What does it mean to build Green?

With all the talk about green building in the news I hear this question frequently. Frankly there is no simple answer when I am asked "what is green building"? To some it means building with all natural materials and others it involves complex systems and using the latest in modern technology. Simply put "Green Building" means something different to people within the same industry.

For some a green home is one that uses primarily recycled or natural materials in the design and building process. There are many types of practices and materials used in this type of green building philosophy and often the methods / materials used are dependant on the region's climate and local resources where the construction is taking place. These homes may be as ecoconscious as an Earthship or Strawbale home or as simple as reusing shipping containers to create efficient living spaces. Natural building has been practiced for generations (think adobe huts) and has been proven by the test of time. While this style may not be for everyone it is undeniable that these structures in many cases will survive well beyond many of our modern structures. As for shipping container homes or upcycling modern materials (tires, glass, etc) I believe we are on the cusp of trend that will gain momentum as we learn to work with less and make use of what we have already created. One man's trash, as they say..

In other circles the Green Building movement refers to incorporating the latest technology available to create a space that can now be powered by the sun, wind or water for all your energy needs. These homes may feature technologies that provide higher indoor air quality, feature building materials that are nontoxic, can withstand many lifetimes of wear and tear and yet are easy to produce and harvest. The most basic principle in this type of construction places great importance on building a tight building envelop to conserve energy and testing the major systems of the home to address energy loss. New certification processes and building practices are being integrated into our traditional construction methods insuring that a consumer is purchasing a home with improved qualities that can be measured. While these new technological systems are designed to reduce both input and output one can not ignore the considerable embodied energy in making the products designed to reduce energy consumption in the long run. Modular homes are growing far more common and acceptable to consumers as the benefits of building in a controlled environment are realized. Construction waste can be minimised and quality standards stay uniform resulting in a much greener dwelling. While technological advancements and new construction methods tends to be the type of green building getting the most headlines it is important to consider yet another side of green building.

What is greener than using what's already been built many ask? You can "green" an existing home and improve energy efficiency, indoor air quality and incorporate many of the same systems available to new construction. There are many green benefits of rehabbing an existing structure. In purchasing an existing property the user is not disturbing a new building site for access and construction and less materials are used in a rehab verses building from ground up greatly reducing the embodied energy required. A green rehab might involve gutting a home to the studs and replacing all the major systems and incorporating new technology in the process. However, for most people this process can be as simple as making the decision to purchase low flow fixtures, LED lighting, Energy Star appliances, etc. when replacing items in your home. Or green your home by winterizing your building envelop with can of spray foam or a local company that specializes in energy conservation.

As you see, the term Green Building means different things to different people. Consumers today are certainly paying more attention to energy conservation to both lesson their impact and reduce their spending. As a Realtor with ten years experience it is clear that people want to purchase homes that suite their lifestyle, offer a feeling of security and comfort but in the end it comes down to affordability and economics. As heartwarming as the environmental benefits of Green Building are it has been documented that the primary motivation for people to purchase a green home is due to the potential economic savings. Buying green saves you green if you will and in most cases people adapt their view of Green Building to what is available to them.

So what does it mean to build green? To me it means raising expectations and making educated decisions throughout the entire process of home construction to create a home that suites your lifestyle and budget while lessening your impact on your health and the world outside of your living space.

Go green, whatever that means to you.

Justin Mitchell

Ecohouse / Dwell Realty