Green buildings are buildings that from the point of design right up to their construction, use and operation, function on a sustainable basis. This is also known as green construction or sustainable building. Typically, those buildings will be designed and built in a way that minimizes the use of resources such as water and energy, seeks to recycle waste and pollution as well as use where possible natural and locally sources materials.
The overall aim of green building is to minimize the environmental footprint of the building throughout its entire lifecycle. Green building requires the close cooperation of different sets of people, such as architects, builders, and environmental consultants, who ultimately all contribute to getting a building up .
Why are green buildings important?
It is widely understood that our built environment has a vast impact on the natural environment, human health, and the economy. A green building approach aims to maximize both the economic and environmental performance of buildings for own and nature’s benefit. In the US, it is estimated that buildings are responsible for:
- 39% of total energy use,
- 12% of the total water consumption,
- 68% of total electricity consumption, and
- 38% of the carbon dioxide emissions .
A similar picture emerges in Europe, where the EU has calculated that looking at the whole life cycle of a building, from extraction to the manufacturing of the construction products, the construction, use and maintenance of the building itself, buildings account for about:
- 50% of extracted materials
- 50% of energy consumption
- 35% of water consumption
- 35% of waste generated 
While green buildings may have higher start up or building costs, the savings in terms of energy or water bills etc, often make them attractive options for developers.
This is why several schemes operate globally that provide certification for green buildings as well as financial support for prospective home-owners or those who wish to renovate their property.
These include very well-known initiatives such as the US LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) scheme or budding programmes such as the Wold Bank’s EDGE (Excellence in Design for Greater Efficiencies) which is aimed at developing countries .
Environmental impacts of green buildings
But, ideally, green buildings are much more than just cost saving. Apart from being as resource efficient as possible, green buildings need to be designed in a way that creates the minimum amount of disruption to the surrounding environment. This involves the maintenance of natural landscapes as much as possible, incorporation of local vegetation and green spaces as well as the use of locally (and sustainably) sourced building materials, as much as possible.
Green buildings can therefore have a net benefit in terms of our pocket (in the medium to long term) as well as the environment. But by living in a greener building we are also enhancing our health and wellbeing. For example, indoor air pollution is a big concern: we spend most of our life indoors, and a lot of research indicates that pollutants can be up to ten times higher indoors than outdoors .
Green buildings aim to tackle this issue and improve air quality, offering us a healthier environment to live in.
Some more good news in terms of the benefits and importance of green buildings comes following a report conducted by researchers at Harvard’s School of Public Health and New York’s Upstate Medical University. Having reviewed over 100 workers in 10 buildings in five US cities, they concluded that working in a green building, as certified by LEED, results in higher cognitive function scores, fewer sick building symptoms, and higher sleep quality scores.
The research team is now working on developing a multidisciplinary approach coined “Buildingomics” to consider “the totality of factors in a building’s environment” .
A green building uses less resources and is more health and environmentally friendly than a regular house, but this doesn’t mean that you cannot make your house just a bit greener as well. There are a variety of ways a home can be green.
Tips how you can make your existing home greener
#1 Proper insulation
Having proper insulation can also enhance the environmental friendliness of your home. Proper insulation in the wall acts like a barrier, preventing heat passing in and out of the house.
Insulating the walls of your home has the double benefit of keeping the heat inside during the winter and keeping the heat out during the summer. It is a useful way to regulate your home’s temperature across all seasons.
#2 Install solar panels
Solar panels both minimize a home’s electricity usage and save the homeowner a lot of money. In many countries, electricity makes up most of the bill payments, and having solar panels can reduce this cost to almost nothing.
Whilst the initial expense of installing solar panels is large, over time it will recoup the cost and then begin to save the homeowner money.
In Australia and some other countries, if your solar panels generate more electricity than your home uses, it is fed back into the grid and you are paid for it by the government.
#3 Double or triple glazed windows
Double or triple glazing is a technique used in some homes which works much like insulation, except on the windows. It is known to prevent heat coming in or going, and so has the effect of keeping the house cooler in summer and warmer in winter.
Much like other methods of making your home more green, glazed windows do involve a significant initial expense. However, this expense will pay for itself over time by reducing heating and cooling costs.
#4 Grey water system
Having a grey water system involves a plumbing installation that takes water from alternative sources for reuse around the home and garden. Some people install hoses from their bathtub to go straight onto the garden. Others have their own tank which catches rainwater.
The benefits of a greywater system are twofold. Firstly, it reduces household water bills, and secondly, it reduces the strain on the water supply.
#5 LED lighting
LED stands for light emitting diode. It is a type of light that uses significantly less electricity than other lights. They are both extremely efficient and very long lasting. Amazingly, LED lights can reduce energy consumption by up to 80 percent and last around 25,000 hours . Like other green home methods already mentioned, they initially cost more to purchase, but will reap dividends for years to come.
It is worth considering ways you can green up your home. Some cost a lot, some don’t, but all are a worthy addition to the home of any environmentally-conscious person.