Green building in the US: a simple guide

If you walk through the doors of Austin’s Central Library, you will find yourself in a prime example of green building in the U.S.

The first thing you might notice in the Texas library is the clever use of natural light which illuminates much of the atrium – this reduces the structure’s dependence on electric lighting. Less immediately obvious but equally beneficial to the environment is a rooftop rainwater harvesting system. The library’s restrooms then use this “gray water”, saving freshwater, and it also waters the surrounding gardens and landscaping. Architects also designed the library using eco-friendly materials, with a high proportion of recycled or locally produced elements.

Green building in Texas

This building is just one example of a revolution in sustainable building in the U.S. And it’s about to get another major boost.

The Biden administration’s recent announcement of a $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan places great emphasis on ‘green’ investments. And this will certainly impact sustainable building across the nation – for both residential and commercial construction firms. Property developers who begin exploring how to make their projects greener will certainly reap the rewards.

Here is everything you need to know about green building in the U.S.

The revolution in green building in the U.S.

Over the past 15 years, we have seen a dramatic rise in sustainable building in the United States. Back in 2005, there were just 3,156 buildings registered to LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), a standard for green construction. By 2019 there were almost 70,000. What is behind this rapid rise?

  • Climate change concerns

There is no doubt that concern about climate change is one of the most important reasons why architects and contractors are building green. At present around 40% of the United States’ energy consumption is attributed to commercial and residential buildings. In order to reduce the effects of climate change, it is essential to ensure buildings are more environmentally friendly.

  • City, state and federal incentives

Right across the U.S., a patchwork of zoning regulations, tax incentives and preferential treatment for green developments has made it more appealing to invest in sustainable building techniques.

  • Sales and marketing benefits

Studies indicate that buyers are willing to spend more on properties that come with a variety of green features. If a structure is well insulated and energy-efficient, the buyer knows that they will save money on utilities in the long term. Millennial homebuyers, in particular, are concerned about sustainability issues and may be more attracted by a property’s green building certification.

What are common sustainable building features and practices?

There is a wide variety of sustainable building features that you can select to reduce the environmental impact of a structure. Depending on location and materials available you might choose to use some or all of the following kinds of features:

  • Solar energy: Installing solar panels on the roof of a structure provides a source of clean, green energy while saving residents money in the long run.
  • Rainwater harvesting and gray water usage: By collecting rainwater and using it in restrooms, it is possible to cut a building’s water usage significantly.
  • Integrating nature: Many green buildings in the U.S. integrate nature by planting local species on the roofs and in the landscaping to encourage pollinators whilst also helping to tackle air pollution.
  • Materials: Sustainable buildings make use of recycled or upcycled materials, thereby reducing the carbon footprint of the structure. If you do need to use new materials, choosing locally manufactured materials will help to lower emissions associated with a building too.

 

Learn more: Introduction to sustainable architecture

Challenges for green building in the U.S.

While the American Recovery Act is expected to give further impetus to the sustainable building revolution, several challenges to this kind of construction remain.

One significant issue relates to where cost savings accrue. Essentially, the savings benefits of green buildings will almost exclusively be experienced by the residents/users of a structure. This means that construction companies may have to spend more money on green features, yet experience minimal direct benefits. That being said, the costs of green materials and construction techniques have fallen significantly in recent years. As they get closer to the cost of traditional approaches, they will become viable options for small and medium businesses.

Another issue is around talent and access to skilled workers. Building sustainable structures requires knowledge of new techniques, materials and technologies. This will require retraining and upskilling of the labor force, which is of course an obstacle.

Where to begin with sustainable building

If your organization is working on increasing its sustainable building projects, the following tips will help you to start your journey.

  • Look into green building certification

The U.S. Green Building Council is the organization behind LEED certification. LEED is the most common sustainable building standard in the USA. If you’re aiming to create a sustainable building it will be useful to follow LEED recommendations before applying for certification.

  • Reassess your processes

Take the time to investigate your existing design and construction processes. Are you using materials that are sustainable? Can you integrate nature into your designs? Are you using lots of manmade chemicals where eco-friendly alternatives are available? Very often, the changes needed to make a new building sustainable are in fact relatively simple.

  • Look at your suppliers

It is also valuable to assess your current suppliers and seek out more sustainable alternatives where necessary. For example, using eco-friendly HVAC systems can save you money and reduce electricity usage.

  • Choose sustainable building tools

There are many different tools that you can use to encourage sustainable practices on construction sites. For example, mobile-based apps like PlanRadar can help you to minimize waste and reduce the carbon impact of the project. By reducing the number of defects and supporting streamlined task management, construction software can support lean construction principles for more successful – and less wasteful – projects.

 

Green building certification: Learn more about sustainable design principles

Join the sustainable building revolution

We are seeing more green building in the US, helping the nation to lead the way in response to climate change. By making some small changes to your processes and achieving green building certification, you too can play your part in this construction revolution. Whether that’s by reevaluating the materials you use or testing a construction software solution like PlanRadar, you can take your first steps today.

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