Posts Tagged ‘Green Building’
This is an encore Green Builder’s Journal entry discussing the definition of sustainability. It’s from 2011 and it’s still valid today.
So I left off last time with the word “sustainable”.
If a house, or a neighborhood, a City, or even a Nation, had an unlimited supply of energy, then in theory the demand for energy wouldn’t really matter. Scarcity is eliminated in a world where energy is unlimited, therefore the house, or the City, or whatever, “sustains” itself. It has zero affect on natural resources because nothing is being depleted in order for, whichever entity were talking about, to function.
The idea of anything that REQUIRES energy to function being able to PROVIDE that same energy on its own, is the pure definition of “Sustainability”.
Today, for the most part, the energy required to run our homes comes from electricity and natural gas. Natural gas is obviously a natural resource, and although it doesn’t seem to be limited in supply, clearly it is. At some point in the future the planet will simply run out of natural gas or it will be cost prohibitive to keep looking for it.
Electricity, on the other hand, has to be generated. Although wind and water can generate electricity in almost unlimited supply, most of the electricity we use today comes from coal and oil based generation sources. Coal and oil are obvious natural resources and unless you’ve lived under a rock for the last 50 years, you’re painfully aware of the fact that neither is available in unlimited supply.
By the way I should expand the definition of the word unlimited to include the word “free”. In Economic terms, something is truly unlimited, if and only if, its supply is never ending AND its cost is essentially zero. That’s why I say the Sun is an unlimited supply of energy. Its never ending (except at night) and its free. No one owns it, has a license or lease on it, nor is it difficult to harness. Its just there.
So you can see where I’m heading here.
If the free and unlimited energy from the Sun can be used to generate the electricity we need to power our homes, than not only would we not need to use coal or oil, but we could eliminate the need for natural gas as well. It wouldn’t matter how much energy we demanded to operate our homes because the free and unlimited supply of energy from the Sun means there is zero cost and 100% sustainability for each and every home, neighborhood, City, or Nation that adopts this VERY green strategy.
But is that really true? Is energy the only real aspect of our modern lifestyles that requires natural resources?
I think we know the answer to both is NO.
Next time I’ll explain why.
This is an encore Green Builder’s Journal discussing the topic of natural resource depletion and sustainability. It is still valid today.
So last time we defined “green” as any effort or strategy undertaken to reduce the demand of natural resources. Any effort. Any strategy. Any natural resource. It’s that simple. You can put the label of “green” on any effort or strategy that achieves the goal of reducing demand on any natural resource. I repeated it on purpose to emphasize that when you hear the word “green”, you should ask yourself; how does this reduce the demand on a natural resource? If it doesn’t, it isn’t “green”.
Of course the interesting fact about this “green” movement is that even if the entire world took a “green” stance tomorrow all it would actually do is stall the issue of natural resource depletion. Think about it. Its math. Demand obviously grows with population. To illustrate, let’s use simple numbers, say that today one hundred people use one hundred trees, or one tree per person per year. If everyone adopts “green” behaviors and cuts the average use to a half tree per year, yet the population doubles to two hundred people…..well then one hundred trees still lose their lives every year. Even though we can say we’re all “green”, we’re still headed for natural resource depletion; in this case trees. We just delayed the process because I’m pretty sure we’ll keep adding to population.
Seems like a good time to introduce the term “sustainable”.
Actually before I do that, let’s talk about natural resources. I know we all remember from grade school geology, biology, chemistry and geography what a natural resource is (unless you slept through those classes), but what do we mean by natural resource in this context? Well, virtually all the “stuff” in our lives started as a natural resource. Yes there are some man-made chemicals that have enhanced our lives, but for the most part everything we see, smell, taste, hear and touch started as a natural resource. Trees, water, coal, oil, gold, copper, etc are examples of natural resources. As humans, we’ve used natural resources on their own, and in combinations, to create virtually everything in our lives. For thousands of years, the ratio of humans to natural resources was so low, no one really cared about using as many natural resources as they desired because it was incomprehensible that a planet as large as ours could actually run out of what appeared to be an endless supply of natural resources.
