Feature 

Designing in green

Sustainable building practices may be the wave of the future, if builders get on board

The City of Seattle, like the Resort Municipality of Whistler, is planning to build a new public library. While plans for both buildings are still conceptual, the colour has already been chosen: they will be green.

Green buildings – a general term for buildings which are energy efficient, utilize sustainable materials and building practices and place less demand on municipal infrastructure – are something Whistler is just beginning to deal with.

When final approval of the Houghton brothers’ homes at Taluswood was granted earlier this year a covenant was registered against the homes requiring that they follow "green building" principles. The Kerfoot home at Alpha Lake will utilize a number of green building practices, including a geothermal heating system. The 29 houses that will be built on the B.C. Rail lands will also follow green building methods.

As far as public buildings are concerned, the new library-museum facility and the conference centre renovations will incorporate green building practices. The Four Seasons hotel at Blackcomb is also employing some green elements. As well, a First Nations big house being considered for Whistler and the fire hall planned for Spring Creek may both include green building practices.

Building green has in recent years become one of the most intensely studied aspects of architecture and the development industry. The spike in energy prices in the last year has accelerated interest in green building practices, particularly among cities and municipalities that have to construct and maintain public buildings. With some estimates suggesting that up to 85 per cent of the lifetime cost of a building occurs after construction is completed, interest in green building methods and techniques that can reduce those lifetime costs would seem to be a natural.

But building green can mean far more than just using energy more efficiently. Water consumption can be reduced through choice of plumbing fixtures. Using local building materials is more environmentally friendly than transporting materials from some far off location.

Buildings and many building materials also emit greenhouse gases. Reducing the emissions from buildings can help countries meet the Kyoto protocol for cutting the world’s greenhouse gas emissions by five per cent by 2010 – assuming countries still care about meeting the protocol. In fact, one study for the Federation of Canadian Municipalities showed that municipalities alone could meet up to 25 per cent of Canada’s Kyoto emissions reduction target. Green building practices would play a role in meeting that goal.

The City of Seattle is one of the North American leaders in building green, having adopted a Sustainable Building policy in February 2000. The policy calls for new city projects and renovations with more than 5,000 square feet of occupied space to achieve a Silver Rating using the US Green Building Council’s LEED Rating System. LEED is one of several rating systems designed to determine a building’s sustainability or shade of "green-ness."

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