To build a sustainable future, we need to find efficiencies in all walks of life. The cars we drive, the food we eat and the homes and offices we build. When it comes to green construction, you need to think about absolutely every aspect of the building.
There are the materials you use, how the materials were produced, the energy efficiency of the building, the ongoing cost of energy bills and even the sources of energy that the building will use.
Introduction To Green Construction
You should think about energy usage in two ways. You firstly need to think about consumption levels. If you can find ways to make the building more efficient, you will reduce the amount of energy that you use.
The other important aspect is the type of energy that you use. When energy comes from renewable sources, such as wind or solar, fossil fuels don’t have to be burned, and emissions are avoided.
Many governments around the world are providing subsidies to make it more cost-effective to fit solar panels. This is making solar not just the most environmentally friendly option, but also the most prudent choice.
As part of green construction, you must consider whether solar panels are a viable option for your budget. Keep in mind that energy yields vary widely from state to state, so you must also consider the area where the building will be. In places with more sunlight, solar panels will deliver a return on investment sooner.
Green construction requires great focus on the exterior envelope of the building. Around 30% of the typical American’s energy bill can be attributed to leakage through the exterior envelope, so it’s great area to focus your attention.
“According to the National Institute of Building Science (NIBS), there are six fundamentals in sustainable design and several of them relate to the building envelope including the design and indoor environment quality,” writes Good Way. “These fundamentals specify that the proper insulation, selective glazing of glass, daylighting, strategic exterior shading, commissioning the building, and maintenance to keep building systems functioning properly are all ways to maintain a tight building envelope and reduce energy costs.”
When you rent construction equipment, you should also pay attention to the relative energy efficiency of the construction equipment you intend to use. After all, the energy consumed in construction is an environmental cost that is attributable to the building.
When selecting materials, always aim for choices that are renewable and recyclable. But keep in mind that lifespan is also an important factor to weigh into your decisions. If one material is better, but needs to be replaced twice as often, it may lose all its efficiency gains when you need to change something sooner than you otherwise would have expected.
Popular green materials include things that rapidly replenish, like bamboo and straw, and recycled metal. Keep in mind that you should try to source materials locally. The closer they are, the less they will have to travel to get to you.
Green Rebuilding After Hurricane Sandy
The damage that Hurricane Sandy left in its wake in 2012 was devastating for so many people. Families and businesses that lost their homes and buildings have had to start the difficult process of rebuilding, and design firms quickly unveiled many green plans for this process. Choosing sustainable, eco-friendly reconstruction is a smart way to make buildings more secure, disaster proof, and energy-efficient. The green rebuilding effort is one of the few bright spots to come out of such a destructive natural disaster.
Prefab Modular Beach Units in New York
Beaches in New York and New Jersey suffered significant damage as a result of Hurricane Sandy. Unfortunately, many buildings and structures were wiped out, including lifeguard stations, public restrooms, offices, and more. Garrison Architects, specialists in green designs, came up with the prefabricated modular units.
The units are elevated, flood proof, solar-powered, and self-ventilated. The modular units have been set up on beaches in New York, and now serve as comfort stations, lifeguard stations, and offices. They were unveiled on Memorial Day in 2013, and have since been rolled out in 15 different locations throughout New York. Beaches utilizing the prefabricated buildings include Coney Island and Cedar Grove in Staten Island, among others.
The units have all been constructed out of durable galvanized steel. The wooden rain screen sidings of the units were crafted out of wood that was salvaged from boardwalks damaged in the hurricane. Glass tiles line the interior of the restrooms, and large windows run along the entire side of the bathroom units for natural ventilation. Having the units constructed at off-site locations in Pennsylvania ensured that there would be no weather related delays.
The modules, which are 15 feet and 12 feet high, and 47 and 57 feet long, were built-in Pennsylvania. Then they shipped on flat bed trucks to the beach locations in New York. This allowed for the locations to be prepared with the construction of concrete pilings. Once the location was ready and the unit was completed, it could be set up on the foundation by a crane. The units are situated on top of the high concrete pilings and are accessible by ramps and stairs, which lead onto the beach and the boardwalk.
