It seems these days that just about every building project has a "green" label on it. Everyone wants to reduce his or her carbon footprint and lower greenhouse gasses. LEED certification has become the gold standard for judging a building's environmental impact. Or perhaps, I should say, the platinum standard, as platinum is the highest level of certification a building can hope to achieve...
LEED isn't a perfect system by any means, but it has done a lot to make people more aware of the impact that buildings have on the environment and some of the things we can do to help make it better.
The rules and regulations of LEED certification can be tricky to sift through, and quite daunting. There are added expenses attributed to creating a "green" building, sophisticated energy modeling programs to run, and efficiency calculations to be computed. All of this can be a lot to digest, but with a few hints you can go a long way to achieve what's really important. Here are a couple tips to get you started on your next project:
• Buy locally produced or harvested materials: Italian marble is nice, but do a little searching and see if you can find alternatives that are made closer to home. Better yet, look into recycled products. Terrazzo, a material similar to cement (but with bright colors and a polished finish), is a wonderful product that can be quite beautiful, not to mention that the aggregates used can be anything from local stone, to recycled porcelain. They can literally smash up old toilets and sinks, and use the rubble for your new countertop. This is building recycling at it's best.
• Wood is a beautiful and versatile material, but not an unlimited one: The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certifies wood products that come from responsibly managed forests. By using FSC-certified products, you can be sure that you aren't contributing to deforestation. Even better than using FSC wood is to use wood alternatives made from rapidly renewable resources such as bamboo or wheatboard. Bamboo is great for flooring and even furniture. Wheatboard is a product that utilizes the straw from the production of wheat to form a type of medium density fiberboard (MDF). It can be used for the structure in furniture, trim work, or as the base material underneath laminates.
Introducing green practices and materials is easier than you might think: There are many green materials out there. Most of them are easily accessible and cost effective. You can make great strides toward sustainable building with just a few simple substitutions.
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Image: Scott Mandeville