Green Building Blocks
Learn about the specific skills green design and building professionals can bring to a project.
To make your green projects successful, you need to pull together a team of professionals offering highly specialized green services. Depending on the nature of your project, you may need partners with expertise in:
Managing a clean-energy project
Facilitation of visioning process
Lead or participate in the visioning process, an essential first step that brings the client together with the integrated team of the architect/designer, contractor, and other specialists to define project goals, brainstorm on approaches, create priorities, identify potential conflicting goals early on, and develop solutions.
Participation in charrettes
Lead or participate in charrettes, which are planning meetings at which interdisciplinary professionals discuss project goals, key decision points, and system-integration issues.
Use a methodical "whole building" approach to developing a green home, bringing together information about each individual system, material, or product; its role in the greater whole of the design; and its relationships with other building systems.
Team assembly / consulting / facilitation
Assemble the team needed to complete a green project; establish a shared vision of the project.
Facilitate implementation of the project and structure communications among subcontractors.
Identify and facilitate key decisions involving multiple professionals.
Project planning and design
Create or review a building design using a "whole building" approach; make sure the plan maximizes energy efficiency, minimizes the building's environmental impact, and improves indoor environmental quality.
Evaluate the cost, future flexibility, energy efficiency, overall environmental impact, and quality of life afforded by the proposed design.
Design the building envelope-i.e., everything that separates the interior of a building from the outdoor environment, including windows, walls, foundation, basement slab, ceiling, roof, and insulation—to meet clean and green goals.
Minimize non-renewable energy consumption while maintaining or enhancing environmental qualities by methods including advanced framing techniques, continuous insulation, integrated structural insulating systems, incorporation of an air-sealing
package, and use of Energy Star–rated windows.
HVAC system sizing and design
Design and size the right heating, ventilation, and air conditioning system for the house—a critical step, since HVAC systems account for up to 30% of a home"s energy usage.
Properly design the duct system to reduce duct leakage, which can account for 20%–40% of the total heating and cooling load in a home.
Work with specialized contractors who design and size systems, as well as sell, service, and install ducts, programmable thermostats, furnaces, boilers, central air conditioners, and heat pumps.
Recommend, develop, or implement designs to reduce allergens and contaminants, control radon gas, and provide fresh air; recommend or select environmentally friendly and healthy interior finishes.
Bring green strategies to the landscape, minimizing the energy usage and environmental footprint of a home. The landscaping should prevent erosion, reduce water usage, ensure good drainage, and minimize heat islands. Other strategies include implementing green screens on east and west building walls; shading building walls, roads, and parking areas with drought-tolerant trees; working with structural engineers and landscapers to build a green roof, which reduces air-conditioning requirements, cleans the air, serves as a wildlife habitat, and absorbs rain; and reducing yard trimmings.
Develop natural and artificial lighting designs to create inviting, visually appealing, and energy-efficient homes.
Guide clients through a wide range of lighting strategies and products to help maintain comfort and reduce energy usage.
Recommend or install energy-saving compact fluorescent bulbs and other energy-efficient lighting fixtures and controls, which can reduce energy use by 50%–70%, or the Energy Star Advanced Lighting Package, which can reduce energy bills while generating about 70% less heat than standard
Direct or support master planning efforts in building multiple homes or communities. Master planning for "smart growth" embraces a set of principles that includes mixed land uses, compact building design, a range of housing types, "walkable" neighborhoods, preservation of open space, utilization of existing development, transportation choices, and stakeholder participation.
Create or recommend home designs that maximize use of passive solar lighting through well-placed windows, skylights, and translucent wall panels. Even without skylights and bay windows, home designs can make light reflect deep into an interior space through strategic design and placement of windows—while minimizing solar gains in the summer that can create heavy air-conditioning demands.
Product specification/ assessment
Identify the required green qualities of building materials for the project; evaluate and specify products based on specific benefits such as energy efficiency, reduced maintenance or replacement costs, sustainability, and improved occupant health.
