It is time to get serious about reducing the amount of energy that we use. Almost 40 percent of our nation’s total energy consumption and more than 60 percent of our consumption of electricity is used to heat, cool, and maintain our homes and other buildings. At a time when we are trying to reduce our use of fossil fuels such as coal, oil, and natural gas, that is a lot of energy. There is a solution to this energy problem, however, and that is to construct “green” buildings. These buildings consume less energy through the efficient use of energy, water, and other resources.
Green buildings are made of energy-efficient building materials, such as special roofing materials that reflect sunlight rather than absorb it. By reflecting the sunlight away from a building, such materials reduce the need for air-conditioning during warm weather. Similarly, more efficient kinds of insulating materials keep heat from escaping a green building during cold weather, making its heating system more efficient. Green buildings are also designed to reduce energy needs and be self-sustaining by generating their own sources of power with devices such as solar panels.
A building that illustrates the principles of green design is the Barn at Fallingwater, in western Pennsylvania. It was originally built in the nineteenth century. The Western Pennsylvania Conservatory (WPC) renovated the barn to serve as an example of a self-sustaining, green building that people can visit to learn more about green architecture. Among the building’s many innovations is a geothermal heat pump that is used to heat and cool the building. The pump uses the ground’s natural warmth to heat the barn during the winter. In summer, the pump cools the barn by returning heat to the ground.
Green buildings save money as well as energy. For example, the design of the Lockheed Martin Corporation, building in Sunnyvale, California, lets more natural light into the building, thus reducing the need for artificial lights. In 1983, Lockheed did a study of the design, and it concluded that the company saved 75 percent on its electric bill. It is true that it cost $2 million more to construct this green building than it would to construct a traditional building. However, the study shows that Lockheed saves $500,000 a year on energy.
Another reason to support green buildings is that fossil fuels, our traditional energy sources, are running out and will become more and more expensive as the supply diminishes. Some people argue that the only answer is to increase the production of fossil fuels, but that would be only a temporary solution. In addition, the processes of finding, producing, and using these fuels will lead to higher and higher costs and more toxic pollution of the environment.
Other people advocate using alternative sources, but these people don’t know what they are talking about. Nuclear power plants are dangerous, and plant-based fuels and solar and wind power are not practical yet. Our best choice is to conserve energy while we develop alternative sources.
Energy conservation through green buildings can help us continue to live well even as our traditional fuel supplies dwindle and we wait for new energy sources to be perfected. It will also save us money. Clearly, either we go green or we go broke.