DIY Green Buildings

DIY Green Building: Strategies for your Building, Office and Home

TVHC has taken significant strides to become a healthy, high performing building and achieve LEED for New Construction Gold certification from the United States Green Building Council’s (USGBC) LEED rating system.

Because we spend so much time indoors, green building principals are important to making our spaces healthy and less impactful on our natural environment. Many green building principals only require simple behavioral changes that can be applied to make your office and your home higher performing buildings. Below are low-cost/no-cost strategies and questions to consider when greening your spaces.

Low-Cost/No-Cost Tips For Your Space

Building Occupant Buy-In

One of the most important factors in achieving a healthier, more sustainable building is gaining occupant/tenant support for green building practice implementation. Without it, single-handedly “going green” will become a much more daunting task!

In your office, consider teaming up with fellow employees and management as well as with those that own and operate the building: facility managers, janitors, vendors, etc. In your home, make sure that your family, roommates and yourself are all committed to green building practices.

Often times, education is the best way to get buy-in from your co-habitants. By helping people understand why green building is important to them, you can incite support and make a plan together. For example, efficient systems operation is important to facility managers; lowered utility bills are important to commercial and residential building owners, and improved air quality is important to everyone. 

By obtaining buy-in from your co-habitants, implementing green building practices becomes an easier, more enjoyable team effort. Many hands make light work and will also improve the likelihood of ongoing project success. 

Sustainable Sites

1. No-cost measure: Is your office or home located near public transportation or bike lanes? For existing buildings, can new lines of transportation or bike lands be developed to decrease your auto-reliance?
2. Are you using native landscaping to reduce your water consumption and maintain your building site’s natural habitat?
3. Are you using organic fertilizers and pest control solutions to lower toxic chemicals in and around your building?
4. Could you paint your roof white or install a green roof to improve insulation, lower summer energy bills and reduce heat island effect?

Water Efficiency

1. No-cost measure: Remember to turn off the water while you’re brushing your teeth and reduce usage while washing your hands, dishes or car. Even small reductions can make a big difference.
2. Are you metering your water systems to understand your current consumption?
3. Are you using native landscaping to reduce your water consumption and maintain your building site’s natural habitat?
4. Have your water fixtures been upgraded in the last 5 years? Oftentimes replacing outdated sink faucets, toilets and shower heads to low-flow fixtures will quickly pay itself back in recovered water utility costs. Be sure to have your fixtures analyzed to determine the cost/benefit of replacements, and consider replacing a few fixtures at a time if an overhaul is not within the budget.

Energy and Atmosphere

1. No-cost measure: Are you turning off the lights and appliances when you leave a room and lowering the HVAC when you leave the building? Using power strips are an easy way to turn on and off appliances to use them only when needed.
2. Are you using energy efficient/ENERGY STAR rated appliances and mechanical systems? Plug loads make up a considerable portion of energy costs, so check for an energy efficiency label on all computers, monitors, printers, washers/dryers, HVAC and other building equipment.
3. Have you replaced incandescent light bulbs with efficient fluorescent bulbs or LEDs? While newer light bulb technologies have a higher upfront cost, the cost is offset by lower energy usage and longer lifespan than traditional bulbs making them a wise green building investment.
4. Have you considered installing solar hot water heaters or solar electric panels on your building? Solar Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs) are a financially viable way to do so, or you can also offset your energy usage by purchasing Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) from off-site sources.
5. Has your building undergone an energy audit or building commissioning? By investing in a professional auditor or commissioning agent to review the functionality and performance of your building systems you will learn about additional low-cost/no-cost measures that can be implemented. A professional assessment can improve operations and lower utility costs as well as ensure that your systems are in-tact for the health and safety of your occupants. 

Materials and Resources

1. No-cost measure: Does your building or city offer recycling or composting? Oftentimes up to 75% of the materials we throw away can be recycled or composted, reducing our landfill reliance and our need to consume additional raw materials for unnecessary production. Call your city to learn about recycling and composting options and to receive a free bin.
2. When printing at home or in the office, be sure to use recycled paper and print on both sides! Look for the recycled label when buying paper products and remember that paper can also be recycled after use.
3. If you need to use disposable dishware, consider using recyclable plastic or paper instead of Styrofoam to reduce landfill usage.
4. If you are building new or remodeling, work with your construction team to ensure that as much construction debris as possible is recycled, rather than sent to the landfill.

Indoor Environmental Quality

1. No-cost measure: On temperate days, consider opening a window and turning off the air conditioning and lights. Using natural ventilation and daylighting not only lowers energy bills but can create healthier and happier indoor spaces.
2. Are your cleaning supplies, paints, carpets and wood products non-toxic / low- volatile organic compound (VOC) emitting? VOCs can contribute to smog and are a known carcinogen and respiratory irritant.  Many products that contain VOCs, such as paints and sealants, continue to emit gaseous chemicals long after the “new” smell is gone. Selecting low VOC and low emitting materials helps create healthier, more productive living and working environments.
3. Always be sure to only allow smoking outside of the building!

Now that you have a list of ideas for green building improvements, read more about the successes of TVHC’s green building implementations.