While it may initially seem like the only benefits of “green building” efforts go to the environment – at the cost of human comfort and expense – this is not the case. Proponents of eco-friendly architecture take a holistic approach to the concept of environmental health, including human well-being in their calculations. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency lists three goals of green building programs: to increase efficiency in the use of water, energy, etc.; to protect the health and increase the productivity of the building’s residents; and to reduce pollution and waste.
According to the EPA, in 2002, buildings accounted for 67.9% of the total electricity consumption in the United States. It has been said many times already, but decreasing energy use is not only good for the environment – it’s good for the wallet. When a building is more energy efficient, less HVAC (heating, ventilation, air conditioning) equipment is necessary. Since heating and cooling the air accounts for roughly half of a building’s energy expenditure, improving efficiency can significantly reduce operating costs. Other small measures, such as upgrading insulation and sealing any air leaks, can make a big difference in a monthly electricity bill.
The high costs commonly associated with going green are usually a result of installing new technology in a new building or retrofitting an older one. On-site renewable energy generators from sources such as photovoltaic solar panels or wind power can include prohibitive start-up costs and may not be feasible for every structure. However, efficient appliances with the Energy Star label often cost the same as traditional appliances, and installing ceiling fans to reduce the need for air conditioning is a simple step that makes a measurable difference. For new buildings, passive solar heating principles that take advantage of the orientation of the sun and the landscape go a long way toward improving energy efficiency.
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