Green architecture is more than mixing yellow and blue paint to freshen up the exterior of your house.
Green architecture is the integration of technology, thoughtful construction techniques and, well, common sense when designing a 'green building' that lessens the environmental impact of the structure and those living or working inside.
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Green architecture and construction typically have slightly higher upfront costs than traditional construction, but the long-term savings in energy costs, water use and even health care add to the bottom line for the life of the building. According to a 2008 report by the U.S. General Services Administration, commercial buildings built with green architecture and green construction techniques use 26 percent less energy and have 13 percent lower maintenance costs.
The bottom line: Green architecture, over the long haul, saves you green. As in cash money.
The basics of green architecture include the following, which can be LEED certified by the U.S. Green Building Council:
Something as simple as how a building is positioned on a property can make a significant difference in energy efficiency. In colder climates, for example, large windows may be placed on the south side to allow for solar heating during the day. In a place where hot summers are a part of life, a house might be positioned to take advantage of the shade provided by large deciduous trees. When the leaves drop in the fall, winter sun hits the house, warming it.
A building sucks up less energy if it makes its own. Green architecture designs often include the use of photovoltaic solar panels to supply most, if not all, of the electricity needs of the occupants of a home or office building. Solar water heaters — also called solar domestic hot water systems — aren’t quite as space age as PV panels, but have a dramatically quicker pay back period. Heating hot water is generally the biggest use of energy (electric or natural gas) in a household.
Wind turbines for residential use are available, but they’re practical only under limited circumstances. A system can cost $15,000 to $55,000, but incentives and rebates available in many states (as you find with solar systems) cut the cost.
One of the primary goals of green architecture is to sharply reduce the amount of energy needed to keep people comfortable. The building’s design includes greater insulation and energy efficient windows. The design also will make best use of those double-pane windows to reduce the need for interior lighting.
Green architecture relies on water conserving fixtures such as ultra-low flush toilets and low-flow showerheads. Some green designs include grey water systems that use wastewater from laundry, dishwashing and bathing. The water is recycled on-site to use again for landscape irrigation or, in a few circumstances, flushing toilets.
Architect Travis Price thinks the green building movement he’s been part of for thirty years has veered off course. His new book makes a case for restoring the movement to its spiritual and aesthetic center.