Green construction popularizes in Wisconsin

  • Green building practices have been gaining popularity in Wisconsin and in the nation.
  • The U.S. Green Building Council has developed a certification system to rate green building projects and two homes in Wisconsin have achieved the highest rating.
  • Many companies, organizations and even universities in Wisconsin are now USGBC members and work to employ green building practices.

Green building practices, or environmentally friendly methods of construction, are gaining popularity throughout both Wisconsin and the nation.

The U.S. Green Building Council, a non-profit organization working to universalize green building within a generation, currently has 238 member organizations in Wisconsin. The wide range of membership includes companies, organizations, universities and cities, among others.

Marie Coleman, communications coordinator for the USGBC, said there are many advantages to green building.

"Green building generally doesn't cost any more than traditional methods, and long-term it actually will save a lot of money," Coleman said.

She said the council is seeing significant growth in residential green building. Nationally 1,304 homes have Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification and 13,836 homes are registered for certification, she said.

The USGBC developed the LEED certification system in 2000. LEED is a third-party rating system for homes. It rates both residential and commercial projects for maximum energy and resource efficiency.

"The majority of our projects are in the U.S., but we also have a considerable number of projects in Canada, China and India," Coleman said.

Coleman said 40 commercial projects are currently LEED certified in Wisconsin. Two of the projects have achieved the highest rating of platinum and 11 have the second-highest rating of gold, she said.

Coleman said the state also has 225 commercial projects registered for LEED certification. She said there are seven LEED certified residences in the state, and another four are registered.

Rick Flood, president and founder of Solutions in Sustainability, LLC in Cedarburg, Wis., said green building can lower operation costs and minimize waste while promoting an industry that is becoming mainstream in the U.S.

Solutions in Sustainability, LLC works with clients to design and implement large-scale green development projects, Flood said.

"The additional cost of building an 'eco-friendly' home or commercial building varies widely depending on what the owner wants to do," Flood said. "For instance, installing solar panels will increase the costs above a conventional building quite a bit."

However, he said, in many cases it will cost less to design and construct energy-efficient buildings.

Kevin Little, founder of Informing Ecological Design, LLC of Madison, Wis., said building codes and energy prices drive the popularity of green building.

"Europe and Japan are leaders," Little said. "California is the largest market in the U.S. for green building."

Informing Ecological Design, LLC develops tools to help designers and owners understand the flow of resources in their buildings, Little said.

He said proponents of green building face a challenge with the "legacy problem." This is the problem presented by the many buildings already constructed that waste energy and water, he said.

Little said, on average, Wisconsin residences produce two pounds of carbon dioxide for every kwh used in utilities. He said the average home uses about 24 kwh per day and 720 kwh per month.

Clair Urbain, publisher for Green Construction Purchasing Magazine, said the ability to offer "eco-building" practices means having an advantage in the marketplace. It can help create the reputation of a quality builder, she said.

"The downside is that you must have accredited professionals on your payroll that truly understand the building certification process and how practices will impact the company's certification level," Urbain said.

Reducing waste must begin in the design phase of any project, she said. Urbain said overall design should take advantage of a site's surroundings rather than competing with them.