Of course it was probably as equally incomprehensible to those early humans that eventually there would be six billion of us. Guess what? There is. Not only that, but it only took 34 years to go from three billion to six….and best guess is about another 25 years to double again to 12 billion. That ratio of humans to natural resources I spoke of, has done a massive flip flop to the point where I don’t think any one of the six billion of us is dumb enough to think that pace can continue unabated. In other words we can’t “sustain” the level of natural resource depletion that this level of population increase will demand. Or can we?
Which takes me back to the word “sustainable” But I’ll save that for next time.
The first sub-category in the “Sustainable Sites” category of the LEED certification process is called “Site Stewardship”.
The intent of this sub-category is to minimize long term environmental damage to the site during the construction process. It’s actually kind of a “duh” aspect of the process because it’s so obvious to builders in California. The extensive Storm water laws in California mandate that we protect the site during the construction process. I built in Texas for many years and there were no laws whatsoever aimed at limiting environmental damage to the site during construction. In California you can face some serious fines if you ignore the law.
From the LEED perspective, Site Stewardship, has only two components to it; Erosion controls during construction and minimize disturbance to the site.
Erosion control during construction is kind of self explanatory but this is the one that can get you in big trouble in California. There has to be a plan in place so that NOTHING from the site erodes off the site. In other words if it rains for 3 days straight, or 30 days straight, not one grain of dirt from the site can end up in the storm drain system. Protections must be in place to safeguard anything on the site from ever leaving the site. Sounds pretty onerous, I agree, but in reality if every construction site had no protections in place, then the storm drain system would be overrun with sediment during any kind of rain event. The only way to fix that is every so often someone has to pay to go clean out tons and tons of sediment from the storm drain system, which is exactly what the State of California was doing for years and years. Billions of dollars were spent dredging all this dirt from storm drain channels until someone finally figured out that if we make laws forcing all construction sites to make sure nothing erodes from the site we wouldn’t have to clean out the storm drain channels so often. LEED awards points for doing just that, but in California you don’t have a choice.
The second component has more to do with design than construction but LEED awards points if those decisions “steward” the site towards minimizing disturbance of the site. If the site was NOT previously developed, and you leave 40% of the buildable area completely undisturbed, you can get points. If the site was NOT or WAS previously developed and you develop a tree or plant preservation plan for the site, you can get points. The best part of this component is if you design with a density of greater than 7 per acre you can receive all the points in this component without doing any of the other things. Being an infill builder, we rarely ever build anything at less than 7 units per acre so that part is easy to achieve.
To sum up this component, we’re an infill builder in California. Those two aspects alone make getting these LEED points almost impossible NOT to get. By law we have to implement erosion controls during construction, and we wouldn’t even consider an infill project that yields less than 7 units per acre.
Next time let’s talk about the “Landscaping” sub-category of “Sustainable Sites”
Sorry for the 6 week gap. City Ventures is growing at an amazing pace and our third quarter was very busy at the end. We now have 18 homeowners living in two of our LEED Gold projects in Santa Barbara and Signal Hill.
But back to our discussion about LEED and how they determine “Greenability”. That’s my new word.
So the last few blogs we talked about Water Efficiency, one of eight LEED categories that garner points towards Certification as a Green Project. Now we’re going to spend a little time on another category. LEED calls it “Sustainable Sites”. Although the focus of green building is on the built structures located on a site, the design of the site and its natural elements can have a significant environmental impact. The Locations & Linkages category, which we’ll discuss next, rewards projects for choosing a preferable site location. The Sustainable Sites category rewards projects for designing that “preferable” site to minimize adverse impacts.
