Green Building: An Integrated Approach

By Roger Broome, RA, LEED AP, Associate with JRAPC

Green concerns have swept through the building world as they have in so many other aspects of contemporary life.  Although many of the claims are hype and products of questionable value, disciplined approaches are being developed to create and evaluate buildings and homes that use sustainable practices to minimize the impact on health and the environment.  We are integrating these concerns into the way we work and we are exploring new ways to share this expertise with our clients.

This year we joined the U.S. Green Building Council and 3 of our staff have become LEED Accredited Professionals, enabling us to usher projects through the complex process of becoming certified through LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design).  This process evaluates the design and construction process with a point system to determine different levels of achievement of green building goals.  For projects of all sizes, including new home construction, there are templates and procedures which ensure that sustainable criteria are used to build green.  Since a lot of our work involves additions, renovations and restoration work, we plan on using this knowledge to enhance the sustainability of the homes and workplaces we design.  Here are some of the major concerns that we address during this process:

  • Materials Selection:  We help find materials which are non-toxic and have a minimal impact on health; are derived from rapidly renewable sources so the earth’s resources are not depleted and which will age slowly and gracefully so they do not need to be replaced soon.  These include large items such as windows, roofing, insulation and finish items such as paint, cabinetry and flooring.
  • Heating, Air Conditioning and Ventilation:  We make a space comfortable with a minimum of energy expenditure.  Other priorities include high air quality high and accurate control of temperature, humidity and outside air.
  • Water Conservation:  We specify bathroom and kitchen fixtures which minimize water use while providing adequate volume.  We can also integrate landscape features such as rain cisterns that can be integrated into the irrigation system for yards and gardens.
  • Recycling:  We work with the contractor to recycle as much of the debris from demolition and construction and minimize the material that goes into landfills.  We also work with the owner and contractor to determine which materials can be re-used in the project or given to organizations which distribute them to other projects.
  • Site Selection:  We assist in finding the right place to build, with an emphasis on how the sunlight, wind and views affect the house and impact quality of life.
  • Lighting and appliances:  We select fixtures and equipment which are efficient and but high-performing.  LED lighting fixtures and Energy Star appliances are examples of the preferred types of products we recommend.

The rewards of this approach can extend beyond the obvious health and environmental benefits.  Energy-saving strategies can result in substantially lower utility bills and tax credits.

We have completed two major projects this year which use some of these techniques:  An advertising agency’s offices in New York City and an office development in Montclair, New Jersey.  Both projects creatively adapt existing buildings into new, clean, modern and flexible office space. Both also include creative solutions to minimize energy consumption.  Budgetary concerns were at the forefront with both jobs and yet the results are well-built and stylish.

Here are a number of products and features which can be integrated into all kinds of projects:


#1 Green roof detail

GREEN ROOF CONSTRUCTION DETAIL--This diagram shows the layers of materials used in a planted roof installation. A high-quality liquid membrane and drainage mats keep the moisture out while the combination of insulation and soil keep the temperature in the house stable.


Green Roof New House

NEW HOUSE WITH PLANTED ROOF--Planted roofs are not limited to flat roofs; they can also be installed on sloping ones. The plants used are sedums which flower late in the season and make for an attractive and unusual feature for a house.

#3 Green roof old house

OLD HOUSE WITH PLANTED ROOF--Planted roofs are not a new phenomenon. This example from Norway was built in the 18th century and is still going strong.

Dual flush toilet

DUAL FLUSH TOILET--A simple addition of a toilet which has separate flush options costs no more than a regular toilet and can save thousands of gallons of water a year with the resulting reduction in water bills. Americans are finally awakening to this water-saving technology which has been available in parts of Europe and Asia for years.

Low flow shower head

LOW-FLOW SHOWER HEAD--New shower heads are required to use no more than 2.5 gallons per minute. Substituting one of these shower heads for a regular one saves substantial amounts of water and energy required to heat the water. Even if you don’t get the same volume of water, you will often get better water pressure since the water is being forced through smaller openings.

Reclaimed wood floors

RECLAIMED WOOD FLOOR--Re-using old wood for a new floor installation can be more expensive than new, however, it is usually of much higher quality and is available in some species, such as chestnut, which are no longer available.

solar panels on house

SOLAR PANELS--Whether they are installed on the roof or in a remote location, solar panels are the most common and time-tested way of generating energy to run a household. When the demand for electricity is low, the current flows back to the utility company and one’s account is credited. This helps reduce the payback period for the cost of the installation. Combined with rebates and tax incentives, this becomes a very reasonable proposition for saving energy and money.

Domestic windmill

WINDMILLS--Small windmills such as the one shown here can produce a large portion of the energy needed for a single-family house. Although they are uncommon now, they are starting to appear throughout the US. Their only requirement is sites which are clear and receive constant wind such as by the ocean or in the mountains.

geothermal diagram 2

GEOTHERMAL ENERGY DIAGRAM--This system uses loops of piping which are drilled to between 150-200 feet below ground to either heat or cool water. Since the earth at this depth stays at a constant temperature of between 50-54 degrees, the water is either warmed in winter or cooled in summer to regulate the temperature of the interior of the house. Like solar systems, a large portion of the cost of the installation is reduced by rebates and tax incentives.

Low VOC paint

LOW VOC PAINT--Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) contribute to ozone and smog formation and are linked to respiratory illnesses and memory impairment. Using low-VOC paint is an easy way to improve to quality of the air in a home and be responsible to the greater environment.

compact flourescent bulb

COMPACT FLOURESCENT LIGHT BULB--Well-known to all, compact fluorescent bulbs do save significant amounts of energy compared to regular incandescent ones. However, many people do not like the light they produce. The technology is improving though and it is likely that soon the differences in light quality will be imperceptible. If you don’t want them for general lighting, consider using them in closets, basements and utility spaces where the quality of light doesn’t matter so much. Also, always discard them in approved locations since the small amounts of mercury contained in them are toxic if released into the environment.

LED bulb

LED LIGHT BULB--The tiny “light emitting diode” (LED) is one of the most efficient and versatile lighting products available. They last a lifetime and use a fraction of the energy required for other types of illumination, including the thrifty compact fluorescent. The quality of the light is very good and can be adjusted to many different hues. It is great for display lighting since it is so small and for hard to reach places since it does not need to be replaced. The cost of LED lighting has dropped significantly since it was introduced, however, quality varies substantially and it is worthwhile to invest in a good product.

composite countertops

COMPOSITE COUNTERTOPS--As an alternative to stone, Corian or other popular materials for countertops, paper-derived composites can allow for a modern and clean appearance. Contrary to their name, they are completely waterproof and durable. They also can be shaped into unusual forms with simple woodworking materials.

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