Saturday, April 11, 2009

--The Three Ways to Build "Green"

The term "Green" is thrown around a lot these days. An examination of the ways one can "build green" would be helpful. This brief thumbnail sketch will examine green methods in decreasing order of environmental impact.

1) The method of green building that has the greatest environmental impact (and therefore the least benefit to the environment) is the "Energy Efficiency" method. This is also the method that will receive the greatest attention in coming years, because it does not represent any major divergence from our present construction trajectory. The history of human construction has been an effort to find the sweet spot among the variables of better, stronger, faster, and cheaper construction. In modern times, this has meant tighter envelopes and more energy-efficient appliances. Homes use nominally less energy to engage precisely the same heating, cooling, cooking, cleaning, and entertaining goals. Because this method is simple--contractors build almost exactly as they always have, but use insulation with higher R-values and install appliances with Energy Star labels--the building industry will have no reason to stray from it.

2) The second method of building green has less to do with the house-as-product and more to do with the materials employed to produce it. Bricks and lumber reclaimed from previous demolition projects, straw bales and biomass in lieu of synthetic insulation, and specially-engineered low-environmental-impact materials are the focus of this method. The principle goal of this type of construction is to ensure that front-end environmental impact is as little as possible. Because this method alone might conceivably involve little savings for the home-buyer (and indeed greater costs up front), the method will remain appealing largely to a niche subset of environmentally-conscious consumers.

3) The third method of building green involves the greatest paradigm shift in construction, but ultimately requires only nominal effort by developers, architects, and builders to produce enormous payoff for home-buyers. New Regionalist architecture involves designing a home to interact with its environment so perfectly as to reduce demand for electricity, gas, and water and thereby create energy savings. Because this method depends not on the latest appliances (which will always become obsolete) nor on expensive building materials (which are obviously cost-prohibitive for the mass market), it is intensely viable as energy prices continue to rise.

4?) The forth method is, of course, a combination of the above. Perfect green construction would somehow involve each of the three methods described above.

The New Regionalist hopes that all methods for building green are seriously considered for the marketplace, as failing to do so will not remain economically viable.

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