FEMA recently updated the storm surge height guidelines for buildings, and the modular units meet the standards. The elevated height ensures that they will not be flooded out if the water level rises. Hot water inside of the units is produced by solar power, as the units feature photovoltaic panels.
Speed and Efficiency
There was a need for the modular units to not only offer green features, but to also be manufactured quickly so that they could be put into use for the 2013 summer season. The Garrison Architects firm was given a tight five month time line, in which they needed to come up with the design, and have the project completed and ready to be opened up by Memorial Day. Hurricane Sandy showed just how destructive weather conditions could be, and there is a need for new constructions to meet sustainable standards for the future.
Designed and Built with Permanence in Mind
Hurricane Sandy was a very destructive storm, and scientists say it is possible that such storms are going to become much more common in the years ahead. It is crucial for rebuilding efforts to focus on creating sustainable structures that will be able to withstand changing ecological conditions.
The prefabricated modular beach units are not only economical, but they also address growing concerns such as congestion in overcrowded areas, preservation of existing beaches, and meeting green standards with eco-friendly elements. We will leave these efforts in the hands of the professionally trained, such as those holding degrees from online engineering colleges.
Tips to Building Green Homes
When a person is trying to be responsible and wants to build a sustainable home, there are a few things to consider. Environmentally friendly construction may cost extra money and involve special needs. Here are some tips to follow when building green homes.
Besides supplies, the first thing to consider when building a green home is its location. A person can use a great deal of eco-friendly materials, but if the house is placed in a location that requires a great deal of driving, the positives may be negated. It is smart to find an area that is close to shopping, restaurants, and other forms of entertainment.
Also, the location should be filled with sun, so it is possible to take advantage of solar power. Factors such as these are incredibly important when deciding on location. Individuals may want to consider the use of an agent with a degree in real estate to help them with location choices.
Use Sustainable Materials
Most people who want to build eco-friendly homes will know the benefits of using sustainable materials. For example, reclaimed lumber is an excellent alternative to fresh wood flooring. Recycled plastic and composite materials be used throughout the home as well. Even though some of these items cost more upfront, they will last for many years and avoid the need for replacement.
Consider the Air Inside
Many people disregard a home’s interior air quality. It is easy to forget that many products emit toxic fumes into the air. This can lead to health problems or environmental dangers. It is essential to use products that are made from low volatile organic compounds or contain no form of formaldehyde. When choosing paint or carpet, it is best to purchase water based products and materials made from natural fibers. It is also vital to build the green home with proper ventilation. This will balance moisture and prevent mold from forming.
Control Energy and Water Usage
Today, more and more appliances are manufactured with the ability to conserve energy. Washing machines, dryers, and refrigerators are just a few appliances that come energy rated and run on lower levels of electricity. Installing programmable thermostats will also save energy. These devices allow a homeowner to set the time when heat or air conditioning will run. For example, when a person leaves for work, they can be set to automatically shut off. One item in the home that takes a great deal of energy is the hot water heater.
It accounts for almost 15 percent of the home’s energy bill. It is possible to select a high efficiency water heater that will use up to 50 percent less energy. The most popular form is a tankless water heater. Not only will it use less energy, it will also take up less space. To save water, a person can select a low flow toilet or showerhead. A unique solution for the exterior of a green home is to create a storage tank that holds rainwater and other wastewater from the house. This can be used for the garden in place of fresh water.
Compare Insulation Options
A green home must be properly insulated. This will cut the energy needed to heat and cool the home’s interior. One of the most efficient ways to insulate walls is with spray foam. This will seal hard to reach places like attics. When insulation is in proper position, it is essential to caulk around all windows and doors as well. This will block any hidden gaps where air can enter or escape.
The above tips will aid anyone interested in building a green home. Saving energy and helping the environment does not need to be difficult. Even though it may be more expensive, it will provide a clean conscience knowing that the planet is being preserved.