Recommend or install green floor coverings, tiles, countertops, light fixtures, cabinets, etc.
Site planning and design
Assess the location, orientation, and landscaping of a building and how it will affect local ecosystems, security, and energy use.
Consider issues such as storm-water management, passive solar design, landscaping for summer shade, south-facing glass, and thermal mass, all of which have an impact on a home's energy efficiency.
Space heating and cooling
Specify, recommend, and/or install energy-efficient heating and cooling systems. Increasingly, green homes are using an integrated approach in which space heating and cooling, water heating, ventilation, and heat recovery are integrated for increased efficiency.
Specify, recommend and/or install Energy Star–rated products that meet strict energy-efficiency guidelines set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Energy.
Indoor environmental quality / health
Indoor air quality
Ensure that indoor air quality is a key consideration during the building design and product-selection phases.
Address air-quality issues related to construction materials, sources of moisture and mildew, insulation, heating/cooling/ventilation systems, interior finishes, etc.
Specify, recommend, or provide advice on green options for low-toxicity products such as paint, sealants, and carpeting, as well as components made from renewable resources and/or recycled content.
Assess overall building performance, viewing the building as a complex assemblage of interwoven elements; examine mechanical and electrical systems to ensure they are working in harmony to meet green goals.
Examine designs or planned improvements to determine the probable consequences of alternatives in terms of costs, benefits, and risks.
Determine opportunities to maximize daylighting, which uses natural light to illuminate living spaces by bringing indirect sunlight deep into the building, reducing the need for electric lighting or heating.
Assess how much energy a house consumes, identify problems, and suggest energy efficiency improvements.
Determine the efficiency of the heating and cooling systems and suggest ways to conserve hot water and electricity.
Examine the source, movement, and accumulation of moisture in a building and suggest preventive and remedial measures to prevent mold growth, unhealthy buildings, and poor indoor air quality.
Survey occupants to determine how well a building meets homeowner needs and identify ways to improve building design, performance, and fitness.
Conduct a post-occupancy energy analysis of actual building performance.
Residential energy modeling
Develop a room-by-room heating- and cooling-load calculation that takes into account building dimensions, insulation levels, window ratings, and air leakage.
Use findings to predict energy savings resulting from design alternatives, and help homeowners explore various energy-efficiency and energy-generating options.
Examine total household water usage based on everyday activities such as showering and watering the lawn.
Identify areas where homeowners can improve water efficiency and save money.
Renewable energy generation
Combined heat and power (CHP)
Recommend, install, subcontract, or provide advice on the installation of CHP systems (also known as co-generation residential systems), which are home-based systems that produce heat and electricity simultaneously. The electricity can power any household device, and the heat can be used for water and/or space heating. Either standalone or connected to the grid, CHP systems are extremely efficient, offering combined heat- and power-generating efficiency of about 90% (compared with 30%–40% for electricity from a central power station).
Recommend, install, subcontract, or provide advice on the installation of energy-storage devices, which store energy during off-peak hours to be used during peak hours or to serve as a backup power source. This is especially important for use with alternative-energy sources such as wind or solar power. The most common energy-storage devices are deep-cycle lead-acid batteries. Newer technologies include flywheels, supercapacitors, and compressed-air energy storage (CAES).
Recommend, install, subcontract, or provide advice on the installation of emerging fuel-cell technology, which combines hydrogen and oxygen without combustion to create electricity, with water and heat as the only by-products. The result is highly efficient DC electrical power as well as heat that can be used for space and water heating.
Ground-source heat pumps
Recommend, install, subcontract, or provide advice on the installation of ground-source heat pumps (GSHPs), which are electrically powered systems that use the earth's relatively constant temperature to provide heating, cooling, and hot water. These systems (also known as geo-exchange systems) collect the earth's natural heat in winter and then use electrically driven compressors and heat exchangers to concentrate that energy and release it inside the home at a higher temperature. In summer, the process is reversed to cool the home.
