Friday, February 15, 2008

Home, sweet green home

The buildings we spend most of our time in — our homes, work places...the handbag department at Macy’s — can bring us comfort, safety, peace. Our home, most importantly, also provides cover for all those embarrassing things we only do alone. (Like watching re-runs of really bad 80s sitcoms while wearing shredded pajama pants and eating crunchy peanut butter straight from the jar.) But even though a building may be a comfort zone for us, it could be a disaster zone for the environment.

Commonly known as part of our “built environment,” the way homes and workplaces are constructed — and what they’re constructed with — can have positive or negative impacts on the environment. And when our environment is impacted, whether it be by a building contributing to climate change or simply by encroaching on a highly used sidewalk, then so is our health.

According to the U.S. Green Building Council, buildings account for 70 percent of U.S. electricity use and almost 40 percent of energy consumption, use more than 12 percent of all drinkable water, eat up 40 percent of raw materials and account for 38 percent of all U.S. carbon dioxide emissions. Luckily, there is a way to remain harmonious with nature and not live in a treehouse: green building.

Green building means paying attention to how a structure can be energy efficient, using environmentally friendly building materials — as well as trying to recycle construction and demolition debris — and making sure the building doesn’t contribute to polluting nearby water sources. For example, transforming the rooftop at your workplace into a lush garden space means that instead of contributing to the untreated stormwater that can overwhelm local water reservoirs, the rainwater is absorbed into and filtered by your newly planted greenery. Heating and cooling your home efficiently by changing your air filter regularly and installing a programmable thermostat or replacing old systems with Energy Star-qualified equipment can also reduce your energy use. Of course, building green also means designing communities that aren’t completely dependent on cars to get around, which means more walking (and more much-needed physical activity) and less greenhouse gas emissions.

More good news is that green building not only makes you a proud homeowner, it can make you a richer homeowner too by saving you dollars on long-term operating costs.

Green house. Green wallet. Making your neighbors green with envy.

For more tips on making your home or workplace green, visit EPA’s Green Buildings or the U.S. Green Building Council.

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