Posted by: nedpelger | September 26, 2008

Building Green with Common Sense

Did you ever notice how a discussion about green buildings usually includes roof gardens? People seem to love that concept of growing plants on the roof. The reality, though, includes lots of extra costs for few actual environmental benefits. A few inches of soil on the roof adds almost no insulation value or lag time benefits, retains only modest sized rain storms and actually has to be watered in most cases.

On the other hand, a white roof with a rain water harvesting system can save 5% on the energy costs due to lower heat absorption, greatly reduce water use for landscape irrigation and retain a much larger rainfall. And the rainwater/white roof strategy costs much less than the roof gardens…but most buildings still go with the roof gardens.

The American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) produces a magazine about sustainable building practices called High Performing Buildings which you can view free online. The current copy has an excellent article entitled Green on a Budget that lists 50 sustainable strategies that cost the same or less than conventional, unsustainable designs.  The article is definitely worth a read.

I liked the concept that one should start with some basic goals: saving energy, saving water, improving the indoor environment, saving resources in the construction, etc. Then the various green strategies can then be evaluated from a reasoned cost/benefit analysis. This common sense approach often doesn’t get used when making design decisions.

If you’re currently building a project and get an idea from the article above, suggest it to the Owner or Architect. The worst they are likely to do is laugh at you and tell you to shut up and don’t worry your pretty little head about such things. In the best case, though, they will look at you with admiration and wonder and demand you be given a substantial bonus for your caring and creativity.

If you think any of the 50 ideas could work on your project, post a note in the comments section here. I’m curious how practical the suggestions seem to you.


  1. Would you consider linking both ways with our website?

  2. I was just at the Health Information Exchange in Harrisburg last week, and Blue Cross just built a Datacenter using that exact priciple, white roof.

    They went the Green Certification route.

    Next logical step would be using the roof heat to warm interior walls, at least in the winter.

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