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8 Benefits of Green Buildings

Investing in green buildings reaps big rewards now and for years to come

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Green buildings are more than a fashion statement. Many architects, builders and clients agree that smart, sustainable buildings are becoming a necessity. Why? Because according to some estimates, buildings account for almost one-half of the world's material and energy consumption, one-sixth of fresh water use, and a quarter of all wood harvested. As costs for sustainable materials and products drop, building green is really the most cost-effective kind of design and construction. More and more, you can't afford not to build green.

1. Lower Green Building Costs

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Even if you read no further, this should convince you: Green buildings save money, starting the very first day of construction. This is true for green homes as well as sustainable office buildings, factories, churches, schools and other structures.

A 2003 study by the California Sustainable Building Task Force shows that an initial green design investment of just two percent will produce savings greater than 10 times the initial investment, based on a very conservative 20-year building lifespan. For example, $40,000 in green design in a $2 million dollar project will be repaid in just two years. Over 20 years, the savings will amount to $400,000. In other words, ka-CHING!

2. Improved Productivity

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A number of studies -- and common sense -- indicate that building occupants who are healthy and comfortable are more productive. A study of 31 green buildings from the City of Seattle found that absenteeism was reduced by 40 percent. Another study, sponsored in part by commercial real estate giant Cushman & Wakefield, reported 30 percent fewer sick days among one company's employees, and discovered a 10 percent increase in net revenue per employee in another company, after each office moved to LEED-certified buildings. Companies in green offices also have an edge in attracting and retaining great employees.

3. Green Buildings Have Higher Market Value

Both residential and commercial buildings retain a high resale value if they include sustainable design components. The value to prospective buyers comes from knowing their utility and maintenance costs will be lower in green buildings that outperform non-green buildings. Occupancy levels are consistently higher, and vacancy rates lower, in sustainable office buildings.

4. Healthy Occupants in Green Buildings

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Sick building syndrome is a problem that has plagued homes and offices for decades, and costs U.S. businesses millions of dollars each month. Green buildings, however, avoid many of these problems with healthy ventilation systems and use of non-toxic building materials.

The EPA estimates that indoor air pollution may be 2 to 5 times worse, and sometimes more than 100 times worse, than outdoor air quality. Of 146,400 lung cancer deaths in 1995, 21,100 were related to the radon gas that's found in many buildings. About 20 million people (and over 6 million children) suffer from asthma, which can be triggered by the indoor pollutants that are often found in non-green buildings.

5. Tax Benefits for Green Buildings

Recent federal tax incentives have been enacted to encourage the design and construction of energy-efficient green buildings, both residential and commercial. Many state and local governments have also passed tax provisions to encourage energy-efficient buildings. Ask your accountant or tax expert about the Economic Stimulus Act of 2008, PL 110-185 (ESA), the Housing Assistance Tax Act of 2008, PL 110-289 (HATA), the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008, PL 110-343 (EESA), and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, PL 111-5 (ARRA) to see if these apply to your home or commercial real estate.

6. Improved Retail Sales

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A California survey of over 100 stores (all operated by the same retailer) found that sales were 40 percent higher when stores were lighted with skylights instead of electric lighting. Retailers who can use daylight in their interiors can also lower their electric costs. All these factors are further proof that green buildings might actually make money.

7. Lower Utility Demands in Green Buildings

One indirect benefit to green buildings is often overlooked: reduced demand on electric, gas and water utilities means that these infrastructures can do more with less. This can result in lower municipal utility costs over the long run as utilities need not expand and can avoid passing those expansion costs onto utility customers. And in the case of energy- efficient net zero buildings and zero energy homes, these buildings actually feed electricity back into the utility grid, and result in no energy costs at the end of a year. Most owners of net zero buildings actually get a check back from their energy company at the end of a year.

8. Improved Quality of Life

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It's hard to put a dollar-amount value on quality of life. How much, for example, would you pay to enjoy a less-stressful day, or to avoid catching the flu? When all of the aforementioned benefits to green architecture and sustainable design are added up, the enhanced lifestyles shared by all of society makes sense, both economically and environmentally. Again, as we move into an era of smarter technology and more expensive natural resources, we can't afford not to build green.

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