Eco Friendly Buildings

Eco friendly buildings may seem like a new fade, but they aren’t totally new.

Throughout the history of mankind, buildings and homes had been built with much consideration for environmental conditions. Because energy resources were probably less available then, man had little choice but to learn how to make the best use of nature’s elements, like the sun’s rays to keep the building well lit in the day and warm during the cold months, and the winds to keep the building cool and well-ventilated during the warmer months.

Even though such energy saving efforts were probably intended more for man’s survival rather than to protect the environment, building with such energy saving designs can nonetheless be considered to be environmentally friendly. This is because the designs actually help man make use of minimal energy resources to maintain an indoor environment conducive for living. Precious energy resources like firewood and coal could then be reserved for other important uses like cooking and warming the building during extreme weather conditions.

Of course, besides energy saving, there are other aspects to buildings being environmentally friendly, green or sustainable.

Characteristics of Eco Friendly Buildings

In general, eco friendly buildings today have either one, a few or all of the following characteristics that help to reduce the impact of buildings on the environment:

  • Make efficient use of energy, water and/or other resources

  • Contributes to reduced waste, pollution and environmental degradation

  • Is protective of occupants’ health (or at the very least not expose occupants’ health to harm) and helps improve occupants’ productivity

And these characteristics should be present in most part of a building's life-cycle – from its design to construction, its use and maintenance, and eventually its demolition.

Important Factors for Eco Friendly Buildings

Designed to be green

Sustainable design is the first but very crucial step to having truly eco friendly buildings.

It is only through proper planning at the design stage that we can hope to incorporate and apply the various green building principles at the various stages of buildings’ life-cycles, so that they would be eco friendly in a holistic manner.

Some green building principles are as follows:

  • Use of low impact materials -- that are healthier for the environment as well as the occupants in the building . E.g. use of materials that are non-toxic (e.g. low VOC paint), produced in sustainable ways (e.g. bamboo) and are found locally, are made from recycled materials (e.g. recycled metal, recycled stone), or can be reused or recycled at the end of its lifespan, etc.

  • Use of energy and water efficient technologies -- that help to conserve energy and water use in the building. E.g. use of motion-sensor lighting, energy efficient air-conditioning, water saving devices, effective insulation to keep temperatures within the building constant, etc,.

  • Capitalize on natural elements -- to support the buildings’ functions. E.g. tap on renewable resources like natural sunlight to light up rooms in the day through the correct positioning of windows, generate electricity for the building’s needs using solar panels installed on the building’s rooftop, strategically positioning the building to limit its exposure to the sun’s strongest rays, use of plants around, in and on the building (e.g. green roofs) to help reduce heat, etc.

  • Are made to last -- because durable and longer lasting installations and appliances that are easy to maintain have to be replaced less regularly and thus helps to reduce the waste generated in replacements. The environmental cost of maintenance is also reduced in such cases.

  • Maintains indoor air quality -- through minimizing the level of air impurities (e.g. volatile organic compounds often found in paint, mold, etc) in the indoor air and the installation of an effective ventilation system.

  • Facilitate occupants’ green living habits -- e.g. provision of recycling facilities in easily accessible areas, provision of sheltered walkways for occupants who take public transport, etc.

This list is not exhaustive.

Some other features you could find with eco friendly buildings include:

  • green roofs, where roofs of buildings are covered with plants and trees (planted over a waterproof membrane) to absorb rainwater, provide a habitat for wildlife and to help lower the temperature of the building and the urban air (for green roofs in the city)

  • energy efficient insulation for walls, ceiling, floors, windows etc, so that energy transfer between the inside and outside of the building is reduced. This keeps the temperature in the eco friendly buildings more constant, so that less energy is needed to air-condition or heat up the building’s interior.

  • energy efficient orientation where windows and walls, etc are orientated, so as to be shaded during the summer and receive maximal solar gains in winter, or to allow more natural light to enter the building so as to reduce the need for electrical lighting in the day.

  • renewable energy powered utilities where renewable energies like solar energy or wind power energy, etc is used to generate electricity to power electrical appliances like lighting, water heater, etc in the eco friendly buildings.

  • water recycling facilities that recycles grey water produced in the building for non-portable purposes like toilet flushing.

  • composting facilities where organic waste produced in the building can be composted to produce natural fertilizer for vegetation grown around and in the building.

Although the ideal for eco friendly buildings is that they are environmentally friendly throughout the buildings’ life-cycle, it does not mean that existing buildings that have not been designed to be eco-friendly cannot be retrofitted to be more green. For example, eco friendly technologies like energy efficient lights and air-conditioning appliances could be installed, green roofs could be set up, etc. But of course, there is a limit to the degree of retrofitting that can be carried out. As such, pre-construction design planning is still the best to achieve holistically eco friendly buildings.

That is not to say that all established non eco-friendly buildings should be torn down and replaced by new buildings with eco friendly designs. This is because the environmental cost of demolition (e.g. disposal of demolition waste) and construction (e.g. use of new construction materials) could greatly outweigh the environmental cost of maintaining existing buildings (especially if they are relatively new), especially since the environmental cost of constructing these buildings have already been paid for previously. In such cases, it might make better sense to retrofit these buildings with eco friendly technologies, such as energy and water saving devices.

Operated and maintained to be green

Even though a building might be designed and constructed to be green and sustainable, it can only remain so during its use if it is operated as planned and properly maintained.

For example, green technologies incorporated into eco friendly buildings have to be maintained to make sure that they are operating at their optimal. Like cars, poorly maintained technologies and equipment could end up being a source of pollution or consume more energy than is efficient. Eco friendly buildings fitted with recycling capabilities require that the occupants put into practice recycling habits, for otherwise, the recycling facilities would simply become white elephants.

Standards for green buildings

Currently, there are several different standards, codes and rating systems for assessing how eco friendly buildings are.

Different countries or governments, and even different building professionals may adopt different systems. For example, the United Kingdom uses the BRE (or Building Research Establishment) Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM), while the United States uses the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) system, amongst others. These standards and codes provide a structured means of assessing the impact of buildings on the environment.

Read about eco house designs, as a form of eco-friendly building. Also, find out about what you need to look out for when buying a “green home”, so as not to end up with a “fake green home”.

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