Green Building

The idea of Green Building is essentially a set of practical measures to make buildings more energy efficient and environmentally friendly.The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) outlines the standards and methods that comprise Green Building. From creating vegetative roofs to reducing waste, these practices have been proven effective in reducing carbon emissions and even daily living costs.

Green Building in New York City: A History

The first comprehensive green building project in New York was in the Schermerhorn Building, which underwent seriosu renovations in 1992. The project was designed by Croxton Collaborative Architects, a firm that also renovated the Natural Resources Defense Council Building in 1998. The renovation of this building was New York’s first green construction project. The firm dealt with energy efficiency, light, air quality, and the health of the building occupants. The first green skyscraper in North America was Four TImes Square, which earned this distinction in 1999. All of these developments were steps toward increasing awareness of the green building movement in New York (and the nation) and generated a great deal of momentum.

In 1997, the New York City Department of Design and Construction formed the Office of Sustainable Design, which published High Performance Building Guidelines in 1999 in order to introduce sustainable design to the entire city. These guidelines were followed by the High Performance Infrastructure Guildlines.

Battery Park City has become one of the greenesrt neighborhoods in the world due to the efforts of the Battery Park City Authority. The BPCA enthusiastically supported the LEED Green Building Rating System early in its development and was responsible for the building of North America’s first green high-rise residential projets, the Solaire, pictured below. For more information on the LEED Green Building Rating System, see the Public Housing Incentives page. (1)

The New York City Transit Authority has also worked to adhere to green design guidelines in order to create a more sustainable transit system.

In 2002, the Urban Green Council (expanded on in the following secton) was created.

Former Governor George Pataki announced in 2005 that the replacement and memorial towers for World Trade Center site would be built with the intention of achieving LEED Gold certification. 7 World Trade Center has achieved this goal and is going to house one fo the world’s largest fuel-cell installations.

In 2005, NYC enacted Local Law 86, which requires most city-owned and funded buildings to meet LEED Silver certification. This law is projected to make more than $12 billion worth of city construction by 2017.

Components of Green Building

1. Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy

Heat islands (areas that are hotter than nearby rural areas) are the cause of much energy use in urban areas. For example, a city with 1 million residents can be as much as 5.4 degrees F hotter than the surrounding areas, resulting in heavier air conditioning use, heat-related illnesses, and greater greenhouse gas emissions. There are a number of practical methods that reduce heat levels and thus relieve designated heat islands from the medical, environmental, and financial burdens of the increased heat. Three of these methods involve physically adpating the roofs of buildings to conserve energy and create a cooler environment: green roofs, blue roofs, and white roofs. For information on blue roofs and white roofs, see the same-titled pages under Practical Ideas.

Green roofs refers to growing vegetation on rooftops. By creating rooftop gardens, building owners can not only create shade but also remove heat from the air through the process of evapotranspiration. By June 2008, approximately 8.5 million square feet of green roofs had been installed in the United States. (2)  The benefits are further illuminated and simplified in the following diagram, produced by the Heat Island Group at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory:

2. Water Efficiency

Water efficiency can be both cost-effective and environmentally-friendly through the implementation of simple measures. According to the EPA, the average household spends about $500 on water/year. It is possible to reduce this cost by about $170 through easy changes.  American public water supply and treatment facilities consume about 56 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh) per year, but water efficient appliances make the reduction of this number fairly simple. The EPA offers two examples of how the change can be effective:

  • “If one out of every 100 American homes retrofitted with water-efficient fixtures, we could save about 100 million kWh of electricity per year—avoiding 80,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions. That is equivalent to removing nearly 15,000 automobiles from the road for one year!”
  • “If 1 percent of American homes replaced their older, inefficient toilets with WaterSense labeled models, the country would save more than 38 million kWh of electricity—enough to supply more than 43,000 households electricity for one month.” (3)

In order to provide an incentive for people to install WaterSense products, the EPA has an online calculator that tells any given person how much money they can save through the installation of water efficient faucets and toilets. An example of the savings made possible through water efficient products is given below:

3. Environmentally Preferable Building Materials and Specifications

Suggested measures for waste reduction include reuse and recycling of construction and demolition materials, using spent foundry sand, using blast furnace and steel furnace slag, and encouraging the recycling of industrial materials in transportation and building construction projects. The Environmentally Preferable Purchasing program “uses the federal government’s enormous buying power to stimulate market demand for green products and services” (EPA). (4)
4. Waste Reduction

One important element to focus on in terms of waste reduction is a building’s Life Cycle Assessment. In order to build truly sustainable structures, designers and contractors have to think about the bigger picture, which includes how the buildings will be disposed of at the end of their life cycle. The EPA encourages people to think about the entire life cycle of buildings with its Lifecycle Building Challenge.

