efficient hot water distribution system possible, leading to water and energy waste, as well as owner inconvenience.

Whether it is another stock design that is being placed on a lot with no consideration for solar orientation or a custom design, in almost all cases, little if any consideration has been given to sustainable design and construction early enough in the design.

What will it take?

What will it take to get people — owners, architects, and contractors, at least those who want to build green — to start thinking green from the very start?

As green professionals, we know the value of making the right decisions early. Buildings work better, last longer, energy bills are lower, and in many cases initial construction costs are reduced. There is no downside to starting early, other than perhaps having to actually think a little differently.

Many people fear change, but those who are willing to accept the challenge will end up with better projects at lower cost, provided they take the time to plan properly. How can we learn to explain this clearly enough to the rest of the industry to get them to start thinking green earlier in their planning? I wish I had the answer.

In the meantime, I will keep plugging along, pushing the wet noodle of the construction industry towards making buildings better.


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Image Credits:

  1. Carl Seville