Green housing Essay
IntroductionSustainable development involves, among other things, the construction of green buildings. Green buildings have been identified by researchers as using “key resources like energy, water, materials, and land more efficiently than buildings that are just built to code” (Kats, 2003, p.
2). One of the major stumbling blocks to sustainable development is the idea many have of the costs involved in embarking upon such a project. It is widely believed that materials that make such a project possible are more expensive in monetary terms than those which merely meet building standards (Wilson, 1999). In addition, the cost of the design and labor that must go into the project has also been a deterrent for many in the attempt to engage in sustainable building development. It is understood that making the effort to construct green buildings will grant returns to the environment in the long run (Wilson, 1999). Yet, one of the concerns that is faced by those who wish to preserve the environment is whether the efforts made to build “green” buildings will ever grant perceptible returns in the short run, in which they might be able to appreciate it.Measures of environmentally safe building development exist in the United States. One very comprehensive system has been put in place by the United States Green Building Council.
The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) is a rating system designed to measure the dimensions in which a building has upheld environmentally safe and sustainable practices in its construction and design (Matthiessen & Morris, 2004). Using this measure, it is possible to assess the variables of constructing green residential housing in the United States and give a detailed view of the costs and benefits associated with each.Buildings consume a large portion of the water, energy, wood, and other resources in any country, and in the United States alone the consumption of these is higher than in any other country with the exception of China (Kats, 2003). In fact, while a good 30% of all energy is consumed by or within buildings, 66% of all electricity used in this country is consumed within buildings (Wann, 2005). The United States’ governmental bodies have decided to combat this, and this decision has led to the development of LEED. The LEED is a system of ratings in which points are awarded to building projects in different categories. When these points are accumulated and measured against total points possible, a rating which denotes the level of greenness is granted the property. Four levels of greenness exist in the LEED system: Certified, Silver, Gold, and Platinum.
In order to achieve each of these, buildings are assessed on different dimensions based on site sustainability, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, use of materials/resources, and indoor/outdoor environmental quality (Matthiessen & Morris, 2004). Though many have considered construction costs of green buildings to buildings to be so high as to make them not worth building, research has shown that overall, the premium for constructing green buildings amounts to less than 2 per cent of non-green buildings (Kats, 2003). It has also been shown most of the cost that can be attributed to green building comes from the extra time it takes in designing the architecture of such a building rather than in its construction (2003). An exploration of the cost and benefits of building residential housing within each of these categories will offer a more balanced and educated view of the possibilities regarding green construction.Sustainable SitesThe Sustainable Sites category contains points regarding the density of the urban area and how close the area is to mass transit. It also includes points for whether or not the site has been involved in the reclamation of brown fields, the provision of bike-racks and the encouragement of carpooling. The costs of constructing on a site that is already densely populated are often considerable, as it is widely known that urban real estate is generally more expensive than rural land.
However, this is not usually considered an insurmountable cost for persons who build, as environmental sustainability is generally not considered in the choice of living area (Matthiessen & Morris, 2004).The impact on the environment can be assessed from two perspectives. Although living closer to an urban center will cause further concentration of emissions, the proximity to the urban area also reduces the necessity of long commutes. It has, for example, been recorded by the state of New Jersey that each gallon of gasoline withheld from use prevents the emission of 20 lbs of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere (Murphy, 2004). This ultimately reduces the overall amount of carbon that is emitted into the atmosphere and this in turn has a positive effect on health. This too can also be translated into monetary terms.Residential construction in an urban area, therefore, includes monetary as well as other benefits.
Monetary benefits tend to accrue after the initial investment (Wilson, 1999). Energy costs of commuting to and from areas of work and entertainment will be lessened. One Boulder Colorado community, for example, has found that “building at 30 units per acre” affords them lowered costs in the areas of infrastructure (as well as water and utilities). This is translated as lowered initial cost as well as long-term cost, as the proximity to amenities reduces the need for building new ones to serve the community (Wann, 2005). It also reduces the need to build lengthy road- and motorways, and necessitates the installation and use of fewer pipes and other sewage facilities (since such a compact residential area spans a much shorter distance). The residents in the Boulder community therefore end up driving an average of 30 percent less than those who live in other non-green areas (2005).
