By Jonny Lupsha, Wondrium Staff Writer
Buildings and construction make up 40% of energy-related carbon emissions. The majority come from building operations involving heating and cooling. “Sustainable building” aims to reduce the carbon footprint.
In less than four years, Vancouver-based Nexii Building Solutions grew to be worth a billion dollars. Nexii deals in sustainable construction, which focuses on using building materials and architectural designs that reduce the amount of carbon emissions that buildings make during construction and operation. The company has been contracted by the Marriot Hotel and Starbucks, among others, to build locations that produce at least 30% fewer carbon emissions than their counterparts.
Buildings use 50% of the energy and 75% of the electricity in the U.S. economy. In his video series Fundamentals of Sustainable Living, Professor Lonnie Gamble, co-founding faculty member and Co-Director of the Sustainable Living program at Maharishi University of Management, describes sustainable building options in the modern world.
Building Green Buildings: Natural Building
“There are two basic approaches to green building: Natural building and high-performance conventional building,” Professor Gamble said. “Natural building uses locally available, lightly processed materials. High-performance building uses conventionally available materials and building science to create buildings that require very little energy to heat and cool. The best buildings are 100% solar heated and cooled.”
These optimal buildings use 75-90% less energy than conventional buildings. Not all buildings meet this high bar, but it would be hard to scoff at an electricity bill that was as little as one-tenth what a customer pays ordinarily.
“Natural building uses lightly processed, locally sourced materials like straw bale, cob, rammed earth, adobe, wood, and stone,” Professor Gamble said. “Earth plasters can be used for walls and floors. Some combination of clay, fibers like straw, and sand are common ingredients in natural building. Often these structures are owner-built or involve a community building effort.”
According to Professor Gamble, about 50% of the world’s population live in earth houses. He cited the town of Roussilon in France as a shining example of the production of a wide range of pigments made from clay and earth deposits nearby, which are then made into charming earth houses.
Building Green Buildings: High-Performance Building
High-performance construction relies primarily on standard building materials that will mostly be familiar to building contractors and available at nearby home stores.
“Most building contractors can adapt to the novel ways these materials are used in high-performance building, but it’s best to find a builder that is educated about it and committed to it,” Professor Gamble said. “High-performance building combines intimate knowledge of the climate, the site, the materials, and building science to create buildings that require very little energy to heat and cool.”
What does this mean? Utilizing passive solar design means using conventional materials that can collect and store energy, as well as provide natural light and ventilation. It’s referred to as “passive solar,” because no pumps or fans are used to move the energy. Customers may spend more on insulation, but that money can be recouped by downsizing or eliminating a furnace.
Speaking of cost, the big question is, do green buildings cost more?
“Typically, there is a 10-20% premium for building a high-performance building,” Professor Vickery said. “Green buildings use better-quality, long-lived materials that sometimes cost more upfront, but that increased cost is paid back in terms of increased comfort, energy savings, water savings, and maintenance costs—just as with solar panels for solar energy.”