While the remodeling of existing older buildings to make them more energy efficient is certainly a necessity, it doesn’t come without its hazards. Remember, older homes and commercial buildings probably contain all sorts of toxins, most notably asbestos. The miracle of the 20th century building industry, touted for its amazing heat- and fire-resistant properties, this hazardous mineral can be found in attics, wrapped around pipes and furnaces, and even in walls, floors, and ceilings, especially in buildings constructed prior to 1980. Rare forms of cancer may result from exposure, including peritoneal mesothelioma so a safe transition is vital.
Once the asbestos is addressed and then removed by a licensed professional and disposed of properly, green insulation options should be given serious consideration. The Department of Energy says heating and cooling accounts for 50-70 percent of the energy used in the average American home so finding sound and healthy insulation options are a necessity. Today, these options can save natural resources as well. Eco-friendly insulations are often made of recycled materials and include cellulose (old shredded newspapers treated for fire resistance), cotton fiber (usually made of recycled batted denim), and spray polyurethane foam.
Statistics show that the foam, for example, can cut energy costs by about 35 percent annually, according to studies done by manufacturers. The other projects claim similar figures. And because these are recycled materials, less waste is going to the nation’s already crowded landfills.
Savings of Green Construction
Thankfully the idea of “building green” is gradually becoming much more than a trend. Builders and investors are recognizing that eco-friendly construction provides not only long-term positive environmental benefits but also immediate financial payoffs as well.
Cities throughout the U.S. and the world are also slowly recognizing the necessity of green construction practices in the remodeling and renovating of older residential and commercial facilities, taking advantage of loans offered to them by various foundations, designated for the purpose of upgrading lighting and heating and cooling systems in aging buildings, where the most energy is consumed.
Such initiatives also prompt the need for healthier and more cost-efficient options in the world of building materials. Indeed, the United Nations Environmental Program says that the use of recycled building materials, like cotton fiber insulation, in addition to the installation of energy saving appliances and the maximization of natural lighting in a building, can reduce energy use energy use by 25 to 35 percent. In some best-case scenarios, they say, results have been as high as 80 percent.
The United States Green Building Council (USGBC), in a study conducted in 2003, estimated a savings of $50-$65 per square foot for well-constructed green buildings in the U.S. (see table below) during that year. The numbers continue to improve as more eco-friendly options become available, and those kinds of figures have finally begun to attract those who thought eco-friendly construction was just a bunch of hogwash.