Early decisions about how to incorporate the homes “into” the site can have significant long term effects. The way in which a home is, or is not, integrated into the site can have various effects and the more those effects are minimized, the more LEED points, and thus more green, the project becomes. Site design should take into consideration not only the aesthetic and functional preferences of the occupants but also long term management needs, preservation principles, and potential impacts on local and regional ecosystems.
The category has six sub-categories. First is “Site Stewardship”, which is a fancy way of saying we minimize the damage to the lot during construction. Second is “Landscaping” which is kind of obvious but a pretty broad topic we’ll discuss later. Plus you’ll remember landscaping was a big component of the Water Efficiency” category. Third is “Local Heat Island Effects” which gets into how much of the site radiates heat. It actually has a pretty big impact. Fourth is “Surface Water Management” which is kind of self evident. As is the fifth which is “Non-toxic pest control”. Finally there is “Compact Development” which I’ll explain later.
In fact I’ll start dealing with each of the six sub-categories next time as I didn’t realize I’d be this wordy in the introduction.
This blog will finish up the discussion of Water Efficiency as it relates to LEED certification. This, the third and final component, deals with Indoor Water Use.
Indoor water use efficiency differs from the previous two components in a way that up until now we haven’t had a chance or need, to talk about. Marketing. If you’ll remember the first component had to do with water REUSE. Other than infrastructure changes, for the most part this very green aspect occurs with little or no notice from the occupant. Even the second component, outdoor water use efficiency, can be implemented in a very green way without compromising anything in the how the property looks or functions. To be a successful green builder, you have to walk the fine line between being green and doing what’s best for the planet, and providing a product that the modern homebuyer has come to expect from a new home and how it lives. The reality of green building is that almost everyone SAYS they want to be green, but if they have to pay extra for it or it changes their way of life in a dramatic fashion, they’ll opt out of being green in a heartbeat.
Which gets us back to the Indoor Water Use efficiency component of LEED.
When it comes to indoor water use, its pretty simple. Wherever it comes out, try and make LESS of it come out, yet still accomplish its purpose. That’s the purest definition of efficiency…accomplishing the same with less. Showers, faucets, toilets, washers & dishwashers are pretty much the extent of our indoor water use, but can you think of five more important aspects of every day life in our modern society? Indoor water use efficiency is achieved by installing faucets and fixtures that lower the output of water to its designated use. Low flow fixtures and faucets definitely accomplish the goal of being efficient but this is where the tricky part of being a green builder in this aspect comes into play. People love their long luxurious showers, they want their dishes sparkling and their clothes soft and clean….and there can be nothing more annoying than having to flush a toilet twice to achieve its intended use. In other words purchasing low flow faucets and fixtures based on cost alone without researching which ones accomplish the goal of efficiency WITHOUT sacrificing function needs to be the absolute goal in this component. Being penny wise and pound foolish here can actually turn out to be very costly to a builder from a customer satisfaction standpoint. That’s why this aspect needs to be carefully planned out and implemented.
The very best low flow faucets and fixtures are NOT inexpensive. That makes this component of LEED a costly green aspect. As with all other products, I imagine the evolution will continue and low flow items will get better and cheaper. The Green Builder will continue to monitor the progress of this evolution but until function and cost become more realistic in how they can affect marketing and customer satisfaction, this expensive aspect of green building will have to be implemented with great caution.
Next time we’ll begin our discussion of another of LEED’s eight categories. We’ve discussed energy and water efficiency over the last several blogs.
Next we’ll tackle “Sustainable Sites”
So last time we talked a little about water efficiency. I talked about how water is an interesting natural resource because we definitely need to be efficient in its use, but not because of its scarcity. In fact water is basically an unlimited resource. We need to be efficient in its use because it’s a pain in the ass and costly to procure, treat and distribute. Especially if you live in an area where it doesn’t naturally exist…..like most of the southwestern portion of the United States. Of course that’s ironic because MOST of the growth in this country in the last 50 years has occurred in the southwest portion of the United States.
