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Green Buildings Introduction

Also visit U.S. DOE's Building Technologies Program.

The design, construction, and maintenance of buildings has a tremendous impact on our environment and our natural resources. There are more than 76 million residential buildings and nearly 5 million commercial buildings in the U.S. today. These buildings together use one-third of all the energy consumed in the U.S., and two-thirds of all electricity. By the year 2010, another 38 million buildings are expected to be constructed. The challenge will be to build them smart, so they use a minimum of nonrenewable energy, produce a minimum of pollution, and cost a minimum of energy dollars, while increasing the comfort, health, and safety of the people who live and work in them. 

Further, buildings are a major source of the pollution that causes urban air quality problems, and the pollutants that contribute to climate change. They account for 49 percent of sulfur dioxide emissions, 25 percent of nitrous oxide emissions, and 10 percent of particulate emissions, all of which damage urban air quality. Buildings produce 35 percent of the country's carbon dioxide emissions—the chief pollutant blamed for climate change. 

Traditional building practices often overlook the interrelationships between a building, its components, its surroundings, and its occupants. "Typical" buildings consume more of our resources than necessary, negatively impact the environment, and generate a large amount of waste. According to Laurence Doxsey, former Coordinator of the City of Austin Green Builder Program, "a standard wood-framed home consumes over one acre of forest and the waste created during construction averages from 3 to 7 tons."  Often, these buildings are costly to operate in terms of energy and water consumption.  And they can result in poor indoor air quality, which can lead to health problems.   

There are many opportunities to make buildings cleaner.  As just one example, if only 10 percent of homes in the U.S. used solar water-heating systems, we would avoid 8.4 million metric tons of carbon emissions each year.  

Green building practices offer an opportunity to create environmentally-sound and resource-efficient buildings by using an integrated approach to design. Green buildings promote resource conservation, including energy efficiency, renewable energy, and water conservation features; consider environmental impacts and waste minimization; create a healthy and comfortable environment; reduce operation and maintenance costs; and address issues such as historical preservation, access to public transportation and other community infrastructure systems. The entire life-cycle of the building and its components is considered, as well as the economic and environmental impact and performance.

More and more designers, builders, and building owners are becoming interested and involved in green building. National and local programs encouraging green building are growing and reporting successes, while hundreds of demonstration projects and private buildings across the country provide tangible examples of what green building can accomplish in terms of comfort, aesthetics, and energy and resource efficiency.


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