How Do Energy Efficient Buildings Help The Environment?

Energy efficient buildings are designed and constructed to use less energy, which provides significant environmental benefits. By reducing energy consumption, these buildings lower greenhouse gas emissions, pollution, and strain on power grids. Their optimized energy performance also allows for increased use of clean, renewable energy sources. Ultimately, energy efficient buildings are a key strategy for creating a more sustainable built environment.

Reduced Energy Usage

Energy efficient buildings use significantly less energy for heating, cooling, lighting, and other systems compared to conventional buildings. According to the US Department of Energy, residential buildings that meet modern building codes use 40-50% less energy than conventional buildings. Commercial buildings that incorporate green design principles can see energy savings of over 50%.

These energy savings come from a variety of design elements like high efficiency HVAC systems, increased insulation, energy efficient windows, LED lighting, and advanced building automation systems that optimize energy performance. Passive solar building design also reduces energy usage by using the sun’s light and warmth to heat and illuminate buildings.

Over the lifetime of the building, these reductions in energy usage from efficient design add up to substantial energy savings and reduced operating costs for owners and tenants. The US Green Building Council estimates that LEED certified green buildings save $50-70 billion in energy costs over the life of the building.

Lower Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Energy efficient buildings help reduce greenhouse gas emissions in several ways. By using less energy for heating, cooling, and electricity, energy efficient buildings reduce the amount of fossil fuels burned to produce energy. This directly decreases the amount of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane released into the atmosphere.

Studies show that energy efficient buildings can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by over 50% compared to conventional buildings. The EPA estimates that if all commercial buildings in the U.S. implemented energy efficiency measures, it would eliminate over 60 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions per year. That’s equivalent to taking over 12 million cars off the road.

Energy efficient building techniques like high efficiency HVAC systems, properly insulated windows, and LED lighting can make a major dent in a building’s carbon footprint. Implementing these technologies across cities and countries is an impactful way to meet greenhouse gas reduction goals and mitigate climate change.

Increased Use of Renewable Energy

Energy efficient buildings are designed and operated to optimize the use of renewable energy sources like solar and wind power. Features like solar panels, solar water heating systems, and small wind turbines can be incorporated into energy efficient buildings to generate electricity, heat water, and reduce a building’s dependence on fossil fuels.

For example, rooftop solar photovoltaic panels generate clean electricity that powers lights, appliances, and other electrical systems. Solar water heating systems use solar thermal collectors to heat water, reducing the amount of natural gas or electricity needed. Ground source heat pumps leverage shallow geothermal energy from the ground to provide space heating and cooling.

Energy efficient buildings also optimize passive solar design strategies, such as building orientation, window placement, insulation, thermal mass, and shading. This allows renewable solar energy to passively heat and light building interiors during colder months. Efficient buildings further reduce overall energy demand, enabling a higher portion of the reduced load to be met with renewables.

By integrating renewable energy sources and maximizing their contribution, energy efficient buildings significantly decrease their reliance on fossil fuels like oil, coal, and natural gas. This supports the transition to renewable energy at both the building and grid level.

Improved Air Quality

Energy efficient buildings improve indoor air quality in several ways. First, they have increased ventilation through controlled mechanical systems or passive ventilation techniques. This helps circulate fresh outdoor air and reduce indoor pollutants from off-gassing materials or occupant activities. Second, energy efficient buildings often utilize air filtration systems to remove allergens, dust, and other particles from the air. High efficiency filters and additional air cleaning technologies help ensure healthy indoor air.

Third, green buildings minimize emissions from materials through careful selection of low-VOC paints, adhesives, furniture, and other products. Using materials with zero or low VOCs reduces exposure to potential irritants and toxins. Finally, energy efficient buildings are designed to prevent moisture issues and mold growth which can negatively impact air quality. Strategies like strategic insulation placement, air sealing, and passive cooling maintain comfortable humidity levels indoors.

Decreased Water Usage

Water is a precious resource that must be conserved. Energy efficient buildings implement various technologies and design principles that significantly reduce water usage compared to conventional buildings.

water efficient showerhead

For example, low-flow plumbing fixtures such as faucets, showerheads and toilets can reduce water usage by 15-30%. High efficiency clothes washers and dishwashers can cut water consumption by 25-50%.

Incorporating native and drought-resistant plants in landscaping design can decrease outdoor water usage by up to 30%. Smart irrigation systems with sensors only water when needed, eliminating waste from overwatering.

Collectively implementing these water savings strategies can reduce a building’s total water usage by 40% or more. With buildings accounting for 13% of potable water consumption in the U.S., widespread adoption of energy efficient buildings could conserve trillions of gallons of water nationwide.

Enhanced Durability and Resiliency

Energy efficient buildings utilize durable materials and construction techniques that enhance the longevity and resiliency of the structure. Some examples include:

  • Insulated concrete forms (ICFs) for walls – These foam forms are filled with concrete and provide excellent insulation values and strength.
  • Structural insulated panels (SIPs) – These roof and wall panels are made of rigid foam insulation sandwiched between layers of structural board.
  • Fiber cement siding – Made from sand, cement and cellulose fibers, this siding is fireproof, waterproof and termite resistant.
  • Cool roofs – White or reflective roofing materials minimize heat gain and thermal stress on the building.
  • Impact-resistant windows – Laminated or tempered glass windows can withstand extreme weather and resist breakage.
  • Steel frame construction – Steel framing is non-combustible and sturdy enough for areas prone to high winds or seismic activity.

Many green buildings are intentionally designed to handle harsh weather, natural disasters, and the effects of climate change. The resilient construction enhances safety and prevents costly repairs or replacements.

Economic Benefits

Energy efficient buildings provide significant economic benefits through energy cost savings and increased property values. An analysis by the U.S. Department of Energy found that buildings meeting LEED energy standards use 25% less energy and have 19% lower maintenance costs on average. These savings can translate into an additional $0.50-$1.50 per square foot in rental rates and $30-$70 more per square foot in selling price.

One study of more than 2 million ENERGY STAR certified homes found they sold for 2.8% more compared to non-certified homes. The study estimated ENERGY STAR certification added $7,500 to the selling price on average. Tax incentives for energy efficient construction and retrofits can also enhance return on investment. Overall, the financial benefits of lower operating expenses, higher rents and property values make energy efficient buildings an appealing option for owners and investors.

Social Benefits

Energy efficient buildings can provide significant social benefits by improving health, comfort, and productivity. Studies have shown that optimal temperature, air quality, acoustics, and lighting in green buildings reduce illnesses like colds and flu. This leads to fewer sick days and lower healthcare costs. The natural sunlight, ventilation, and non-toxic materials found in sustainable spaces also enhance cognitive skills, focus, and emotional wellbeing. Employees working in energy efficient offices have higher satisfaction, morale, and ability to concentrate. Green schools see improved test scores, attendance records, and graduation rates. The overall productivity gains from high-performance buildings benefit companies, schools, communities, and society as a whole. Ultimately, green design isn’t just about saving energy, it’s about creating spaces that improve how we live, heal, work, and learn.

Conclusion

Energy efficient buildings help the environment in numerous ways. By reducing energy usage through efficient design and technology, they lower greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change. Many also increase the use of renewable energy from solar panels and wind turbines. Better insulation, lighting, ventilation, and other features improve air quality indoors and out. Water conservation measures like low-flow fixtures decrease water usage. Energy efficient buildings are often more durable and able to withstand weather events, benefiting communities. There are also economic benefits from lower utility bills and increased property values. Most importantly, energy efficient buildings provide healthier, more comfortable spaces for people to live and work.

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