The LEED category that rewards opportunities for carpooling has been targeted by builders as another inexpensive way to increase the greenness of a project and of acquiring LEED points. The way in which this is usually done is through reduction in the amount of parking spaces made available to the housing units. This was also done in some instances by making car and vanpool parking available and easily attainable (Matthiessen & Morris, 2004). Though these present some small costs in the initial stages of the project, the benefits that accrue from this are substantial. Again, according to research done by the state of New Jersey, “Carpooling just one day a week will reduce an average commuter’s emissions by more than half a ton a year” (Murphy, 2004).
Today’s prices are approximately $2.90 per gallon for regular gasoline. That would make the yearly savings on just one gallon per week of gas add up to over $150 per car owner. Most sites may also provide bike racks as an inexpensive way of increasing the green capabilities of the residential environment. The use of bicycles works well in the urban environment, as the proximity to business places and amenities is close. Therefore, bicycles are feasible as a means of transportation to and from these places.
They also, in the long run, save home owners on fuel, maintenance, and repair costs.Natural HabitatThe second sustainable sites LEED category includes natural habitat, open space, storm-water rate and treatment, heat islands (roofed and non-roofed), and light pollution (Matthiessen & Morris, 2004). Building constructors are aware that the points in this second site category can be won by adapting the buildings’ design—more so than with site selection. The costs associated with this category are not usually found to be highest in the natural habitat area. Natural habitat points have often been achieved in residential communities by simply restoring some of the area to the environment. This is usually taken out of the area that was already meant to be outside the building area, such as outside park areas for children and adults. Therefore, as with many of the sustainable-development categories, the costs of this point can be incorporated into what would have already been provided—in this case, the cost of the parks.Storm water rate and treatment often does present a significant cost in the urban areas.
The limited nature of land space often makes it necessary that builders construct tanks for the collection of the storm water. In the rural areas, storm water can be controlled through the construction of ponds, but even these tend to be on the expensive side. Swales, however, if such a feature is feasible, are generally less expensive an option. The use of filters for treatment of storm water is also possible, and is more often used on sites construction sites than other types of treatment (Matthiessen & Morris, 2004).The benefits that exist in this category most widely stem from the possibilities of collection and treatment water that is provided by storms.
This green feature can be tied in with another point in the LEED system that addresses the conservation of water. The water captured in this way can be recycled through use in such schemes as irrigation of lawns and gardens. The installation of weather-based irrigation controllers has the potential of reducing water usage by approximately 40 gallons a day for each household (San Diego County Water Authority, 2005). In the long run this translates to tremendous savings benefits, as after a year the amount of water saved is 14,600 gallons.
After 20 years, that amount becomes 292,000 gallons.Heat island effect and light pollution points can be easily tackled through engineering and design by changing the color of pavements and reducing the amount of light bulbs installed in the residential area. This might also be inexpensively effected through the planting of vegetation on roofs and in yard areas (EPA 2004). However, the light pollution points though easy to achieve could end up being more costly in the long run—not to the environment but to the individuals, as it compromises the security of the area and may lead to property damage and/or bodily harm. The benefits of reducing the heat island effect can be many. Because heat islands can increase the outdoor and indoor temperature by up to 10 degrees Fahrenheit, the reduction in this can decrease the need for air conditioning and therefore decrease the emission of pollutants by power plants (EPA, 2004).
For every degree (Fahrenheit) decrease in temperatures resulting from reversing the heat island process, there is a corresponding reduction of 1.5-2% in peak utility levels (EPA, 2004).This translates to tremendous savings for home owners.
These savings come about for two main reasons: overall lower purchase of electricity and a lower demand for this electricity during peak hours. It has been shown through research that green buildings are responsible for a 30% reduction in energy use over that of regular non-green buildings. In Massachusetts, for example, this translates to $2.00 per sq. ft. per annum. In a 2000 sq. ft.
home that translates to about a $4000-saving in heating/cooling per year. If this is calculated over a 20-year period, the saving accrued will be at least equal to (though typically more than) the extra that was spent in the construction of the environmentally friendly home (Kats, 2003).Water EfficiencyWater efficiency is also a fairly inexpensive point to achieve, usually done through designing irrigation systems into the construction of the residences. One LEED irrigation point involves the decision not to install a permanent irrigation system (such as sprinklers), but rather by making irrigation a more natural process that would not involve piped water (Matthiessen & Morris, 2004). Refraining from installation of permanent irrigation systems does provide a drop in initial costs. The benefits that accrue because of it can be translated to monetary benefits through a reduction in water bills. However, many do consider this lack of automatic and permanent irrigation a physical and mental burden, which is also a cost.Wastewater points can be achieved at an initial cost, through the installation of low-flow toilets and (in some residential cases) waterless urinals.
