Long ago, we used our intellect to create shelters out of our
surroundings. We were connected to the land that we lived on, took only
what we needed and moved on to "greener pastures" when weather or a
lack of resources dictated. Back then, we taught our children skills of
self-sufficiency and survival.
Once we settled down and became skilled at building permanent structures, the timber for framing came from the trees on the lot, we built close to the road and we oriented to the south for natural day lighting and ventilation. We built houses that lasted a century or more, and every room was used every day.
Today, the average size of our homes—often built using virgin materials that are shipped thousands of miles—has more than doubled since 1950, while our family size has decreased by one-fourth. We use building materials that contain toxins and carcinogens (as identified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) that are emitted into the air inside our homes for years after their installation.
Enter green building. The concept grew from the geodesic and solar days of the 70s and 80s when engineers, builders and architects sought out environmentally friendly solutions to an energy shortage (sound familiar?). As they built south-facing structures to take advantage of natural day lighting and improve the performance of solar systems, they broadened their focus as they realized there were a lot of ways to improve the way we build.
Today, LEED (Leadership in Energy Efficient Design)—the
rating system established by the US Green Building Council—provides
education, guidance and accreditation. Clean energy technology is more
affordable and practical than ever before, builders are becoming
skilled in the green building arts and there are a host of great
looking and eco-friendly products to choose from.
But before we go out and gut our kitchen or tear down our house to build a green one, we must consider the steps we can take to get back to the basics of smaller, smarter and sounder. By understanding that reusing, re-purposing and recycling are all important considerations before buying new, we can be sure to lessen our impact on the planet, and not just replace old problems with new ones.
Given that according to the USGBC, buildings account for 38 percent of our country's CO2 emissions—more than the transportation or industry sectors—a turn-on-a-dime adoption of green building practices is essential.