The impact we have on the earth is growing, and we must find new ways to limit our footprint. Since our population is expected to grow in the next thirty years, finding new ways to build sustainably is a way to help our environment before it’s too late. In fact, population growth will lead to a higher demand for water, energy, and natural resources that will threaten our planet.
A field that has been growing for years to counter this is green construction. Although there’s no clear definition of what a green building is, we can generally say that it’s a sustainable building which originated from the concept of sustainable development. As Kilbert suggests, it’s a “healthy facility designed and built in a resource-efficient manner, using ecologically based principles.” Choosing to build green has many benefits that range from health to finances.
Green buildings are designed to look like “normal” buildings. However, they have some unique characteristics.
- Rooftop photovoltaic panel systems
- Drought-tolerant landscape
- Natural light
- Recycled water irrigation systems
- Pathways made of recycled concrete from the construction process
There are small choices that we can make to help our planet. One of these choices is deciding to invest in green buildings instead of non-green ones. By doing so, we can help our environment in many ways.
- Reduction of our footprint: building non-green houses affects our environment negatively. In fact, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. buildings are responsible for 12% of the total water consumption, 68% of the total electricity consumption, and 38% of the total CO2 emissions. This is strictly linked to global warming, whose effects are incredibly damaging for our future.
- Conservation and restoration of natural resources: when we want to build a new house, we need resources and materials, which, when talking about non-green buildings, are gathered from the environment. Unfortunately, this practice, if done carelessly, damages our planet. For example, many non-green buildings are constructed using timber trees, a natural resource that is becoming progressively unavailable due to the high demand. This means that there’s a risk of eliminating all the timber trees, resulting in incredible damage to both the environment and the construction market. If, however, we choose to find more sustainable solutions and build green, we’d be able to use fewer natural resources and therefore limit the damage to our planet.
- Energy saving: making small, smart choices can have a huge impact on our lives. In green houses, new technologies have been able to improve energy consumption, leading to a reduction in energy costs. A study found that green buildings use a third of the total energy of any other building. Moreover, they have improved ventilation, heat preservation, light transmission, and heat insulation. Not only does this improve our health, but it’s also great for the environment. We can also decide to include green ecological resources in our house to improve the ecological benefits. For example, choosing to grow green plants around and on top of buildings helps us gather energy through the photosynthesis and transpiration of such plants. This leads to a reduction in energy expenditure, footprint, and monthly costs.
Choosing more sustainable ways to build houses isn’t only beneficial for the environment, but also for our finances.
One of the main benefits of building green is saving costs. Choosing to build green helps us reduce water and energy consumption, resulting in less money spent on bills. Statistically, green houses consume 30-50% less energy and water than conventional houses; this percentage increases to 60% if we look at the Australian market. This is because this kind of building has better insulated walls which help cut down cooling and heating costs throughout the year.
In addition to short-term savings, green houses have the potential to save us money long term. In fact, apart from the initial investments, the maintenance costs are significantly less than what is normally spent for a non-green building. As highlighted in the Kats report, with a small increase of 2% in initial costs, we’d be able to save 20% of the total costs in the long run.
Health and social benefits
Not only does choosing to build green help our finances and planet, it can also help us improve our social health and our wellbeing.
One of the best outcomes of green houses is improved indoor air quality (IAQ). This value is influenced by air quality, ventilation, temperature control, natural lighting, and furniture quality. A study highlighted the differences in indoor air quality between green and non-green buildings. The results of the study confirmed that, when people choose to renovate their houses, the IAQ value changes significantly. Before and after the renovations of the houses the participants of the study lived in, there was a significant reduction in the levels of black carbon — an air pollutant responsible for climate change and many health problems, such as strokes, bronchitis, heart attacks, and other respiratory diseases. However, this study also highlighted that, apart from the renovation, the daily choices of the families have an impact on IAQ. Keeping the good habit of opening the windows every day proved to be useful in improving indoor air quality.
When it comes to the workplace, improved IAQ equals higher levels of productivity. Since poor IAQ leads to health problems, such as allergies, sneezing, drowsiness, and tiredness, it can cause distress and therefore affect productivity. A study conducted on a group of employees calculated the levels of wellbeing and productivity after they moved from a non-green office to a green one. Results highlighted that the levels of headaches, coughs, throat irritations, and blurring vision significantly dropped after the move. This led to a reduction in absenteeism and an increase in the productivity levels of the team.
Changing our house
Changing our house to a green building isn’t easy. As we’ve seen at the beginning of the article, the characteristics of a green house are many. However, we can try to change one thing at a time — maybe we can start by implementing a solar panel system — and then build our way towards our dream home.
It’s the small and smart choices that matter the most in our life. Undoubtedly, when it comes to our houses, we have to consider whether we want to invest a higher amount of money or not, but we have to ponder the outcomes of our choices, too. The most important thing, however, is to be informed about all the possibilities that surround us and choose how to act consequently and consciously.