Remember I also said last time that growth can be severely limited by access to water. As a region tries to grow, if it can’t get water, it won’t grow for long. As the costs of getting MORE water to an area increase, it will eventually become a situation where those costs will exceed the ability of that region to grow. If the costs of getting MORE water are prohibitive, then the only way to grow is to use the water that you ARE getting more efficiently.
LEED awards points in their certification process for building new homes and neighborhoods that use water more efficiently. There are three areas points can be earned.
First is the reuse of water. And there’s three ways points can be earned there. First we can capture and reuse rainwater. Obviously it can’t be used for everything as it isn’t treated for drinking or bathing purposes, but it can certainly be harvested and used for landscaping. Of course it’s a little expensive and impractical to try and harvest rain in an area that has little or no rainfall so we haven’t looked at this option very seriously.
Second is the use of “gray water”. Gray water is untreated household wastewater that has not come into contact with toilet waste, kitchen sinks or dishwashers. It includes used water from bathtubs, showers, bath sinks, and clothes washers. Toilet waste and used water from kitchen sinks and dishwashers is called black water. It cannot be reused. Gray water absolutely can be reused for landscaping purposes. A sewer system must be devised that separates black and gray water and diverts them to different areas. This is where the cost comes in. In most communities ALL wastewater goes into the same sewer system and ends up in city treatment facilities. LEED will award points for a project that devises a system to separate and capture gray water so it can be reused.
Third is utilizing a Municipal Gray Water system. Some forward thinking cities have their own systems in place that separate gray and black water. Building a project that hooks into that system gets LEED points as it helps use water more efficiently.
The other two areas LEED awards points for has to do with outdoor and indoor use. I’ll address them next time
Last time we learned that the “energy” from natural resources required to run a home are not the only natural resources involved in the production and operation of a new home. We also learned that LEED certification is a way to measure how green a home is by documenting how each of those natural resources is more efficiently used when compared to a non-green home, or even another less green home.
So what are those other resources? Well LEED has 8 separate measurements in defining a green home. Of course we’re already familiar with the first and largest component which is “Energy”. The others are; Innovation and Design Process, Sustainable Sites, Locations and Linkages, Water Efficiency, Materials and Resources, Indoor Environmental Quality, and finally Awareness and Education.
Now at first glance you’re probably asking “how the heck does Innovation and Design Process make a home greener or use natural resources more efficiently?”. Well that’s why I’m here…. To be the answer man. Let me go back and remind you that way back in Blog #1, I defined “green” as any effort and any strategy taken to reduce the DEMAND of natural resources. Any effort. Any strategy. Any natural resource. Reduce demand of natural resources and you’re being green. Period.
I also said that being green is a great short term strategy for Mother Earth, but it still won’t solve the problem. More people means more demand no matter how green everyone is being and eventually we still run out. Mother Nature isn’t making any more natural resources, so supply is limited. We keep making people, so demand grows. Eventually those lines will cross on the graph of bad news.
Whoops… now I’m backtracking.
The point I was going to try and make was that when you’re talking about Green Homebuilding, its not always obvious how certain practices or strategies can be considered green. Especially as it relates to how LEED scores and certifies projects. And that’s actually why I started this blog. So when you hear some news story or some builder claiming to be doing something green you’ll have a reference point from which to challenge them and decide if its true …or if its hype.
But now my rambling has left me no more room for this excerpt.
Until next time
So last time we learned that, as humans, our everyday lifestyles and consumption require the use of natural resources. Natural resources are not available in unlimited supply. Therefore, over time, the use of them depletes that supply and eventually we simply run out. “Green” was defined as ANY activity, ANY strategy, that lessens the demand on natural resources. But being “green” is offset by population growth. Demand on natural resources STILL goes up because the amount of people goes up even if each person cuts their individual natural resource demand in half by being “green”.
So in reality, living “green” only delays the problem. It doesn’t solve it.