Safe and Natural Carpet Cleaning
I always want my house and my carpets to be clean, but I do not want to sacrifice my family’s health to accomplish this. A few months ago, I started noticing how many harsh chemicals were present in the cleaning supplies that I used every day. I could not believe I had been using all of these chemicals in my home for many years. I wanted to find a natural solution, but I also did not want to sacrifice a high level of cleanliness. When it was time to schedule my annual carpet cleaning for the whole house, my neighbor told me about Green Choice Carpet Cleaning.
I had never heard of a carpet cleaning company that only used natural and organic cleaners, and I will admit that I was a little bit skeptical. Most of the carpets in our home are several years old, and I have three boys who are constantly tracking in mud, spilling food and doing anything else that you can imagine to stain our carpets. I contacted Green Choice Carpet Cleaning for an estimate, and I was impressed at how reasonable their prices were.
The phone associate even offered me a discount that was lower than their advertised rate. Now that my carpets have been cleaned by Green Choice Carpet Cleaning, I could not be happier. I feel like I got an excellent value for my money, and I love knowing that no harsh chemicals were added to my home during the cleaning. Green Choice Carpet Cleaning is the only Green Choice carpet cleaning I will use in the future.
Air Conditioning: Friend to Green Living that is Often Labeled a Foe
Green watchdogs tend to bark whenever homeowners turn on their air conditioning units. Sure, these machines run off electricity, and the hotter it is, the more electricity one consumes to stay comfortable. Jacksonville’s air conditioning usage is especially high, as Florida weather is extremely hot and humid. However, you can investigate into a greener solution that allows homeowners to reduce their carbon footprint, and save a ton of money on their utility bills.
Calling upon Helios
If Helios, the Greek God of the sun were living in Jacksonville, he would surely bless anyone who upgrades from a current air conditioning unit to a Solar Energy System. By harnessing the power of the sun, you will be drastically minimizing your utility’s power usage thus saving you lots of money. Furthermore, you will most likely qualify for some generous tax credits for upgrading to a solar-powered heating and cooling system.
The air conditioning system is solar-ready, and can be easily integrated into solar modules. When researching the solar systems, ask your heating and cooling provider to explain the many innovative features that are found in these units. For example, some units have a two-stage operation that helps minimize temperature shifts and keep humidity levels under total control.
Some tips for Floridians
Living in Florida offers many enjoyments and beautiful outdoor environments, but our local weather can pose challenges. In an article published by The Huffington Post, the author addresses Florida residents directly, stating that the local weather is indeed oppressive. But there are some things that residents can do to stay cool and green that goes beyond the act of upgrading to a solar-powered unit. The article suggests that people dress accordingly.
It is easy to let the home cool to the point where you feel like wearing that stylish turtleneck sweater, but green responsibility dictates that one must maintain a temperature setting, and dresses for it accordingly. The author also advises to open windows early in the morning or at night if the weather is cool enough outside. Finally, the article advises homeowners to shield the sun from blaring in through the windows.
The sun’s rays may power your solar cooling system, but if they shine through the windows your home can be heating up, which will cause your equipment to have to work harder. Pay attention to the time of the day when the sun’s rays hit your windows, and close the blinds during these hours.
Saving money provides more equity
By upgrading from your energy-guzzling air conditioning unit for a solar-powered green machine, you will be adding equity into your home. When you go to put the home on the market, local and out-of-state buyers will find your house especially more valuable in that a green unit will slash utility costs and make living much more affordable.
In fact, in many cases homebuyers will raise their budget if the home has a solar-powered heating and cooling unit. This is a one-time investment that offers numerous benefits and a huge return. Green air conditioning can be your best friend. Contact a local dealer and ask for more information on how the it can change your life.
Green Housing: In Buffalo, It’s Not Just for Rich People Anymore
Massachusetts Avenue Park was not a place you would want to take your kids. Before, the small neighbourhood park in the heart of Buffalo’s West Side was little more than vacant land with a small playground and a crumbling basketball court.
“It was a real mess,” says Terry Richard, a neighborhood resident who was born in Trinidad and Tobago and later moved to Buffalo by way of Brooklyn.
