The beneficial aspects of building ‘Green’

Commercial buildings account for a sizable portion of greenhouse emissions, both during the construction phase and the eventual use of the structure. As a result, the South African construction industry has turned over a green leaf with the new energy efficiency building regulations that came into effect in November 2011. These Regulations apply to all new energy-consuming structures in which people live or work, such as schools, hospitals and office buildings.

These new building regulations reflect the growing commitment of the building industry to address more energy efficient and sustainable design mechanisms as part and parcel of design philosophy. More buildings are also being certified as green buildings and it is estimated that the demand for green buildings will escalate substantially in the coming years as environmental, health and cost saving benefits of going green becomes more apparent and the demand for green buildings increase.

The new Regulations require that all contractors or persons who wish to erect a building must take note of relevant legislation that may affect the construction process. All buildings constructed within the borders of the Republic must accordingly comply with the National Building Regulations and Building Standards Act, No. 103 of 1977, together with all Regulations issued in terms thereof. The energy efficiency regulations as defined in the South African Bureau of Standards’ SANS 10400 XA statement is supplementary to the aforementioned legislation and deals exclusively with environmental sustainability and energy usage in buildings. It envisages a greener South Africa and ultimately aims to help in the reduction of our carbon footprint, by obliging constructers to meet certain “green” requirements during the construction process – so called “green building”.

A green building is energy efficient, resource efficient and environmentally responsible. It incorporates design, construction and operational practices such as, efficient energy consumption, sustainable use of water and building materials and the efficient management of waste, all of which are aimed at significantly diminishing or eliminating the negative impact of development on both the environment and its inhabitants.

Sustainable ‘green’ living is becoming a primary imperative for the sake of our planet and our health and pockets. Recent studies show that people in green buildings have fewer incidents of cold, flu and asthma as a result of environmentally preferable paint and furniture and the use of better ventilation which allows for more fresh air. It has been found that a green work environment shows a decrease in allergies and asthma, and a drop in absenteeism resulting from depression and stress, with a simple factor such as allowing more natural light in building design which reduces artificial lighting, contributing to these benefits.

But green building design does not necessarily only apply to new buildings and many existing buildings can also be retrofitted with green changes which can contribute to making the building more sustainable. While at first it might seem a daunting and expensive exercise, many green practices are actually quite simple, available and not at all expensive. In addition, being environmentally friendly may actually put more, not less, money in your pocket as it can result in savings to your electricity and water bills as well as a reduction in your operating and maintenance costs.

Starting the process of change need not be an overly complex or expensive endeavour and you can start with any one of the following:

Water: Low flow faucet aerators and water saving shower heads are inexpensive and easily installable. You can also install flow restrictors in your existing taps which will reduce the water you use when washing your hands or when doing the dishes.

Heating appliances: Solar power will also save energy and add value to your property. With increasing electricity costs in mind, the long-term savings are appealing. Additionally, solar geysers and heat pumps also provide alternative solutions for water heating.

Cooling appliances: Refrigerators, freezers and air-conditioners are the biggest power consumers in your household. Adjust you temperatures accordingly during the seasons, and try defrosting your food overnight. When purchasing these items, consider brands with a high energy efficiency ratings and energy saving functionalities.

Lighting: Change your traditional light bulbs to compact fluorescent lamps or LED bulbs. These use a lot less energy and last much longer than traditional light bulbs.

Paint: Next time you paint, opt for paint with low volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Such paint contains fewer chemicals than traditional paints and provides for better indoor air quality.

Eco-friendly building materials: Make use of natural lighting wherever possible. Installing wooden floors? Look for brands that are Forest Stewardship Council certified or recycled material products.  These items have a lower carbon footprint and place less stress on our natural resources.

Green building is the future and fast becoming building best practice and a requirement for many clients when formulating their design specification for a new building. Additionally, it is also a necessary prerogative for each business and homeowner to consider becoming more environmentally sustainable and starting the process of greening their properties. You may even find that in time this saves you money and increases productivity.

May 20, 2013
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