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Green Structures


Don’t Lose Your Energy: Envelope Yourself with Green Structures

Well the word is out, and green is it. Green has hit the mainstream and is seeping into board rooms, banks and libraries, both urban and rural communities facing budget cuts and shortfalls, and any smart company looking for more effective ways to lower both financial and operational costs. Those who best confront these issues, find solutions and respond by making green a major part of their core strategy, will emerge the front-runners in this new business landscape. Green is a best practice—it’s the smartest, most innovative, efficient and overall low cost way to do things. But what is green and just how deep does it go.

Along with the buzz of green is the new focus on energy. Looking at the covers of a variety of magazines from health to home, ‘energy’ rings forth in a plethora of terms-reduce your energy, cut your energy costs, increase your energy, save your energy, renewable energy, solar energy, energy efficiency, energy crisis, etc. What it comes down to is making sure there is enough energy for what is needed.

But what is the best practice for energy efficiency? Is it installing photovoltaics and saving the energy generated? Or switching out your windows to ones that block UV rays and adding a good weatherproofing seal around them? Utilizing sustainable materials and renewable resources? The answer is all of these.

The five pillars of a green home are:

  1. choosing a sustainable site and planning appropriately
  2. protecting water and use of water efficiently
  3. energy efficiency and renewable energy
  4. efficient and effective use of materials and resources
  5. indoor environmental air quality
Our homes and workplaces can be up to 5 times more polluted than the outside air, allowing that air to sift in which can create both short and long term health problems. Not to mention cold air-the drafts-that sneak in and compromise our comfort and our heating bills. At the same time our homes can let precious energy leak outside creating higher costs and wasting precious energy. I recently saw a thermal photo of the ground outside the basement of a home. It was brilliant, saturated red! The heat the people were trying to keep warm with was seeping out through the underground concrete walls of the basement. No wonder basements often have that chill to them. It’s estimated that in a typical home, as much as 25 percent of heating and cooling dollars escape through unseen nooks and crannies which are usually found in attics, basements, duct systems, and around floors, doors, and windows, to larger gaps along seams where the foundation meets, or likely doesn’t meet, the frame of the house. If you were to combine all the unseen breaches, it could be like leaving a window or door wide open year round.

So back to the idea of best practice, or rather, best practices. Conceptually, green building is still in the practice stage. The more we do, the more we learn, the more efficient and effective we get. Many people are now beginning to use the term, “high-performance building” as a way of emphasizing the ‘whole-systems approach’ or integrated design theory rather than having an isolated piece of green technology here or there. And the basis for this kind of high-performance comes down to the original structure-the engineering that is the foundation for the rest of it.

You can have great windows and doors, a state-of-the-art solar system, and radiant floor heating, but if you haven’t wrapped the house with a tight envelope it won’t matter, the energy will just seep away. Innovative green structural engineer Nabil Taha, Ph.D. PE and owner of PSE Consulting Engineers, Inc., likes to say “It is cheaper to save energy than to buy it.”

So what is a tight, or green envelope? Basically it’s about investing in strong structural walls such as light gauge steel and utilizing thick insulation like recycled cotton. Structural Insulated Panels (SIPs), Insulated Concrete Forms (ICF), Rammed Earth and Straw Bale can also offer very tight envelopes as well as aesthetic appeal. Unlike wood, steel is dimensionally stable, so it’s not affected by temperature, humidity or climatic changes. Tight envelopes are as healthy as they are efficient. With a green envelope it’s easier to control the interior environment, and keep the air quality higher with better circulation. It’s all about integrated design and a living, breathing, efficient environment. So the bottom line is that it’s always better to invest in a tight, green envelope utilizing strong walls, thick insulation, good air sealing, and excellent windows.

A green perspective leads us to new, fresh thinking and ideas, new markets and jobs, increased innovation and entrepreneurial spirit, new opportunities and a whole systems approach to building management efficiency and ultimately economy. But building with green practices in mind affords us a better way to actually control our costs, air quality, energy resources and efficiency all while leaving a smaller foot print on the earth. Green homes also tend to be more comfortable, and healthier than the conventional home.

Give yourself the advantage of saving energy and money through a well-engineered structure. You’ll be wrapping yourself with style—engineering, the couture of green style.

The above article is written by Paula Bandy