Recommend, install, subcontract, or provide advice on the installation of hydroelectric power, using a watercourse on or near a property. A typical "small-hydro" system pipes water to an impulse wheel, which is connected to an alternator. The alternator charges a bank of batteries. The electricity then flows to an inverter, which changes the current from direct current (DC) to alternating current (AC), and sends it into the home.
Work with a licensed contractor or specialized consulting engineer to assess the potential of and install solar photovoltaic (PV) technology. Using solar energy to produce clean, renewable electricity, such systems may be standalone or connected to the electricity grid. A typical grid-connected photovoltaic system generates usable AC current after passing the energy through an inverter and can even provide power back to the grid.
Solar hot water
Recommend, install, subcontract, or provide advice on the installation of solar hot water heaters, which can be a non-polluting, cost-effective way to generate hot water. "Active" solar hot water systems use a circulating pump and some type of temperature control, while "passive" systems have no moving parts and rely on the fact that hot water rises and cold water falls.
Solar thermal heating
Recommend, install, subcontract, or provide advice on the installation of solar energy to heat a home. "Passive" solar thermal systems take advantage of warmth from the sun through design features, such as large south-facing windows, and materials in the floors or walls that absorb heat during the day and release that warmth at night. "Active" systems absorb solar radiation and use electric fans or pumps to distribute the solar heat, along with an energy-storage system to provide heat when the sun is not shining.
Recommend, install, subcontract, or provide advice on the installation of a residential wind turbine, which can provide pollution-free power to house and significantly lower an electricity bill by 50%–90%, depending on the location.
Energy-efficient swimming pool heating
Help home owners reduce swimming pool heating costs and energy usage by recommending or installing smaller, more efficient pumps, energy-efficient pool heaters, solar heating, or heat pumps that use electricity to capture heat and move it from one place to another rather than actually generating heat.
Educate clients on green practices such as using a pool cover and managing the water temperature.
Energy-efficient water heating
Improve energy efficiency of water heating by advising homeowners on whether to improve the insulation of the current heater or purchase a new one.
Recommend or install on-demand water heaters that provide hot water only when needed; heat-pump water heaters; solar water-heating systems; and tankless coil and indirect water heaters, which use a home's space heating system to heat water.
Guide clients through the process of selecting insulation and review options for improving a house's insulation.
Properly insulate the home to reduce heating and cooling costs. Use energy-efficient techniques such as installing 2x6 framing, which allows more insulation to be used; using structural insulated panels (SIPs); and insulating concrete forms.
Recommend alternatives to insulation made with formaldehyde or other volatile organic compounds (VOCs); source and recommend insulation made from recycled materials, such as cotton.
Sustainable building materials
Specify, recommend, and/or install sustainable building materials, which not only improve indoor environmental quality and health but also minimize a house's environmental footprint. For example, buying doors, floors, and other products that are made with locally produced lumber certified by the Forest Stewardship Council helps to preserve old-growth forests. Other options include materials that use recycled content and derive from plentiful and renewable sources. Sustainable building materials also enhance indoor air quality by avoiding toxic emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and help reduce energy and water consumption.
Ensure that houses conserve water by recommending and/or implementing water-efficient bath and kitchen fixtures, such as low-flush toilets and low-flow showerheads; efficient irrigation technologies, such as weather-based irrigation controllers; and (where legal) approaches such as recycled graywater.
Recommend native plants that are appropriate to the region based on typical rainfall. For example, in the Southwest, planting cactus, turf grasses, succulents, and other drought-tolerant species (an approach known as xeriscaping) can save a tremendous amount of water.
Windows and doors
Specify, recommend, and/or install energy-efficient windows, window glazing, skylights, "solar tubes," and doors, which can reduce unwanted energy gains, minimize air leakage, control moisture, and lower energy bills.
Specify, recommend, and/or install products rated by Energy Star to meet energy-efficiency standards.
Specify, recommend, and/or install doors made from reused or renewable materials.