Articles on green construction, including those published on the Green Building Advisor website, contain information on a wide range of topics, including material choices, indoor air quality, landscaping, and the VOC content of paint. This wide array of information can convey a false impression — namely, that the covered topics are equally important.
If you’re building a new house, most of these topics turn out to be irrelevant. From an environmental perspective, the most important factor by far is energy use — not energy efficiency, but actual energy consumption. Consider the following information:
â— “The ongoing energy use of a building is probably the single greatest environmental impact of a building, so designing buildings for low energy use should be our number one priority.” — “Establishing Priorities with Green Building, Environmental Building News, September 1, 1995.
â— “Although important, initial embodied energy is nearly always dwarfed by the energy consumed by a building over its lifetime. … Over the first 50 years, the initial embodied energy is less than 1/12th of the operating energy.” —“Embodied Energy: As Important As Low Energy Design?” by Stephen Thwaites
â— “As far as I can tell, focusing on construction materials in isolation — and to the exclusion of other impacts of owning and operating a home — is a mistake. … I combed through CORRIM’s [Consortium for Research on Renewable Industrial Materials] life-cycle analyses to try to find the total difference, over 75 years, between carbon emissions for a steel-framed vs. a wood-framed home. And when you add together all life-cycle carbon emissions — for manufacturing and transporting the materials, building the home, maintaining, heating, cooling and lighting it for 75 years, and dismantling and disposing of it at the end — the difference between the two isn’t much more than a rounding error. … When I look into CORRIM’s numbers, it’s…