Green building is the inclusion of more sustainable technologies into our living and working spaces, and there is a growing range of green residential and commercial construction options available to help build a beautiful future.
The Basics of Green Building
Green building is an inclusive term that encompasses many types of building and operational techniques, all of which reflect a concern for sustainability. Green building methods bring sustainability into the design, sourcing and building process for homes, offices and more.
It could be argued that humans have always been building green buildings: traditional cultures have lived in pueblos, thatched huts, and log cabins for centuries, and many of these types of living spaces are finding their way back into modern life. The methodology behind these buildings– working with limited resources, recycling and upcycling materials, choosing natural components, and building in a way that works with the natural environment– inform green building methods presently and align with the broader sustainability movement.
In this post we’ve mapped out some of the basics of green building, and shared lots of links for more information about particular topics that might pique your interest.
Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) & Living Buildings
One of the most common terms used in green building conversations is LEED. Modern green building construction and renovation is usually built under the guidelines of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), an internationally recognized green building certification and rating system. The LEED certification system rates construction projects using a point system that measures how effectively the building has met the LEED standards. Entire buildings, specific rooms, homes, and even entire neighborhoods can be labeled as LEED Certified, Silver, Gold and Platinum. LEED status is available for new buildings and for retrofits and renovations of older buildings too.
LEED standards rate the sustainability and toxicity of products and processes used for building, and the operations of a building like materials recycling, wastewater catchment and treatment, quality and safety of building materials, windows, and renewable energy use and/or generation. Over 7,000 LEED projects have been completed around the world, and many cities and governments now require some level of LEED certification for new buildings as it’s become increasingly clear that green building saves money in the long term. Notable exceptions are some southern states in the US, which have been fighting LEED projects for public buildings.
Natural buildings are a subsection of green building that uses actual earth materials for construction: mud, straw, clay, stones, wood and recycled or upcycled materials. Because the houses are exceptionally beautiful, sustainable and long-lasting, there is a growing movement of houses built with natural building methods that spans the globe.
Earth Bag: Earth Bag building is a very inexpensive technique that uses bags filled with earth, utilized in a similar way to sandbags. The bags are often made from plastic, so of all the building techniques listed here, this is the least eco-friendly. Earth bag construction can create strong structures if it’s made with the correct earthen materials: clay-rich soil, gravel or crushed rock.
Rammed Earth: Rammed earth construction is an ancient process that is experiencing a revitalization. It’s affordable, sustainable, and simple to build with rammed earth, and the result is a non-combustible, strong and thermally balanced structure. This building style is suitable to almost all climates.
Alternative House Movements
Though not necessarily incorporating green building techniques, there are two important movements happening that align with many of the same values of the green building movement.
Tiny Homes: The tiny house movement is reflective of consumers’ growing desire for more sustainable living options. As the name suggests, the tiny house movement is a growing sector of home building that focuses on very, very small houses (usually less than 500 square feet/42 meters squared). Tiny homes allow people to live a minimalist lifestyle, both in living and in materials consumption. In a tiny home there is not space for all the typical items like a bed, couch, dining room table and other furniture, so design must be compact, multipurpose and highly functional for a small space.