“So we figured… why don’t we just take this on as a task to really force the city’s hand to take care of their problem,” she adds, standing next to the park’s new playground with a bright smile.
Buffalo is located where the waters of Lake Erie feed into the swift currents of the Niagara River. It was established as a major grain shipping and storage centre in the late 19th century, but as shipping routes changed and heavy industry packed up and left the Great Lakes region, Buffalo’s population rapidly declined. In 1950, Buffalo’s population was about 580,000, but by the 2010 census it had fallen to about 260,000.
It isn’t just the population that’s been shrinking though: Employment numbers are down, and like other Rust Belt cities, Buffalo has struggled to support its infrastructure with a shrinking tax base. The rebirth of Massachusetts Avenue Park echoes many other stories taking shape throughout the city. Instead of waiting for the city to make things better, residents like Richard are taking matters into their own hands.
Richard is a board member for People United for Sustainable Housing (PUSH), a grassroots organization based in Buffalo that seeks to provide affordable, environmentally friendly housing and job training.
In early June PUSH celebrated the opening of Phase 1 of the small but pleasant new Massachusetts Avenue Park, which resulted from about two years of petitioning City Hall to fund the project. The park is just one piece of PUSH’s broader plan to create a Green Development Zone within the West Side — a 25-block area where the group is developing sustainable, affordable housing and creating new career pathways for neighborhood residents.
There goes the Buffalo neighborhood PUSH
Like many Buffalo neighborhoods, the West Side is full of vacant properties, and PUSH co-founders Aaron Bartley and Eric Walker wanted to know why. When they launched the organization in 2005, their first order of business was to conduct a survey of Buffalo’s West Side, which meant going door-to-door in the community for about six months.
With a bit of digging, they discovered that a sub-agency of the New York State Housing Finance Agency was in control of nearly 1,500 tax-delinquent properties in the city — about 200 of which were on the West Side — that were being left to rot. In 2003, the state of New York’s Municipal Bond Bank Agency bought the delinquent tax liens for those homes, which were then bundled and sold as bonds to investment bank Bear Stearns.
But there was one major problem: According to a report published in Artvoice, Buffalo’s main alternative weekly, the assessed value of the properties was much higher than they were actually worth. In effect, the state was using vacant houses in Buffalo to speculate on Wall Street.
Meanwhile, nothing was happening with the houses; the state was neither maintaining them nor selling them. “There just was absolutely no due diligence done as part of the transaction,” Bartley said. “If there had been, they would’ve seen that bond was fraudulent.”
The value of bonds was based on revenue that was supposed to have been generated by the houses, through either selling them or collecting unpaid taxes. But the state made little effort to sell or collect taxes on the properties. Why?
Because doing so would reveal the true value of the properties, according to Bartley, and the house of cards would come crumbling down. “The reason they didn’t do that is that would’ve shown the lie to the deal, because they would have sold for $0, and it would have indicated that it was worthless,” Bartley explained.
When Bartley and Walker made the discovery, they tried to bring it to the attention of state officials through standard channels, but when that failed they launched a direct action campaign. Using a big stencil, they painted an image of then-Gov. Pataki’s face on more than 200 houses across the city.
Eliot Spitzer was campaigning for governor at the time, and he took an interest in the issue. When Spitzer took office, his administration unwound the bond, gave the houses back to the city of Buffalo, and created a small housing rehab fund. The houses were turned back into the city’s inventory, and when PUSH or one of its partner organizations wants to redevelop one, they ask to have it transferred.
The Green Zone
Two years later, PUSH invited hundreds of residents to a neighborhood planning congress to draft a development plan for the largely blighted 25-block area on the West Side that would later become the Green Development Zone (GDZ). The plan went far beyond energy-efficient affordable housing to include the creation of employment pathways and promoting economic stability within the zone.
‘Sustainability’ in the context of PUSH’s agenda means reducing the neighborhood’s environmental impact, but also strengthening the local economy and creating green jobs.
