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Sustainability and Green Building

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This is a list of the most important GBA articles on sustainability and green building.

If you are looking for an index that spans all categories, with a special focus on “how to” articles, check out this resource page: “How to do Everything.”

  • Musings of an Energy Nerd

    What’s the Definition of ‘Green Building’?

    Recently I spent some time accumulating definitions of “green building” from as many sources as possible. These various definitions included ten different characteristics of green buildings. Of course, not all definitions agree, and none of the definitions include all ten of the characteristics that I identified in the various definitions. The three most common characteristics appeared in most of the definitions. According to most sources, a green building: (1) Is energy-efficient. (2) Is water-conserving.

  • Musings of an Energy Nerd

    What Does ‘Sustainable’ Mean?

    In the U.S. and Canada, many residential builders use the word “sustainable” as a synonym for “green.” We hear about sustainable development, sustainable homes, and sustainable building products. Now that the word “sustainable” has become ubiquitous — even at the Green Building Advisor web site, where a new $736,000 home on the coast of Maine is described as a “sustainable spec house” — it’s time to take a step back and consider the word’s history.

  • Musings of an Energy Nerd

    Green Building for Beginners

    Green building websites can be confusing. One site might tell you that a green home should include spray foam insulation, a tankless water heater, and a geothermal heating system. After you’ve absorbed this advice, you visit another website, where you learn that spray foam is a dangerous petrochemical, tankless water heaters are overpriced gadgets, and “geothermal” systems aren’t really geothermal.

  • Musings of an Energy Nerd

    Who Deserves the Prize for the Greenest Home in the U.S.?

    It’s not unusual for an architect to announce, with great fanfare, that he or she has just designed “the greenest home in America” — nor is it unusual for journalists to rush these stories to print. The phenomenon has been going on for years — so long, in fact, that I decided to do a small survey of the “greenest homes.”

  • Musings of an Energy Nerd

    Green Homes Don’t Have To Be Durable

    According to most green advocates, green buildings must be durable. Alex Wilson memorably summed up the case for durability in an Environmental Building News article titled “Durability: A Key Component of Green Building.”

  • Musings of an Energy Nerd

    Green Building in the Cheap Energy Era

    Homeowners’ interest in energy efficiency measures waxes and wanes. During the 1970s, when oil prices repeatedly spiked upwards, everyone wanted to save energy. However, in the 1980s, when oil prices collapsed, Americans forgot about saving energy, and most of us reverted to our usual wasteful habits. By 2008, oil prices were high again, and green builders were receiving lots of phone calls from homeowners who wanted lower energy bills. But between June 2014 and now, oil prices have collapsed again, tumbling from $115 to between $37 and $40 a barrel. This raises several questions:

  • Musings of an Energy Nerd

    Can Rural Living Be As Green As Urban Living?

    Rural residents are surrounded by greenery and breathe fresh air. Urban residents are surrounded by concrete and breathe polluted air. On the other hand, rural residents live in wasteful single-family homes and depend on private cars for transportation. Urban residents live in efficient apartments and use public transportation. So which lifestyle is greener? According to most analysts, urban living is better for the planet than rural living. But a few aspects of the question remain unsettled.

  • Musings of an Energy Nerd

    Adopting a Green Lifestyle

    I’ve always struggled with the word “green.” I’m not quite sure what “green building” means, but most definitions include the idea of environmental responsibility. To get a better handle on environmental responsibility, it might be useful to create a list of green values or aims. Here’s my stab at creating such a list. Green values include: Avoiding actions that injure biodiversity. Avoiding actions that destroy important habitat, especially habitat for threatened species. Avoiding actions that increase the likelihood of species extinction.

  • Musings of an Energy Nerd

    Green Building in the Trump Era

    Most green building advocates are concerned about global climate change. So what are we to make of the election of Donald Trump? Well, there is bad news and good news. The bad news is that Trump is ignorant about basic economic facts relevant to the energy industry and is disdainful of scientific consensus. There’s more bad news: Trump believes that climate change is a hoax; Trump has promised to withdraw from (or, as he puts it, to “cancel”) the Paris Climate Agreement; Trump has ridiculed supporters of renewable energy;

  • Musings of an Energy Nerd

    Climate Change Challenges the Human Imagination

    We live in strange times. It's clear that our politicians have been remarkably inept at addressing the climate change crisis. Scientists tell us that we have already injected so much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere that, especially in light of the ineptitude of political leadership, it is almost certainly too late for the human race to avoid environmental catastrophe. In short, the chain of events we have set in motion is in all likelihood irreversible.

  • Musings of an Energy Nerd

    The Jevons Paradox

    UPDATED with new photo on May 6, 2011 Let’s say you’ve sold your old, leaky house and moved into a new, well-insulated home with Energy Star appliances. With all of its efficiency improvements, your new home requires 30% less energy than your old home. That’s got to be good for the planet, right? Well, maybe not — especially if you save so much on your energy bills that you decide to fly to Florida for your next vacation.

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