How the Commercial Construction Industry Is Going Green
Once plagued by rampant pollution and dirty production methods associated with the early days of the Industrial Revolution, the United States and other advanced countries have increasingly sought to demand environmentally friendly commercial construction practices. Governments may have usually led the way, but commercial entities are fast catching up with an awareness that going green can lower energy costs and burnish public images. Even a seemingly staid business such as a Houston concrete contractor or a masonry manufacturer frequently will find advantages in adopting green practices.
A large industry has grown around the greening of commercial buildings. A growing number of company architects routinely integrate green technologies into the construction of new buildings, but many older, traditional and metal buildings have attracted attention from experts who can often suggest upgrades and improvements that promise relatively quick returns on investments. A few popular ideas for old and new buildings appear below.
- LED lighting. LED technology has progressed significantly over the past decade, and a recent tightening of federal energy efficiency standards for lighting applications has moved manufacturers to offer a range of prospective replacements for classic incandescent bulbs and other older technologies such as fluorescent bulbs. Formerly an expensive curiosity, LED lighting has forcefully entered the mainstream with a profusion of affordable products that promise to deliver eyesight-friendly light while yielding better energy efficiency than competing technologies. Heavy-duty metal buildings hosting industrial machines might especially benefit from intelligent placement of energy-sipping LED lighting that better illuminates work areas, leading to improved employee safety and productivity.
- Solar power. Intense interest in solar technologies over the past two decades has led to the development of a dizzying array of cost-effective options for filling at least part of a company's energy needs with solar power. Cutthroat competition has driven prices to historic lows, and a business considering an industrial painting contractor to increase heat reflection from the sun might very well add to its plans a retrofit with inexpensive solar panels meant to smooth out power fluctuations from the grid and to provide emergency power capability.
- Energy-efficient windows. A maturing marketplace for green window installations offers many options for glass panels that reflect a significant amount of unwanted heat outward during warm weather and retain heat in the winter, reducing heating and cooling costs. Some panel designs even add nearly invisible patterns meant to deter unwary birds from crashing into large windows, a serious problem that affects many commercial buildings and leads to millions of dead birds yearly in the United States alone.
- High-efficiency HVAC systems. Firms that upgrade older air-conditioning and heating systems may realize significant annual energy savings and lower maintenance costs. The EPA has estimated that selectively replacing critical components of an HVAC system could potentially shave 20 percent yearly from the energy bills for many buildings. Additionally, cleaner air from superior filtration technologies likely will result in fewer health problems for employees and lower health-care costs.
- Vegetative roofs. Layering exposed rooftop areas with fertile soil and hardy, low-maintenance vegetation can help warm a building in the wintertime, cool it in the summertime and freshen the air with the attractive odor of green, living plants. Bringing gentle life to a previously barren roof is a fairly easy and reasonably low-cost method of reducing heating and cooling expenses for many commercial buildings.
Over a third of US construction jobs in 2013 relied heavily on green methods and products, and a report from the US Green Building Council claims that green buildings will represent more than half of all new institutional and commercial construction by 2016. With millions of people already living and working in green homes, green commercial buildings and green institutions, many industry observers expect an age of nearly universal adoption of green technologies.