Shades of Green Building – Measuring (and Reducing) Carbon Footprint

What really makes a green building green?

What role does durability play? (An apropos question given the recent declaration that Salem’s LEED-certified Courthouse Square is now structurally unsound.)  How about the context of surrounding urban form?

TreeHugger tackled these questions in a post today, and proposed the following “equation” to measure shades of green:

Energy Efficiency + Building Area + Embodied Energy/Durability + Transportation EfficiencyPortland green roof building

It’s a handy snapshot of the factors that we should think about as green builders and dwellers.  And each element of the equation presents real, on-the-ground green building strategies to pursue.

Energy Efficiency & Building Area – Ultimately this boils down to how much energy we each use in our homes or businesses … energy use per capita, if you will.  Our favorite strategies:

  • Home Performance, with its home energy audits and energy efficiency improvements, helps address this piece of the equation, particularly for existing structures.
  • For new homes (and remodels), Passive House technology is a powerful way to achieve impressive energy efficiency.
  • And of course, total building area plays an important role.  After all, bigger spaces mean more air to heat or cool, more rooms to light.  Smaller homes like Accessory Dwelling Units can play a big (or should I say “small”) role here.

Embodied Energy – In addition to ongoing energy use we need to consider the energy that goes into actually building the structure, or its embodied energy.  While this number is usually a lot smaller than the energy used to operate a space over the course of a building’s lifetime, it’s still an important part of the green equation.  Our favorite strategies:

  • Use reclaimed, “upcycled” building materials, sourced both on and offsite.  These materials preserve embodied energy and embodied narrative, too.
  • Remodel!  When we remodel homes or businesses, we are in effect upcycling existing structures for new life and new functionality.  Inherently green.

Durability – No matter what its LEED rating, if a building ain’t durable it ain’t really green.  Replacing flimsy or poorly-installed materials is costly financially and for the earth.  Same story when forced to scrap falling-apart structures.  Our favorite strategies:

  • Use quality materials sourced by experienced building professionals.
  • Apply exacting craftsmanship by a builder like us.
  • Build based on lasting designs.  Functional, beautiful designs are sustainable because they have lasting values for building users.

Transportation Connection – We touched on this in a blog post last week (Sustainable Building 101: Don’t Let “Green” Structures Go Gray), but no matter how “green” the house, if it forces its owners to drive everywhere, then it’s not really a sustainable dwelling.  Our favorite strategies to make the transportation connection (addressed in last week’s blog) are infill development, accessory dwelling units, and remodeling existing structures in existing neighborhoods.

Comments or thoughts of other strategies to address the green equation?  Please share in the comment pane below.  Thanks!


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