Importance of Sustainable Design & Construction in Buildings (LEED Ratings)

Tim O'Sullivan
September 23, 2010 — 1,422 views  

Intelligent and responsible living means we are open to new
ideas and are constantly trying to improve. This is especially
true as we rework our ways of doing things to become greener and
more environmentally responsible.

Most people are aware of the dangers that older buildings can
hold. There are the hazards of lead paint and asbestos.
Fortunately, today's building professionals are creating healthy
buildings using sustainable design and construction. The US
Green Building Council (USGBC) created a rating system, LEED, to
help identify green and sustainable building practices. This
system identifies the important components of healthy building
and strives to improve the conditions in the areas most vital
for sustainable living.

The benefits for incorporating LEED policies include:

  • Reducing operating costs
  • Improved occupants' health
  • Reducing impact on the environment

Reducing Operating Costs

According to USGBC research, in the US, buildings account for
72% of electricity use and 39% of energy use. Green buildings
that reduce those numbers will see a reduction in operating
costs. Some actions that can be taken are designing buildings to
take advantage of renewable resources such as sunlight.

Buildings can be designed to use the sun passively, as in
natural room lighting and heating, and can also be used for
solar water heating. The sun can be used actively in
electric-mechanical equipment such as pumps and fans to increase
heat in a building. Buildings can also use solar panels for
energy. Solar power has not been used to its full potential, and
using it can bring operating costs down.

Improved Occupants' Health

Most of have heard the term "sick buildings", but it is usually
the occupants that suffer more than the building. The rise in
asthma and other respiratory illnesses has been linked to
buildings that have hazardous materials such as asbestos and
mold. LEED buildings are built with low emitting materials that
are sustainable and healthier for occupants. They are also
monitored for environmental tobacco smoke control, outdoor air
delivery, and increased ventilation.

In addition to air quality, green buildings have better views
and more daylight, as these have been shown to increase
productivity and reduce stress. And buildings are also rated for
their acoustical performance and thermal control, making the
buildings more comfortable and enjoyable to be in.

Reducing Impact on the Environment

While in the past buildings may have been erected without much
though to their environmental impact, we now realize the
importance of protecting our environment by reducing our impact.
One important way this is done is by intelligently designing the
building in regards to water use. Storm water runoff is a
serious problem as it can keep water from returning to its
natural underground basin, and it can carry manmade pollutants.
Buildings and parking lots prevent water returning to the basins
so sustainable designs correct this problem, reserving water and
reducing pollution.

There are many steps needed to sustainably design and construct
buildings, and the LEED system not only points the way but helps
us learn all the benefits we can gain with greener buildings.

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Tim O'Sullivan