Green Building: Discover more about the importance of sustainable architecture and technology to shape the future of construction
Challenges such as Global warming, drastically increasing pollution, climate changes, depletion of energy resources, risen rates of carbon emissions etc. have made Sustainability to become a vital part of the present AEC industry. Parallel to the alarming climate concerns, the world is facing a constant population growth that has increased the demand for housing and expansion of infrastructures, consequently making public and private entities around the world paying much attention to the construction industry.
According to recent studies, buildings are responsible at a global level for a huge share of energy, electricity, water and materials consumption and account for 18% of global emissions today, or the equivalent of 9 billion tonnes of CO2 annually.
Reducing the environmental impact with Green Building
Preventive measures together with new technologies in construction should be rapidly adopted to reduce the overall impact of the built environment on human health and the natural environment avoiding that emissions will double by 2050. These measures can range from reducing greenhouse gas emissions, such as carbon dioxide (CO2), to increasing reliance on renewable energy and decreasing waste to reduce, reuse, and recycle materials.
Although there is no guaranteed formula for creating environmentally-friendly buildings, success comes in the form of basically finding the right balance between construction and the sustainable environment.
Green building practices aim to reduce the environmental impact of building by:
- Enhancing indoor environmental quality and protecting occupants’ health
- Efficiently using energy, water and other resources
- Reducing waste, pollution and environmental degradation
- Harvesting resources locally: wind, both thermal and photovoltaic solar power, and rain water (this last one also prevents the increasing of urban flooding risks)
In a nutshell, a Green Building, also known as a sustainable building, echo-friendly construction or green construction, is a structure that is designed, built, renovated, operated and re-used in an ecological and resource-efficient manner.
The World Green Building Council says a green building is one that, in its design, construction or operation, reduces or eliminates negative impacts, and can create positive impacts, on our climate and natural environment.
Green building refers to both a structure and the application of processes that are environmentally responsible and resource-efficient throughout a building’s life-cycle: from planning to design, construction, operation, maintenance, renovation, and demolition. This requires close cooperation of the contractor, the architects, the engineers, and the client at all project stages.
What is Green BIM
As a revolutionary technology and process, Building Information Modeling (BIM) is regarded by many as a significant opportunity in the AEC industry to facilitate the integration and management of information throughout the building life cycle, whereas traditional design is limited in terms of continuously analysing sustainability during the design process due to fragmented information and does not support the possibility of effective decisions pertaining to sustainable design at early stages.
BIM is helping the sustainability agenda, because through the digitalisation of product information the BIM process gives us great control over the elements installed in a building. Having all the data as early as the design stage gives the possibility to always check that the right products don’t cause harm to the environment and the actual users of the building or infrastructure.
Growing AEC firms are now more and more embarking on green BIM practices while facing increasing demand for green solutions and Green BIM has significant potential to offer added value!
An integrated BIM workflow, the cornerstone of architectural design software like Edificius, enables the architect to use digital information to design, simulate, visualise and manage projects, all before they are built, and — critically — to monitor their performance, improve their usefulness, and extend their usable life.
In a broader vision, Green Building Information Modeling (BIM) is the application of BIM to provide data for energy performance evaluation and sustainability assessment. Green BIM also includes the application of Building Energy Modeling and deals with energy optimization to improve the energy efficiency of a building along with sustainable design and construction practices during its lifecycle.
Imagine how advantageous would it be if we get the prior information about the expected energy consumption of a structure, decide on the lighting fixtures taking the sunlight/natural light into consideration, anticipate the hot spots of the building etc. so that an energy efficient building is constructed.
The consequence for the architects is that they are able to reach more informed decisions much earlier in the design process, helping to deliver projects that are green and lean.
Benefits of Green BIM
The green project’s principles are evolved around developing design and construction conforming towards natural resources usage efficiency. Summarizing, the benefits of adopting Green BIM practices are far-reaching and comprehensive, offering significant advantages when used in new facilities as well as existing structures. They include:
- faster and more effective processes as information is more easily shared
- early technical and cost evaluation of multiple green solutions
- better design due to improved collaboration with the supply chain and customer, facilitating green innovations, reducing errors and risk
- the provision of as-built information for handover, improving facility management and enabling the verification and improvement of the building’s environmental performance
- improved indoor conditions such as climate and lighting, driving improved occupant well-being and productivity
- performance monitoring using BIM leading to an improved understanding of building performance and thus future design improvements
- low maintenance and operation cost.
