Green building is a common phrase thrown around today. There is no doubting that concentrating on green building and sustainability is a positive thing for the world. However, there are some serious issues with the way some buildings are being labeled as “green”. The reality is that a lot of these so-called green buildings actually don’t save energy, which is the main idea right? Below are some important misconceptions with green building.
Many of today’s green buildings don’t save energy for a number of reasons. For one, they contain way too much glass. Windows and curtain walls are the most expensive part of the building as well as the least energy efficient. As an example, take an extremely well insulated wall, at R-40, and install the good windows with thermally unbroken aluminum frames and high performance glazing (low-e and argon filled) with a U-value of .30. Assume that the window-to-wall ratio (WWR) is less than 40%, which is the highest recommended ratio for high performance buildings. That wall, insulated at R-40, actually has an efficient R-value between 7-12. To sum it up, use less glass, use less energy.
Another increasingly popular building technique is the idea of a green roof, a good idea but not always a way to save energy. It seems in this situation that some professionals in the green realm are more interested in green materials than what being “green” should actually mean. Insulation is used for a reason, it saves energy. Dirt and grass are not forms of insulation, and if they were you would see walls filled with dirt instead of fiberglass batts. Further, a green roof needs to be watered, so you are actually purposely placing water on the roof of the building. A roof is intended to remove water and to intentionally water a roof seems a bit alarming. They may be pretty and serve other laudable goals but the reality is a green roof does not usually save energy and costs.
A third misconception is in the homes themselves. Studies show that the average size of a U.S. home more than doubled between the 1950s and 2003, which is not hard to believe. During that time, the number of people living in a single home has decreased, meaning the average space per person increased three-fold. All this excessive space in a home is not “green.” A smaller, poorly insulated home will use less energy than a larger well insulated one, as well as create far less construction waste. Further, the homes popping up all over the suburbs lead to other energy problems. Remember, being “green” is not just limited to one sector of your life. Owning an energy efficient home but are driving 45 minutes to an hour to work is not being green. To truly be green, we must include the principles of green living in all parts of our lives.
The concentration on building green is undoubtedly a positive. But, like many products, you need to read the fine print. When you’re at the grocery store and you see a “light” or “fat free” product, you read the label to see the actual nutrition facts. The same investigation needs to occur with today’s “green” buildings.
What are the chances this building is energy efficient?