5 Green Building Trends: Constructing Tomorrow’s Cities
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Humans must improve how they do business or risk extinction. The hard work begins with the built environment. Embracing green building trends is more than a matter of style or preference but a necessity.
However, the need for understanding green building trends extends beyond the construction industry. For example, city planners require a firm foundation to make recommendations and issue requisite permits. Putting sustainability at the forefront gives preference to projects that benefit the environment and residents as a whole, not only enrich individual investors.
What should you know about if you’re in the trades or want an educated voice in influencing the cities of the future trends? Here are five green building trends to watch.
What does the term “net-zero energy” mean? It refers to a structure so efficient that it produces more onsite energy over a year than it uses. Several such buildings already exist, such as the State of Massachusetts’ North Shore Community College.
How do they produce more energy than they use? The answer lies in solar. Even existing technology left the state of California with an excess that they can now sell to other states that didn’t invest as heavily in the technology. Could a world without utility bills become a reality? It could be if enough builders switch to net-zero energy design.
Net-zero energy buildings are integral parts of sustainable city design for many reasons. One is that they reduce reliance on an unreliable grid that’s vulnerable to attacks. By having multiple buildings that double as power farms, communities can provide independent power for residents from numerous sources — if one goes down, 20 others are waiting to pickup the slack.
Individual consumers can likewise benefit. As builders create homes that produce independent energy, residents remain attached to the grid, selling their excess energy back to the primary power company. Many systems contain automatic shutoffs to prevent sending surges over damaged wires, leaving residents in the dark if the power fails. However, today’s newer hybrid systems let homeowners switch to battery power, becoming effective off-grid systems that keep the lights burning.
Greener Building Materials
Building materials are not created equal. How green a substance is depends on several factors:
- How renewable is it? For example, trees take a long time to grow, and deforestation contributes to climate change. Other materials, like bamboo and hemp, grow faster, lessening their environmental impact.
- How toxic is it? Many artificially produced substances and those coated with various paints and varnishes contain volatile organic compounds, chemicals that affect indoor air quality and contribute to global warming.
- How strong is it against the elements? The best building materials can weather the more severe storms climate change brings.
For example, some bamboo species grow up to three feet daily, making them the ideal raw material for flooring, paneling and fencing. Cork doesn’t require you to harvest the tree, only the bark and is an excellent soundproofing material, good for multi-story buildings where the patter of feet from upstairs floors can drive you mad.
The judicious use of known materials also counts as a green building trend. For example, concrete is incredibly strong against the elements, but its production creates considerable carbon dioxide emissions. Fortunately, manufacturers such as Solida, ThalesNano Energy, China National Building Materials and Cemex have taken measures to green their footprints, in some cases reducing emissions by 70%.
Perhaps nothing matters more than reducing the use of plastics in buildings. While some confer benefits, these substances don’t break down readily and may release VOCs. These substances have adverse effects on human health when inhaled. Furthermore, plastic pollution already appears in clouds — it’s time to break free from this material.
Green roofs offer a way to curb the urban heat island effect and need not take the place of solar installations. Recent innovations combine the two for double the environmental benefits, not to mention considerable urban beautification.
Imagine rows of buildings with gardens bursting forth from the facade. How about one where each apartment complex boosts a rooftop community garden where residents can mix, mingle and tend a little plot, maybe engaging in trade, with some growing tomatoes, others peppers, onions or beans?
Such structures also make ideal use of naturally occurring rainwater. Green roofs enable residents to harvest this precious fluid for tending their crops and more. The excess can go toward various other uses throughout the building.
Water Conservation Innovations
Low-flow appliances are an early green building trend that can do twice the environmental repair when partnered with other techniques that reduce overall facility use. For example, greywater recycling measures take fluid that’s lightly soiled — think the stuff that runs down your sink — and reuse it for other purposes instead of sending it to the sewer.
For example, a building might engineer a plumbing system that uses greywater to hydrate a green roof. It can also see new life for toilet flushing and condenser use. By reusing the water a facility typically wastes, it reduces the need for a fresh supply while increasing overall efficiency.
Even simple measures, such as rain sensors on irrigation systems, can reduce a building’s freshwater demand. When paired with consumer education, these measures can reduce a site’s water use and preserve this resource for future generations.
Garbage contributes to global warming, making zero-waste a green building trend to watch. When organic matter decays in landfills, it creates methane, a greenhouse gas far heavier than carbon dioxide. Even measures such as recycling require energy to complete.
Zero-waste buildings reduce the amount of waste produced while recycling and repurposing as much as possible. For example, commercial lessors can provide incentives for tenants who switch to a paperless model, enhancing client security while reducing deforestation. They can do the same for restaurants that offer compostable take-out containers instead of the traditional styrofoam or plastic.
Such facilities also make it easy for residents to recycle and compost. They have dedicated waste management services and post educational materials near bins so that everyone can tell what goes where. They use the rich soil created from composting operations to fertilize indoor plants and maintain their green roofs.
Green Building Trends
It benefits everyone to learn about green building trends. It makes you a more informed consumer and is essential continuing education for anyone in the construction industry.
Look for these green building trends when assessing new facilities or renovating ones you currently own or manage. Every effort counts, and outfitting your property with these green building trends saves you money in the long run while doing your part to combat climate change.
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About the author
Starting from an early age, Jane Marsh loved all animals and became a budding environmentalist. Now, Jane works as the Editor-in-Chief of Environment.co where she covers topics related to climate policy, renewable energy, the food industry, and more.