The initial cost in this area, though greater than would have been incurred had the green effort not been made, is usually not substantial. The benefits that can be reaped from this effort represent lowered atomization of urine particles, which can be distributed in the bathroom air by flushing urinals (LNL-EMP, 2005). Low-flush toilets (which are more likely than no-flush urinals to be used in residential homes) are also able to reduce overall spending on water, as approximately 30% of all water consumed in a given household is connected to toilet usage.
A toilet that consumes half the amount of water per flush (1.6 as opposed to 3.5 gallons) can translate to savings of several thousands of dollars over the lifetime of the fixture (2005).
Energy and AtmosphereEnergy use and the atmosphere created during and after the construction of the residence are also considered in the LEED system. In order to optimize performance in the several areas of energy and atmosphere section, it is not usually necessary to expend very much more capital and resources when attempting to be qualified as a “green” residence. The reason for this is that building codes already specify a minimum level of efficiency that makes it necessary that all home-owners be environmentally aware in this area of building (Matthiessen & Morris, 2004).
It is true, however, that the higher above the building code requirements one would like to rise, the higher the cost for the project will become. It is usually much more efficient to incorporate these mechanisms at the beginning of the process rather than in the middle or toward the end.In order to facilitate renewable energy, some home builders most often resort to photovoltaics, which has a high construction cost.
However, the savings in the long term are usually also substantial. Though this might not be feasible for most residences, it might be possible to gain off-site renewable energy, although such might be considered not a first cost but a cost of operation. It must be noted, however, that this would still provide a benefit to the environment. Other alternatives are the use of natural gas, biomass, and fireplaces (rather than the central heating system) to heat homes during the winter. Such investments are easy to implement and provide significant savings (BBC, 2000).Material and ResourcesThe Materials and Resources category of LEED includes building and resource reuse, management of waste, recycling, locally manufactured and harvested content, rapid renewability and certified wood. Residential homes that are being renovated would easily gain the building-reuse points with little cost over and above that of buying the house—an investment that would probably have been made by the homeowner in any case. However this point is unattainable in residential homes or complexes that are being newly built.
Waste management is also usually attainable at minimal cost but usually depends on the proximity of the construction site to waste-recycling facilities as well as the familiarity of the contractors with the practices involved in waste management (Matthiessen & Morris, 2004). Recycled materials are easily obtainable for residential project, and a generally inexpensive in nature. However, when it comes to certified wood one finds that the cost is higher than that of uncertified wood and does end up adding significant cost to the entire project. This is because wood makes up such a large portion of home building material. The long-run benefits for this category are mainly confined to a healthier and more sustainable environment.Environmental QualityFinally, air quality can be looked at as having an initial investment cost in two areas: the designing and constructing of the building for the purpose of facilitating good air quality; and the air quality standards that must upheld during the actual construction of the building. The cost of the first is most relevant here, and is largely dependent on the climate in which the building is located. However the costs for such a project in a residential building cannot be said to be large in comparison to a non-green building as all buildings are usually required to meet such air-quality standards.
Matthiessen and Morris (2004) have indicated that “in California, buildings are required to meet standards which allow projects built under those rules to qualify for most if not all of the material points without any impact to cost or design” (p. 11). Rising above these standards may cost a little more, but this should not be very financially taxing considering the wide availability of resources that would aid this measure. The benefits that would accrue are mainly associated with health. Costly respiratory illnesses would be avoided, and that generally translates to high monetary savings.
ConclusionThe evidence indicates that the construction of residences using sustainable development practices may not be as expensive as had once been believed. It appears that green housing does provide the overall benefits that have been suspected. The initial costs of developing green residences appear to have the greatest effect in the area of planning and design, and it has been demonstrated that once “green” has been taken into consideration at the outset of the project, the costs are usually lower than if environmental sustainability is pursued as an afterthought. Furthermore, in the long term, environmentally sustainable residences do provide benefits that at least equal but most likely surpass the costs that were once considered deterrents.ReferencesBBC News.
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