The EPA offers the following statistics concerning the Life Cycle of buildings:

  • More of the 100 million tons of building-related construction and demolition debris are sent to landfills in the United States each year.
  • Construction and demolition debris comprises about 40 percent of the solid waste stream.
  • Reusing building components reduces the energy and greenhouse gases emissions associated with producing and transporting building materials.
  • Between the years 2000 and 2030, an estimated 27 percent of existing buildings will be replaced, and 50 percent of the total building stock will be constructed.

They suggest the following characteristics of buildings as challenges for improving the sustainability of a building’s life cycle:

  • A recreational building that breaks into 3 parts for transportation by truck to a new site;
  • The green mobile home with detachable rooms allowing for additions or remodeling;
  • A plug-in home with a specialized connector joint, allowing components to be unplugged quickly and without damage;
  • Zip tape that allows drywall to be easily removed and reused.

The EPA also offers the following suggestions for construction and demolition:

  • Incorporate environmental specifications into your building contracts and guidelines.
  • Develop standard operating procedures for C&D reuse and recycling at your construction site.
  • Rehabilitate an existing structure in place of planned demolition.
  • Use deconstruction techniques rather than demolition if a building must be torn down.
  • Employ efficient framing to reduce the amount of lumber used without sacrificing structural integrity.
  • Invest in durable products to ensure that materials last as long as possible.
  • Return unused construction material to vendors.
  • Consider the end-of-life management, or recyclability, of building products at the start of a project.
  • Salvage C&D waste for sale and reuse.
  • Purchase recycled-content building materials including insulation, carpet, cement, paint, floor tiles, shower and restroom dividers, laminated paperboard, and structural fiberboard. (5)

5. Toxics Reduction

Green, or sustainable, chemistry is the “design of chemical products and processes that reduce or eliminate the use or generation of hazardous substances” (EPA). The EPA’s Green Chemistry Program works with chemical technologies that reduce or eliminate the use or generation of hazardous substances during the design, manufacture, and use of chemical products and processes. Reducing toxic chemicals is good for the environment and for the health of every one inhabiting a given space. (6)

6. Indoor Air Quality

Indoor Air Quality (or IAQ) is a huge concern in terms of creating sustainable and healthy buildings. Though important in all buildings, increasing the air quality in residential buildings and schools is particularly crucial.

HVAC (Heating, Ventilation, and Air-Conditioning) systems are highly important in terms of air quality control. They help maintain good air quality but also consume a lot of energy. Creating and maintaining an efficient and cost-effective HVAC system is an essential part of green building, and the EPA has gone to great lenths to provide information for building owners and schools on how to ensure that systems are as beneficent and sustainable as possible. (7)

7. Smart Growth and Sustainable Development

CARE (Community Action for a Renewed Environment), EPA’s Green Infrastructure, EPA’s GreenScapes, EPA’s Sustainability Program, and EPA’s Smart Growth Program are all examples of programs that support sustainable development and smart growth through information, advice, and guidelines. (8)

Green Codes Task Force

The Urban Green Council is the New York chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council. They work to promote sustainability within New York City, paying a good deal of attention to construction and development.

In February 2010, the Urban Green Council published a prosposal of different methods to create a healthier and more environmentally-friendly city for New Yorkers. The following are the proposals listed by the Council Task Force. Highlights related to green building include measures such as better monitoring of energy use, energy effieicieny training for people in charge of buildings, improving lighting and various appliances (such as dryers) in order to increase effieiciency, incorporating recycled materials into construction, and encouraging the use of staircases in order to limit use of high-energy internal transport. (9)

