Green Building Tips Will Make You Want To Go To Work…Almost

by Editor

There is a misconception that going green means spending a lot of cash on solar panels and drinking recycled water.  This ain’t necessarily the case though.  By starting small and considering discrete building components there are several simple, but effective, ways to make your workplace more eco-friendly.

You don't have to do all of this on your own

More often than not, when boards or associations broach the issue of their buildings “going green,” images of bamboo flooring, hemp drapes, or solar panels on the roof suddenly spring to mind. The impression seems to be that in a condo, green upgrades are difficult and costly—if not impossible—to do.

Fortunately, the truth is that there are plenty of things co-op and condo boards and owners can do to reduce their community’s environmental impact without vaporizing its bank account.

One Small Step for Green

According to the experts such as David Unger, CEO of New York-based U.S. Energy Group, green starts small. “When you really start looking at what it takes to go green, you recognize that it’s all about cutting energy use. If I can use less oil, I’m going green by virtue of the fact that I’m not dependent on oil.”

Architect Kirsten Thoft agrees. “The cost of heating and cooling and the amount of energy consumed doing those things, either oil or natural gas or electricity are huge, and easily reducible. The most important things that you can do to any building aren’t sexy, and you don’t even see them—which is part of the reason people overlook them.” Those things however, are easily done.

Fundamentally, the key is to improve the energy efficiency and durability of a community’s property. Tightening up the building envelope need not cost an arm and a leg, and can actually yield a higher rate of return than solar panels or recycled countertops.

The first and sometimes easiest step, according to Green Building Advisor (GBA), an online resource for information on designing, building, and remodeling energy-efficient, sustainable homes, is to: “Fix what exists. Starting with simple improvements that don’t take much time or money can pay off immediately.” The website recommends taking a good look at your association’s exteriors and being proactive about any needed repairs, “especially those related to weather-tightness and structural stability. Roof leaks, cracked and bulging foundation walls, and rotten framing are the kinds of problems that should be corrected before anything else happens.”

The Envelope, Please…

Another key to improving your community’s energy efficiency lies in what is known as the “building envelope.” According to GBA, the building envelope, or shell, is the part of a structure that you can draw a line around. The enclosure begins in the ground with the foundation and floor, extends upward as the above-ground walls, and is capped with a roof. Each part of the enclosure faces different challenges.

“Like three blind men and an elephant, each part of the envelope sees the world differently,” says Nancy Hazard, former director of the Massachusetts-based Northeast Sustainable Energy Association (NESEA). “The roof suffers searing sun, pounding rain, and hail. The walls endure sideways wind and rain. The foundation is surrounded by dark, wet ground. However, the connections between these parts represent the greatest opportunities for energy savings.”

Improving on the tricky balancing act played by the roof, walls and foundation is considered one of the most effective tools for cutting your energy bills. “People have heard that your building can be too tight and it’s not good,” says Hazard, “but unless you have a very new, super-insulated home, it probably is not tight at all.”

According to green remodeling expert Carl Seville, if you’re looking to pay less in utility costs, “It is imperative that you first reduce your home’s electric load to a minimum.” One way to do this is by taking on the ‘air barriers’ of your building—the places where different structural planes meet thus creating the opportunity for leaks and drafts. According to GBA, the trouble spots for air leaks are where the foundation meets the floor framing, the floor meets the walls and the walls meet the roof. And any leak, in turn, affects the energy that goes into cooling and heating your home.

Addressing these spots by tightening them up with caulk, expanding foam sealant and weather-stripping, or by adding more insulation, are relatively inexpensive methods but they will do wonders in making the building more energy efficient.

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