Green Building

- by Mercy Shammah

Over the past decade the concept of green building has become all encompassing. New ideas are helping broaden what we can do to be a part of the green building movement. Old techniques are on a rise. New green building standards are being developed.  The City of Portland Planning and Sustainability defines green building as “a way of designing and constructing buildings to increase performance and enhance the health and experience for people who work, live and play in these structures.” Considering green building, I’d like to ask two questions: WHAT are they building with and HOW are they building?

“What are they building with?” 

One of the easiest ways to build green is reusing old materials. The Portland area has a great number of companies already doing the hard work of obtaining building materials and making it ready for us to use. Many businesses demolish a building and trash all of the materials while others are taking the buildings down by hand and reusing all of those components. ReBuilding Center among others provide deconstruction services with the aim to keep materials out of the landfill. 

The City of Portland has a full list of companies that salvage materials for reuse in the Metro area. Check their website for to find out where you can source materials for your next project: 

Instead of depleting valuable resources such as trees, constructing with salvaged goods is a more thoughtful way to build. One sustainable building material that is all around us is earth. Cob is made from water, soil and usually straw. Some of the oldest structures found in the Middle East are made of cob and this ancient tradition of building can be found in every continent. Modern cob buildings have seen an increase in popularity. The technique can be seen in many types of energy efficient homes. 

In Elora Hardy’s INKtalks, she speaks about bamboo’s serious potential to sustainable building. Bamboo shoots are ready for harvest in 3 years. A clump will provide 20 or more poles of timber annually. Compare that to genetically superior black walnut timber which takes 25 to 30 years to be ready for harvesting.  

Commonly thought as a luxury, utilizing high end and durable materials that will last is another way to build green. It is important to consider using materials that will not need to be replaced every couple of years which reduces the number of materials used in the life span of a structure. 

“How are they building?”

In addition to what materials we use, how how does the construction process effect green building? One area to think about is energy efficiency with the goal to reduce the amount of energy required for a structure to function comfortably. In our modern day homes, the big energy vampires are heating and cooling which can be reduced with good insulation.

Passivhaus or Passive House is a voluntary design process standard for energy efficient building. The standards include very low energy consumption and pretty air tight insulated buildings. Designers of passive houses want to eliminate the need for heating and cooling, creating a low carbon building. Worried about getting chilly in your passive house? Well, just add body heat. Passivehaus is just one of the many energy efficient certification processes that buildings can receive. Check out this link to learn about other programs:

You may live in a home that was not built by Passivhaus standards. That’s ok. You can still weatherize your home. Weatherization helps reduce the amount of energy homes use. Unlike remodeling, it convertis older, inefficient buildings into to progressive, energy efficient spaces. Weatherization workers complete a number of safety checks and monitor areas that are hidden to the untrained eye to help increase the homes efficiency, safety and air quality. Insulation, air leak fixes and making sure your large energy consuming appliances are running efficiently are huge considerations when weatherizing your home. If getting your home toastier during the winter isn’t enough to get you moving, Energy Trust of Oregon is giving a $100 cash back incentive for your weatherization upgrades. Find more information here:

Advance framing is a building technique that uses minimal lumber. While advance framing isn’t the answer to all of our prayers, it does use less wood and saves energy.

Another way to become more green is to think about where you source your energy from. Wind and solar power have become more popular and more affordable in recent years. These trends are global and show no sign of slowing down. 

Next time you are building and renovating, think green and find a method that works for you.

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