But what it does do is give all of humanity more time to determine what DOES solve the problem.
Talking about solving the problem begins and ends with the word “energy”. Everything we do, from blinking our eyes to changing a tire to the actual making of the tire itself, requires energy. Basically, if something changes, some sort of energy was involved in that change. Interestingly, if you follow all of life backwards far enough, and every change that has ever taken place on earth, you end up with the ultimate source of energy for life on our planet.
Over billions of years the energy emitted by the sun has been converted into everything we are. And by “we” I mean everything thats alive. From plants and bugs, to the cast of Jersey Shore and all other forms of bacteria. It all came from the Sun. As all life evolved, it eventually made it to humans. As humans evolved, our intelligence improved to the point where we actually figured out how to harness energy from natural resources other than the Sun. The idea of scarcity and that there were limits to the supply of natural resources wasn’t an issue. Now we know its a big issue. The perfect storm of the increasing energy requirements for our modern civilized lifestyle has combined with the increasing population of people wanting to live that modern lifestyle to make the “green movement” less a luxury and more of a necessity.
But as i said being green doesn’t solve the problem, it merely delays it.
To solve the problem we need to go back to utilizing our original source of energy, the Sun. Because, although I haven’t mentioned it and, in reality, it’s kind of obvious, the Sun is the ONLY source of energy on Earth that is unlimited. It won’t ever run out. Supplying enough energy to operate a modern civilzed society of an ever increasing amount of people WITHOUT depleting the supply of natural resources creates a “sustainable” environment. In other words if the supply of energy equals the demand of energy AND supply is unlimited, then theoretically demand could be unlimited, and the environment would “sustain” itself.
But I’ll have to expand on that next time
So what does “Green” mean? I find it interesting that it seems to be human nature to define something, and then broaden the definition so much that, over time, no one really knows the true definition. Or they end up with their own definition. Take the word “celebrity”. It used to be easy to define “celebrity”. One had to be talented and famous. Today you don’t have to be either. Pretty much any goofball with a gimmick or the right connections can be labeled a “celebrity”. Over time the definition has broadened so much it’s become essentially subjective.
“Green” suffers from the same problem. So to actually blog about “green” building, I feel I need to define the term as City Ventures sees it, so readers won’t apply their own definition after years of having the definition broadened so much that the term is meaningless. I saw an ad for a “green” diaper the other day and one for a “green” detergent. How can a diaper be “green”? For some reason it doesn’t seem plausible that a diaper can be “green”, a detergent can be “green”, and a house can be “green”, and it certainly doesn’t seem plausible that they all three mean the same thing when they label themselves as “green”.
So let’s define “green”.
As an Economics Major 100 years ago, I learned about the term scarcity. The whole basis behind Economic theory is that ALL resources on Earth are scarce and the study of Economics is how those resources get allocated amongst people. That’s called Economic behavior. Natural resources are no different than manufactured resources or service resources. They are scarce, meaning there is not an unlimited supply of them available. The demand for natural resources relative to the supply of them results in their price. As global demand for natural resources increases with population growth and supply decreases with resource depletion, the price goes up. It’s bad enough that the price goes up but the bigger issue is that eventually the supply runs out. In that case there is no price that creates equilibrium between supply and demand. The resource is gone….. and once it’s gone, it’s gone.
It doesn’t take much of an education to figure out that at the present rate of natural resource use, combined with the assumed rate of natural resource use as the worlds developed population dramatically increases over the next few decades, means demand of natural resources will eventually ELIMINATE the supply. Sounds a little extreme. But is it? Do we really think we can continue to use natural resources forever? It’s not logical.
“Green” is defined as any effort or any strategy undertaken to reduce the DEMAND of natural resources. Any effort. Any strategy. Any natural resource.
I need to expand on this subject further in the next blog as we’ll get into terms like sustainable and LEED certification. Plus I need to define “Green Building” . But that’s it for now.