Mother Earth Living

Green Language: A Glossary of Green Building Words

Confused about green-building jargon? Here’s a quick guide to some commonly used lingo.
By Joyce Coppinger
July/August 2006


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Appropriate technologies: Technologies that satisfy basic human needs while minimizing environmental impact. Appropriate technologies help communities be more self-sufficient by using small-scale systems that people can manage directly on a local level. Examples include locally created and decentralized (off-the-grid) renewable energy and farmer’s markets that sell regional, sustainably grown food.

Building science: The study of how a building’s systems function together under various environmental conditions in an attempt to achieve an ideal balance of comfort, health and safety. Assesses heating and cooling systems, energy efficiency, ventilation and humidity control.

Embodied energy: Combined energy required to extract, manufacture, assemble, finish, transport and install building materials.

Green building: Construction, using any of various methods, that promotes resource conservation (materials, energy, water). It also reduces environmental impact and minimizes waste in order to create a healthy environment and keep operation and maintenance costs low. The entire lifecycle of the building and its components is considered.

Indoor air quality: A measure of whether ventilation, temperature and humidity are sufficiently diluting pollutants inside a structure. Common indoor air-quality problems include mold spores; outgasing of noxious chemicals by paints, finishes, adhesives, furniture and building materials; radon gas; and humidity levels that are too high or too low.

LEED: Abbreviation for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, a four-level rating system established by the U.S. Green Building Council. Buildings are rated in each of five categories:
sustainable sites, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, materials and resources, and indoor environmental quality.

Lifecycle assessment (LCA): Reviews the environmental performance of a product or building over the course of its life, including financial costs, energy efficiency and maintenance requirements. The process includes an assessment of raw material production, manufacture, distribution and disposal.

Natural building: The use of building techniques and natural materials that are based on locally available and renewable resources, and that are harvested or used in ways that ensure resources are not depleted or permanently damaged.

Net metering: A method that allows homeowners’ electric meters to turn backward when they generate more electricity (via solar pannels, for example) than they use. When electric meters turn backward, the customer receives retail prices for the excess electricity generated. Without net metering, a second meter usually is installed to measure the electricity that flows back to the provider; the utility company purchases the power at a below-retail rate.

Off-the-grid: A self-sufficient system of generating power that does not require connection to utility electricity grids.

Passive solar: A structure’s ability to collect, store and distribute the sun’s energy in winter (for heating) and to block summer sun (for cooling) to greatly reduce additional heating and air-conditioning needs. Passive solar design can be incorporated into any architectural style in any climate, but it requires careful site planning and selection of construction materials and building features.

Permaculture: A method of community planning designed to create stable, productive communities. Permaculture uses land in a way that integrates human dwellings, plants, animals, soil and water, and it considers and works with the patterns found in nature.

Renewable resources: Resources that are naturally replaced in a relatively short time: sun, wind, water, heat from the earth and biomass (plant-derived organic matter such as crop wastes, aquatic plants, bamboo and animal waste). Wood also is renewable, but it takes much longer to replace.

Sick building syndrome: Acute health effects and physical discomfort apparently linked to time spent in a room or building. Also called “building-related illness,” this term is used when illnesses are attributed directly to airborne building contaminants. Symptoms may include headache; eye, nose or throat irritation; cough; dry or itchy skin; dizziness and nausea; difficulty concentrating; fatigue; and sensitivity to odors.

Sustainable development: Development that sustains human needs and improves quality of life while making efficient and environmentally responsible use of natural, human and economic resources.

Zero-energy homes: Houses that do not use any energy from the utility grid because they have been designed to produce as much energy as they consume. The home’s design marries optimal energy efficiency to renewable energy resources, such as solar electricity, to maximize the effectiveness of both.


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