The Net Zero target
The latest research is clear: To avoid the worst climate impacts, global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions will not only need to drop by half by 2030, then reach net-zero around mid-century.
We will achieve net-zero emissions when any remaining human-caused GHG emissions are balanced out by removing GHGs from the atmosphere in a process known as carbon removal. Hydrogen, together with associated carbon capture and storage, has huge potential to reduce emissions on a path to a net zero future. It will play a critical role and has been identified as a key enabler by the Climate Change Committee.
The way we produce and use energy is therefore at the heart of this. The success of this initiative will rest on a decisive shift away from fossil fuels to using clean energy for heat and industrial
processes, as much as for electricity generation.
UK became the world’s first major economy to set a target of being net zero by 2050. A number of other countries have already set targets, or committed to do so, for reaching net zero emissions on timescales compatible with the Paris Agreement temperature goals. They include Germany, France, Spain, Norway, Denmark, Switzerland, Portugal, New Zealand, Chile, Costa Rica (2050), Sweden (2045), Iceland, Austria (2040) and Finland (2035). The tiny Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan and the most forested country on earth, Suriname, are already carbon-negative – they absorb more CO2 than they emit.
In addition, the European Union recently agreed to preserve its political commitment to be climate neutral by 2050 in its European Climate Law.
Green Building practices and top sustainable technologies
To achieve net-zero homes in the near future, construction professionals will have to work collaboratively to implement design and processes that complement each other to deliver the best possible outcomes.
Green Building incorporates unique construction features that ensure efficient use of resources. The concept of green building often emphasizes taking advantage of renewable resources, e.g., using sunlight through passive solar, active solar, and photovoltaic equipment, and using plants and trees through green roofs, rain gardens, and reduction of rainwater run-off (See our previous article dealing with Rain garden design). Many other techniques are used, such as using low-impact building materials or using packed gravel or permeable concrete instead of conventional concrete or asphalt to enhance replenishment of ground water. Let’s see more in details the features which make a building “green”.
Efficient use of energy, water and other resources
The most important element of green building is energy efficiency. Higher levels of energy efficiency reduce carbon emissions. Increasing energy efficiency involves using a reduced quantity of energy to generate the same or improved product, process or service.
Features like water-conserving irrigation systems, reduced lot size and low-water-use landscaping, and water-efficient indoor fixtures all contribute to overall water efficiency. Examples of water efficient technologies include the use of dual plumbing, greywater re-use, rainwater harvesting and water conservation fixtures. These methods ensure that water is adequately managed, recycled and used for non-portable purposes like washing cars and flushing toilets.
Green buildings are more energy-efficient, requiring less energy to operate and causing less of an impact on the environment. The LEED certification has different levels used to grade each commercial property with an impact on its value.
For new build projects, making a home smart and energy efficient is a relatively straightforward task, as the property can be designed and wired with the required technology in mind. With pre-existing properties, this can be trickier due to the limitations of the property – uneconomical layouts, wasteful heating systems and the construction material used can all play a part in reducing a house’s potential energy-saving ability.
That said, there are a number of retrofit smart technologies now on the market that make existing systems more intelligent and help users to monitor and manage their homes in an eco-friendlier manner: smart thermostats, sensors and home automation, water-saving devices, smart plugs, etc.
Use of renewable energy, such as solar energy
Solar energy is that produced by the Sun’s light – photovoltaic energy – and its warmth – solar thermal – for the generation of electricity or the production of heat. Inexhaustible and renewable, since it comes from the Sun, solar energy is harnessed using panels and mirrors.
There are two ways to harness solar energy. Passive systems are structures whose design, placement, or materials optimize the use of heat or light directly from the sun. Active systems have devices to convert the sun’s energy into a more usable form, such as hot water or electricity.
Self-powered buildings bring accomplish the realization of zero-energy construction. Buildings are built such that they are able to generate sufficient power to support their own energy needs and even direct surplus energy back into the power grid.
