RESOURCES: Green Building Design

Starting from scratch with a green building is a very different process than retrofitting an existing building to make it more efficient.  As with any lifecycle approach, the design process is key in performance, and dictates what the operational necessities and costs will be throughout a building’s useful life. 

Although building construction costs appear to be very high at the outset of a project, these initial costs are actually nominal when compared to the total life-cycle costs of running a building.  In fact, according to CalRecycle, California’s Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery, an initial construction investment generally only accounts 5-10% of the expenses the building will occur, with the majority in its operating costs.

The elements of green design are broken down into several categories by CalRecycle.  These include:

  1. Location: Is the building site near public transit?  Can it be constructed without damaging its surrounding landscape?
  2. Energy Efficiency: Building shape and design can maximize the use of natural light.  Lighting, heating and cooling systems can be optimized via design in the building shell. 
  3. Materials:  Sustainable construction materials are an obvious component of green design.  The purchase of large amounts of recycled content for construction also helps to build a market for the products. 
  4. Water Efficiency: Dual plumbing to use recycled water for flushing, or rainwater for irrigation needs are some of the options for improving water efficiency in the design stage.  Low-flush, low-flow, and recirculating systems are a few of the many other options that exist.   

Although it can be difficult to get buy-in for additional costs incurred for green design components in the construction of a building, even relatively small investments yield dividends in operational savings and environmental impact.  

If you'd like to read up on related green building topics, here are 3 whitepapers: