The Integrity of Green Buildings

April 23rd, 2013 - Posted by Michael Bowers LEED GA under Technical

Despite the current state of the global economy, green building continues to grow. According to McGraw-Hill Construction, the green building market is expected to more than double from 2010 to 2015, with nonresidential green building expected to triple. Although the intentions behind them are undoubtedly noble, there are flaws that need to be addressed in order to minimize the inherent risks involved.
With the rapid growth of green buildings over the past 30+ years, several issues have surfaced which have caused some serious problems throughout the industry. With the amount of innovation in the principles and ethics, the integrity of the buildings themselves have become compromised. Whether it is from the use of green materials that have not been adequately tested, or from intrinsic concerns with the ideology behind the green practices, there is a direct relationship between green building design and building failures.
As buildings place a stronger emphasis on green concepts and designs, there has been an increase in the amount of building problems. One big reason for this is the materials being used. Many of the green products have not been “tried and true” tested, which increases the level of uncertainty associated with them. Although significant research has been put into testing these materials, there are several unknown risk factors associated with the actual application of these materials that contribute to defects and failures. It is important to take conservative safety factors when considering using green materials for your building.
In addition to the concerns associated with the green buildings, there are also inherent concerns with some of the green building designs and concepts. Although these concepts are innovative and can be extremely valuable, there are some fundamental issues that cannot be ignored. For example, wind turbines are excellent sources of clean energy and can drastically decrease energy usage. However, the placement of these wind turbines can directly affect the stability of the building, as the structure must be engineered to account for the additional force added from the turbine spinning, as well as the weight of the turbine.
Another classic example of a great idea that, unfortunately, often leads to building problems is vegetative/green roofs. Green roofs contain growing plants on rooftops, which, in theory, replaces the vegetated footprint that the building destroyed upon construction. Although these designs have good intentions, they frequently result in water intrusion issues. The design for green roofs is extremely complex, as they must include drainage systems, stronger membranes, and have no room for error. In a typical roof design, water is drained and removed from the roof, and pooling is avoided. For vegetative roofs, they harness this water and use it to grow plants, resulting in significant increases in weight and water volume on top of the roof. Therefore, if there is a minor leak, it can quickly result in tremendous damage inside the building. Furthermore, due to the complexity of the design, the source of the leak is difficult to detect.
As green building designs continue to evolve, so too will the reliability of the materials and designs being used. However, any time you have a new technology, there will be an unknown potential risk. Green buildings present innovative and exciting ideas for a more sustainable future. However, before utilizing the concepts on your building, it is important to fully understand the risks each green concept poses, as it not only will be costly, but it may compromise the integrity of the entire building envelope in more ways than one.

Michael Bowers LEED GA – Graduate from the University of Florida with a Bachelor’s Degree in Mechanical Engineering. LEED Green Associate with 2 years in the HVAC industry. Certified by the Air Conditioning Contractors of America in Residential System Design. Has worked closely with design and implementation of several HVAC projects, including multi-story residential buildings, universities, hospitals, and hotels. Mr. Bowers is currently working under the senior principal Chuck Wunder P.E. in preparation of securing his own PE license in the state of Florida, conducting inspection testing and analysis investigations with other principals in the firm and is currently the acting director of engineering and administration for U S Building consultants.

This post was submitted by Michael Bowers LEED GA.

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