Pollution and waste reduction measures, and the enabling of re-use and recycling
Construction industry contributes a large portion of waste to landfill, which in turns results in environmental pollution and CO2 emission. Careful design and planning, combined with the use of prefabricated components, can help reduce construction waste that would otherwise need to be disposed of, often in landfills or by burning.
Managing how much pollution (air, water. noise) is created by a construction company and as an individual is incredibly important. As well as controlling the negative impacts on site workers, local residents and the environment, enforcing pollution prevention strategies can have a significant positive impact.
Recycling saves energy, helps keep materials out of landfills and incinerators, and provides raw materials for the production of new products. When waste cannot be prevented, recycling is the next best option. Recycling is more than extending the life of landfills. It is about making the best use of the resources we have available and conserving those resources for future generations. It is about conserving water, energy, land and raw materials.
Good indoor environmental quality
Indoor Environmental Quality (IEQ) encompasses the conditions inside a building: air quality, lighting, thermal conditions, pleasant acoustic conditions, ergonomics and their effects on occupants or residents. The use of non-toxic materials, combined with natural ventilation and effective air filtration, can help improve indoor air quality, control indoor moisture levels, and protect occupants from mould, chemicals, combustion by-products and other indoor pollutants.
Use of materials that are non-toxic, ethical and sustainable
Most traditional construction methods lead to the accumulation of waste products and toxic chemicals, the majority of which take hundreds of years to degrade. And even if they degrade, it contaminates and harms the environment.
Green building materials include non-toxic materials and furnishings, recycled-content or salvaged materials, and wood and other materials from renewable sources. Using green building materials can help ensure a healthy indoor environment while reducing the home’s overall environmental impact. Careful design and planning, combined with the use of prefabricated components, can help reduce construction waste that would otherwise need to be disposed of, often in landfills or by burning.
A well-insulated home reduces energy bills by keeping warm in the winter and cool in the summer, and this in turn cuts down carbon emissions linked to global climate change. Most of the eco-friendly insulation materials have a great heat storage capacity. They offer protection against overheating, which implies a higher thermal comfort.
The options can be overwhelming, particularly for owners who want to decrease their carbon footprint, increase their R-value, qualify for environmentally based certifications. There are many different types of eco-friendly insulation materials available, including: sheep’s wool, flax and hemp, cellulose fibre, rigid cork, denim insulation, wood fibre, expanded clay aggregate, etc. However, most people don’t know that insulators are simply wall filters which don’t need to be made from expensive and highly finished materials.
A cool roof absorbs less heat, reflects more sunlight, and can dramatically reduce energy consumption. Compared to traditional roofs, a reflective roof has a high albedo, or solar reflectance. A higher albedo means that a roof has a higher ability to reflect the sun’s rays. Reflecting the sun saves a building’s energy but it can also affect surrounding temperatures and offset carbon emissions. Cool roofs can be made of a highly reflective type of paint, a sheet covering, or highly reflective tiles or shingles.
Green roofs provide insulation and serve several purposes for a building, such as lowering the need for heating and cooling, absorbing rainwater and greenhouse gases, providing insulation, creating a habitat for wildlife and helping to lower urban air temperatures and mitigate the heat island effect.
The vegetation on a green roof cools the surface and reduces heat from the air through evapotranspiration. These two mechanisms reduce the temperature of the roof surface and the surrounding air. Typical Green roof planting include: lawn, shrubs, edible plants, generalist perennials and grasses, small deciduous trees and conifers.
Electrochromic Smart Glass
Electronic Smart Glass also constitutes one of the technologies in sustainable construction. The electronic smart glass is a new technology that works particularly in summer periods to shut out the harsh heat of solar radiation. The smart glass uses tiny electric signals to slightly charge the windows to change the amount of solar radiation it reflects.
It is incorporated into the buildings control system, therefore, allowing users to choose the amount of solar radiation to block. With this technology, homes and commercial buildings can save a lot on heating, ventilating, and air conditioning costs.
Considering all stages of a building’s life-cycle
It is vital seeking to lower environmental impacts and maximise social and economic value over a building’s whole life-cycle (from design, construction, operation and maintenance, through to renovation and eventual demolition).
Through better construction technology it is possible to lower carbon output at all stages of construction and after.