On the surface, the GDZ still looks similar to other Buffalo neighborhoods: The streets are lined with 100-year-old two- and three-story houses, and in the summer, they teem with people. Old ladies sit and talk on first-floor balconies, while kids weave in and out of slow-moving traffic on bicycles. But this small neighborhood is in the midst of a pretty radical transformation.
“Sustainability” in the context of PUSH’s agenda means reducing the neighborhood’s environmental impact, but also strengthening the local economy and creating green jobs in the building rehabilitation and weatherization industries. PUSH was instrumental in getting the Green Jobs – Green New York legislation passed, which seeks to create 35,000 jobs while providing green upgrades and retrofits for 1 million homes across the state.
PUSH recently established PUSH Green to implement the GJGNY program in the Buffalo area, functioning as an independent outreach contractor in the region. For the work, PUSH has established what it calls a “Community Jobs Pipeline,” a network of contractors who agree to provide job training, pay living wages, and hire local workers from target populations.
Energy-efficient — and affordable too
In September, PUSH held a ribbon-cutting ceremony for three gut-rehab buildings with a total of 11 affordable housing units, bringing the total number of residential units PUSH completed in the GDZ to 19.
Green buildings enjoy lower operating costs, but they’re more common in luxury real estate portfolios than in the inner city.
But the organization has much bigger ambitions. In December, PUSH announced plans to build nine new-construction buildings and to renovate seven existing properties, adding a total of 46 more energy-efficient, affordable units to the neighborhood. “We’re very strategic in our development work, so we’ve taken a small section of the West Side, and we’re really trying to concentrate our development,” explained PUSH Development Director Britney McClain. “We don’t want to contribute to the scattershot development work that is also common in the city of Buffalo.”
Ensuring that the homes it produces are energy-efficient is an important component of PUSH’s work, because heating and energy costs account for a large percentage of living expenses in Buffalo. “A lot of the houses in this city are over 100 years old and poorly insulated, so to have an apartment at an affordable rate but also that is totally energy-efficient, through the new windows and insulation, the utilities bills will be drastically reduced,” McClain told me.
Green buildings enjoy lower operating costs, but they’re more common in luxury real estate portfolios than in the inner city. That’s a perception that PUSH is looking to change.
In 2011, PUSH completed a net-zero energy house — a home that produces as much energy as it uses. The project was launched to showcase renewable energy technologies and to help give low-income residents paid job training. In the process, the builders found another innovative use for vacant lots: They dug a deep trench in the adjacent lot to provide geothermal heating and cooling for the house. On all of the buildings, PUSH reuses existing materials where possible, upgrades the windows and insulation, and installs Energy Star-rated metal roofs that help to passively cool the buildings.
Extreme neighborhood makeover
Back at the PUSH headquarters I met co-founder Eric Walker, who I instantly recognized even though we had never met. Walker guest-starred on an episode of ABC’s reality TV show Extreme Makeover: Home Edition that aired in 2010.
In a typical episode of the show, a handful of hyperactive celebrities and local volunteers target a distressed home that is owned by a family undergoing illness, disaster, or some other hardship, and they quickly fix it up for the family in need. Instead of just fixing up one house, though, PUSH and some 4,500 volunteers teamed up with the show’s producers to fix up several surrounding properties in the neighborhood as well.
Extreme Makeover brought the West Side some positive national exposure, but Walker still has mixed feelings about the show. Neighborhood improvement can either come from external forces or it can come from within, and the forces of change portrayed in the show weren’t entirely homegrown.
“In organizing, we talk about three kinds of power: power over, power for, and power with,” explains Walker. The TV show gave PUSH an opportunity to inspire, but the tools of change were in the hands of the ABC producers and the celebrity hosts — not members of the community. “It was one step removed from the power we’re trying to build,” Walker says.
The TV cameras packed up and left, but the transformational power remains in the neighborhood. It is evident in the carefully restored Victorians that line Massachusetts Avenue; in the raised beds the community has acquired through PUSH; and in the fact that parents now take their children to the once-dangerous park they fought for and won themselves.
Check out Eric Walker’s talk at TEDx Buffalo.