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Are Green Buildings Worth It?

LEED Building on Flickr

The scale and speed with which new buildings have been erected in the past decade is astounding, and in the last couple of years, much more attention has been paid to the environmental impacts of the building lifecycle. Unfortunately, now it appears that even these acts are environmentally questionable…

Can Green Buildings Pass Payback Tests? – NYTimes.com

Now a group of builders has issued a report arguing that the green-building vision may be more of a myth. You can make a building more energy efficient, the group says, but it won’t come cheap, and it could take decades to pay off.

The report, released this week by the Commercial Real Estate Development Association, found that a 50 percent energy improvement beyond federal standards is technically impossible. A 30 percent target is achievable, but only by adding a million-dollar solar system that could take up to 100 years to pay for itself.

And the results of the tests were as follows…

The best-performing building flourished in wind-frozen Chicago, where energy use was shaved 23 percent, for a payback time of nine years. The other two buildings, however, couldn’t save more than 22 percent of their energy, and payback took more than 11 years — too long to interest developers, NAIOP said.

The numbers can be even more skewed than that, said Ken Sagan, a building codes analyst for the National Association of Home Builders. Sagan, who used to own a heating and air-conditioning company, said that when he considered adding a wind turbine to his zero-energy home, he realized that its cost — $175,000 — would take 25 years to pay off in utility savings.

These figures point to a larger problem in our society – our wishful thinking that technology will bail us out of our problems. Climate CHange, Peak Oil and the Economy can not be solved by building more stuff – “green” or not.

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Mike Thomas

Mike Thomas P.Eng. ENV SP, is the author of UrbanWorkbench.com and Director of Engineering at the City of Revelstoke in the Interior of British Columbia, Canada. If I post something here that you find helpful as you navigate the world of engineering, planning and building communities, that’s wonderful. But when push comes to shove: This is my personal blog. The views expressed on these pages are mine alone and not those of my employer.

5 thoughts on “Are Green Buildings Worth It?

  1. The very idea of building a new structure has to be at odds with the concepts and tenants of "green". Hardly surprising that the stats don't add up.

  2. I think it is very worth it!! It is surprising, but I think it could change a few things! Thanks for the good post!

  3. Who ever wrote this article didn’t check their sources very well. I can assure
    You that green buildings are the future and are probably the easiest way to reduce carbon emissions. It doesn’t require a lot of technology to make a building green, it just takes a smart design. The payoff may not come for a few years but it definitely isn’t decades , reasonably it doesn’t take more than 3-5 years depending on the size of the project. After that period the savings add up fast and as shaky as oil dependency will be in the next few decades, it’s a smart investment, I would know I’m an architect and I obviously have no affiliation with the homebuilder’s association.

  4. The NYT typically does pretty solid reporting, and they are quoting a building codes analyst for the National Association of Home Builders. Thanks for your comment though, it is definitely a matter of conjecture as to whether there are payoffs in carbon footprint, energy and dollar savings for these new and often fancy buildings.

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