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Last edited 03 Dec 2020
The concept of a green building was developed in the 1970s in response to the energy crisis and people's growing concerns about the environment. The need to save energy and mitigate environmental problems fostered a wave of green building innovation that has continued to this day.
Green buildings are not easily defined. Often known as 'sustainable buildings' or 'eco-homes', there is a range of opinion on what can be classed as a 'green'. However, it is generally agreed that green buildings are structures that are sited, designed, built, renovated and operated to energy efficient guidelines, and that they will have a positive environmental, economic and social impact over their life cycle.
These are obtained:
- From natural, renewable sources that have been managed and harvested in a sustainable way
- Or they are obtained locally to reduce the embedded energy costs of transportation.
- Or salvaged from reclaimed materials at nearby sites.
Materials are assessed using green specifications that look at their Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) in terms of their embodied energy, durability, recycled content, waste minimisation, and their ability to be reused or recycled.
Passive solar design will dramatically reduce the heating and cooling costs of a building, as will high levels of insulation and energy-efficient windows. Natural daylight design reduces a building's electricity needs, and improves people's health and productivity. Green buildings also incorporate energy-efficient lighting, low energy appliances, and renewable energy technologies such as wind turbines and solar panels.
Minimising water use is achieved by installing greywater and rainwater catchment systems that recycle water for irrigation or toilet flushing; water-efficient appliances, such as low flow showerheads, self-closing or spray taps; low-flush toilets, or waterless composting toilets. Installing point of use hot water systems and lagging pipes saves on water heating.
Using non-toxic materials and products will improve indoor air quality, and reduce the rate of asthma, allergy and sick building syndrome. These materials are emission-free, have low or no VOC content, and are moisture resistant to deter moulds, spores and other microbes. Indoor air quality is also addressed through ventilation systems and materials that control humidity and allow a building to breathe.
In addition to addressing the above areas, a green building should provide cost savings to the builder and occupants, and meet the broader needs of the community, by using local labour, providing affordable housing, and ensuring the building is sited appropriately for community needs.
 A holistic approach
Green building requires a holistic approach that considers each component of a building in relationship to the context of the whole building whilst considering the impact on the wider environment and community around it. This is a highly complex approach that requires builders, architects and designers to think creatively, using systems integration throughout their work.
There are several technology tools and assessment methodologies that can help builders with this process including BREEAM (Building and Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method) and EcoHomes.
 Green building in the future
Although still in its infancy, building green is a rapidly growing field. UK regulations now demand that green specifications are met in all new building design and development, as part of their wider sustainable development strategy, and this means that green buildings are emerging throughout the country. In an age threatened by climate change, energy shortages and ever-increasing health problems it makes sense to build homes that are durable, save energy, reduce waste and pollution, and promote health and wellbeing. A green building is more than a model for sustainable living; it can build hope for the future.
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