  1. Add environmental protection as fundamental principal of the construction codes
  2. Fully enforce NYC’s construction codes
  3. Don’t exempt existing buildings from green codes
  4. Reconvene the Green Codes Task Force
  5. Consolidate regulation of landscape practices
  6. Streamline approvals for green technologies and projects
  7. Enhance code training for architects and engineers
  8. Limit harmful emissions from carpets
  9. Limit harmful emissions from paints and glues
  10. Restrict cancer-causing formaldehyde in building materials
  11. Keep street contaminants out of buildings
  12. Filter soot from incoming air
  13. Ensure ventilation airflow in residences
  14. Reduce mold in bathrooms
  15. Improve air quality during and after construction
  16. Phase out dirty boiler fuels
  17. Phase out toxic and inefficient light fixture components
  18. Convene Task Force on recycling fluorescent light bulbs
  19. Reduce oversized batteries in emergency lighting
  20. Treat corrosive concrete wastewater
  21. Reduce “red tape” for asbestos removal
  22. Allow stairway use
  23. Encourage stairway use with transparent doors
  24. Promote stair use through signage
  25. Encourage stairway use by holding doors open
  26. Provide zoning bonus for inviting staircases
  27. Increase availability of drinking fountains
  28. Simplify commercial energy code to current ashrae 90.1
  29. Build new homes to Energy Star standard
  30. Limit heat loss through exterior walls
  31. Promote super-insulated exterior walls
  32. Allow external insulation beyond the zoning limits
  33. Increase allowable size of solar shades
  34. Minimize air leakage through building exteriors
  35. Provide window screens to encourage natural ventilation
  36. Ensure operable windows in residential buildings
  37. Reduce artificial lighting in sunlit spaces
  38. Reduce summer heat with cool roofs
  39. Reduce summer heat with cool, shady building lots
  40. Clarify standards for attaching rooftop solar panels
  41. Allow large solar rooftop installations
  42. Remove zoning impediments to alternative energy
  43. Remove landmarks impediments to alternative energy
  44. Allow use of biofuels
  45. Re-tune large buildings every seven years
  46. Measure electricity use in tenant spaces
  47. Train building operators in energy efficiency
  48. Automate tracking of building energy use
  49. Inspect and maintain commerical HVAC systems
  50. Establish maximum heating and minimum cooling temperatures
  51. Improve energy modeling for building design
  52. Improve analysis of heating and cooling needs during design
  53. Assess co-generation feasibility in large buildings
  54. Improve energy and water efficiency upon sale of residences
  55. Improve effiiency of boilers and heating distribution systems
  56. Increase efficiency of large cooling systems
  57. Increase lighting efficiency in apartment buildings
  58. Encourage installation of Energy Star appliances
  59. Improve operation of dryers in apartment buildings
  60. Reduce overheating in apartments
  61. Turn off equipment in empty hotel rooms
  62. Provide ventilation only as needed in large spaces
  63. Use manual on-auto off lighing
  64. Limit after-hours retail lighting
  65. Reduce artificial light in sunlit lobbies and hallways
  66. Increase lighting efficiency on construction sites
  67. Use outdoor air for cooling
  68. Use waste heat from ConEd
  69. Insulate pipes exposed during construction
  70. Clarify standards for equipment venting
  71. Modernize boiler regulations
  72. Reduce lighting power requirements for offices
  73. Reduce CO2 emissions due to concrete
  74. Reduce CO2 emissions from specialized concrete
  75. Ensure new energy systems function properly
  76. Ensure lighting systems function properly
  77. Reduce leakage from air ducts
  78. Expand boiler efficiency testing and tuning
  79. Create and use 2080 map based on climate change predictions
  80. Safeguard toxic materials stored in flood zones
  81. Study adaptive strategies to flooding
  82. Study adaptive strategies to non-flood climatic risks
  83. Forecast non-flood climatic hazards to 2080
  84. Analyze strategies to maintain habitability during power outages
  85. Ensure toilets and sinks can operate during blackouts
  86. Enhance building water supply during blackouts
  87. Include climate change in environmental impact statements
  88. Recycle construction waste
  89. Provide recycling areas in apartment buildings
  90. Use recycled aggregate in concrete
  91. Use recycled asphalt
  92. Protect forests by using sustainable wood
  93. Enhance water efficiency standards
  94. Upgrade inefficient toilets, showerheads, and faucets during renovations
  95. Catch leaks by measuring water use
  96. Facilitate use of recycled water
  97. Reduce use of drinking water to clean sidewalks
  98. Stop wasting drinking water for cooling
  99. Reuse water from coned system
  100. Reduce excessive paving of sites
  101. Reduce stormwater runoff from new developments
  102. Reduce stormwater runoff from construction sites
  103. Send rainwater to waterways
  104. Encourage innovative stormwater practices
  105. Maintain site-based stormwater detention systems
  106. Analyze strategies to reduce stormwater runoff from existing developments
  107. Increase biodiversity in public landscapes
  108. Increase biodiversity in sidewalk plantings
  109. Construct sustainable sidewalks
  110. Preserve “100-year old” trees
  111. Protect street trees from construction activities


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