Building for a Green Future; Energy, Water Usage Being Cut by Design

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Byline: Tom Ramstack, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

A wave of green building laws is sweeping the nation, forcing builders to install solar panels, fluorescent light bulbs and roofs with vegetation whether they like it or not.

Green buildings are designed for energy efficiency and healthy indoor spaces, usually with recyclable materials and low-energy fixtures that create little pollution.

Traditional buildings account for about 38 percent of the carbon dioxide emissions, or greenhouse gases, that many scientists say add to global warming, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

"We think green buildings can play a significant role in reducing energy use and global warming," said John Surrick, spokesman for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, whose headquarters outside of Annapolis is one of the greenest of buildings.

There are more than 76 million residential buildings and nearly 5 million commercial buildings in the United States. By 2010, another 38 million buildings would be added at the current rate of construction.

Buildings rank as one of the biggest drains on the nation's and the world's energy and water resources.

In the United States, buildings account for 39 percent of total energy use, 12 percent of total water consumption and 68 percent of total electricity consumption, the EPA reports.

"If we take the path we've taken now, that's not sustainable," said Diana Horvat, principal in the D.C. architectural firm Envision Design.

Nationwide, about 53 cities offer incentives or set requirements for green building design. They resulted in about $7.73 billion of construction projects last year being built under "Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design," or LEED, standards of the U.S. Green Building Council, a trade organization that advocates green buildings. In addition, 10 counties, 17 states and 11 federal agencies have approved green building requirements.

"I'd say we're adding about five to 10 cities a month," said Taryn Holowka, spokeswoman for the U.S. Green Building Council.

The General Services Administration, the federal government's landlord, has required since 2005 that all new buildings be built according to LEED standards. The GSA owns and leases some 8,666 buildings used by more than 1.1 million federal employees.

Its latest green building ventures include two EPA buildings at Potomac Yard in Alexandria that opened in July with a LEED gold rating for their energy-reduction systems, such as a green roof and low-water-flow toilets.

Local governments aboard

Former D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams on Dec. 29 signed the "Green Building Act of 2006," which requires green building design in most new or renovated commercial buildings.

All commercial developments of at least 50,000 square feet - about the size of the interior space of 20 midsized houses - are required under the District's legislation to obtain certification from the U.S. Green Buildings Council, beginning in 2012. City-owned building developments funded after fiscal 2007 must earn the certification.

One of the District's premiere green building efforts is the new Washington Nationals baseball stadium being built in Southeast.

The builders are trying to construct the stadium to be the nation's first LEED-certified professional sports stadium. It is designed with efficient lighting, local and recycled building materials, storm-water management systems and a location near Metrorail and bus stops. The $611 million stadium is scheduled to open in time for the 2008 baseball season.

Montgomery County approved a green building bill in November that grants tax rebates and lower government fees to developers that install recycling centers and other environmentally conscious amenities in buildings of at least 10,000 square feet.

Maryland offers tax credits worth 6 percent to 8 percent of the construction cost for commercial green buildings if they meet the state's energy-efficiency standards. …