Just What is Green Building?
Kermit the Frog's lamenting lyric stated, "It ain't easy being." Well, Kermit, try defining green, as in green building. It ain't easy, but here goes.
by Gary Legwold

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Kermit the Frog's lamenting lyric stated, "It ain't easy being." Well, Kermit, try defining green, as in green building. It ain't easy, but here goes.

Green building is more than green buying. You may have a house with green products and materials at every turn -- but, in the big picture, the house gets low marks because it is too big for your needs, and construction damaged an ecologically sensitive area. Conversely, a modest, energy-efficient home containing few green products may get high green grades because it's also close to public transportation.

When it comes to buying green building products, keep in mind the environmental and health issues involved in all aspects of resource extraction, manufacture, use and disposal. A green product is one whose life-cycle impacts are low, to the point that at the end of its useful life it can be recycled into the raw material for something else, according to Green Building Products editors Alex Wilson and Mark Piepkorn. The authors represent BuildingGreen, Inc., which has researched and published information on green building products since 1992. The data is in GreenSpec, a listing of nearly 2,000 green building products.

The GreenSpec green criteria include products that:

Are made with salvaged, recycled or agricultural waste content.

Salvaged bricks, framing lumber, plumbing fixtures, etc., save resources and energy. Avoid salvaged wood with lead paint, or strip the paint. Also, old toilets, faucets and windows are not recommended because of the water- and energy savings of the most up-to-date products.

Products with recycled content reduce loads on landfills, and products made from agricultural wasted material are green and make use of stem material (straw) left after harvesting cereal grains.

Conserve natural resources
Examples include products that reduce material use (e.g., drywall clips that replace corner studs in wood house framing); products that are super durable and low-maintenance (fiberglass windows, slate shingles); certified wood products (products that meet the standards of the Forest Stewardship Council); and rapidly renewable products (materials, such as bamboo and cork, that are distinguished from wood by having a shorter harvest rotation, usually 10 years or less).

Avoid toxic emissions
Included are:
o products that are naturally or minimally processed

o products that reduce waste, such as vegetative roofs and porous paving products that reduce storm water runoff and thus reduce surface-water pollution and sewage-treatment plant loads

o alternatives to conventional preservative-treated wood, ozone-depleted substances and products made from PVC (hazardous chlorinated hydrocarbons, such as dioxins, can be generated during incineration)

Reduce environmental impacts during construction, demolition or renovation
Examples include erosion-control products, exterior stains that result in lower VOC emissions and low-mercury fluorescent lamps.

Save energy or water
These include building components that reduce heating and cooling loads, such as structural insulated panels and high performance windows. Solar water heaters, photovoltaic systems and wind turbines enable us to use renewable energy instead of fossil fuels and conventionally generated electricity. Toilets that use at least 10 percent less than the federally mandated 1.6 gallons per flush as well as showerheads and faucets with special controls that help conserve water are also in this category, as are such water-saving products as rainwater-catchment systems.

Contribute to a safe, healthy indoor environment
Zero- and low-VOC paints, caulks and adhesives belong here, as do products with very low emissions, such as manufactured wood products made without formaldehyde binders. "Track-off" systems for entryways help remove pollutants from shoes of people entering the house. True linoleum controls microbial contamination with linoleic acid oxidation. Ventilation products, filters, radon-mitigation equipment, carbon monoxide detectors, lead paint test kits and products that improve light quality, such as tubular skylights, qualify for this category.

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