Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Green Building

The weekend before last, the New York Times Magazine was a special issue devoted to green building. This is one of my pet interests as a conservationist. Why? Because the housing that I have been issued as a master's student at the Blaustein Institute for Desert Research* is environmentally friendly. It is lit during the day by daylight. It is heated in the winter by passive solar heating and during the summer we keep it cool by keeping everything closed. We have a solar hot water heater. I believe that the materials they used weren't the most sustainable, although I would have to check.

It is a shame if the materials were not very environmentally friendly, or were not durable, because:

"a building's efficiency should be measured not just by its mechanical systems but also by how much energy it uses over its lifetime. More energy is expended in a building's construction than at any other stage, so a structure that lasts 100 years will use far less energy than one that lasts 5, no matter how efficient." --from "Greener Acres: Why are they greener than we are?" by Nicolai Ouroussoff, May 20, New York Times

I am also interested in green building because buildings use so much of our natural resources, some estimates say 45% of energy use, dwarfing other sectors like transportation. This means that building design is much more important than the last topic I addressed, green weddings. And there is a lesson in green building, that by defining the framework well from the beginning, you can stem major problems before they happen. I will write about energy conservation here, but that is something finite. After you have switched to fluorescent bulbs, you will still be using a baseline of energy. A house that was built with no reference to local climate will force you to use heating and cooling. You can find ways to reduce your usage, but if the building was designed better, you would be using less energy already.

I was heartened today to see that many schools in the US are starting to look at ways of greening their buildings. Schools going green are especially important because they can teach many people, children and families, about the benefits of green building.

For residential construction, the New York Times suggested that the most important people to reach are developers, because architects may want to build green, and consumers may want to buy green, but developers are the ones making the decisions about what gets built.

What can you do? Green building is an issue that calls out for awareness raising. For example, did you know about LEED? If you are looking for a place to buy, ask everyone about LEED. The reality is that you probably will not be able to buy a green home or apartment, you will have to try energy saving measures (here are some ideas for renters). But as more people learn about green design, your chances will improve for the next move.

*That's right dear readers, I study in Sde Boker, Israel, in the news today here for an epic story of man wrestles leopard to save feline lives. And the AP is incorrect, this did not happen in Kibbutz Sde Boker, but in the Midrasha.

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