RICHLAND, Wash. – People generally spend most of their time indoors, working at their desk, coming home at night, shopping for groceries.
If you think about, says Pacific Northwest National Laboratories engineer Kim Fowler, buildings are where most energy is used – and wasted.
“If you’re in a large city, and it’s nighttime, look around, and you will see lights on in all of the skyscrapers,” Fowler says. “And that’s one of those things when I’m visiting large cities that drives me crazy. I want to get into all those buildings and turn off the lights.”
Heating and cooling buildings when no one is inside, leaking water and inefficient appliances also drain energy daily. Buildings consume 40 percent of the energy used in the United States. Fowler says reducing that energy consumption could decrease energy dependence.
“We could start to use that energy being generated for things like offsetting the transportation sector when it becomes more electric,” she says.
Fowler recently completed a survey (PDF) of 22 federal buildings that are LEED certified.
Researchers found that green buildings:
Used about 25 percent less energy;
Consumed about 11 percent less water;
Cost 19 percent less to operate;
Had a higher recycling rate at a lower cost;
Generated less greenhouse gases.
Occupants were also more satisfied with their work environments.
Researchers included three Pacific Northwest buildings in the study: the Auburn Social Security Administration Teleservice Center in Auburn, Wash.; the United States Courthouse, in Seattle; and the Wayne L. Morse U.S. Courthouse in Eugene, Ore.
To make use of more green technology, most buildings will have to be updated and renovated. Fowler says the one of the most important aspects in greening up buildings will be to engage people.
“We have buildings because we need to be in them,” Fowler says. “We need to have people in them to have a purpose for a building. However, the occupants tend to be the major reason why a building may not be operating as designed.”
Share your experiences as part of EarthFix's Public Insight Network.
Join our Public Insight Network!