Are Green Buildings More Expensive?

Green Building Facade

Humans have depleted natural resources for decades while constructing residential and commercial buildings. As a result, environmental conservationists have started advocating for the commercialization of green buildings, as they are significantly more eco-friendly and sustainable. However, there have been some concerns that green buildings are more expensive than their conventional counterparts; is this the case?

Green buildings are initially more expensive than conventional ones. However, in the long run, they’re more cost-effective since they have fewer operational costs. Therefore, they’re generally a worthy investment.

In this article, I’ll discuss a few topics related to the construction costs of green buildings. Therefore, keep reading to learn why you should consider switching to sustainable housing and development.

Are Green Buildings More Expensive To Construct Than Conventional Buildings?

Urban areas have mushroomed significantly in our contemporary world, leading to an increased need for housing. However, the environment has paid a dear cost due to the depletion of natural resources to accommodate the growing population. Unfortunately, most of these resources are nonrenewable, and their utilization has caused immense environmental damage.

We’ve all witnessed the impact of environmental damage with the adverse effects of global warming and climate change. As a result, the globe is shifting its focus on conserving the environment and promoting sustainable development. Constructing green buildings is one of the most promising ways of curbing the depletion of natural resources.

Despite their potential benefits, many are shying away from embracing green buildings due to misinformation. Moreover, there’s been a widespread perception that they are unaffordable.

Green buildings are more expensive to construct than their conventional counterparts. However, their costs can vary depending on several factors. Moreover, the long-term benefits of green buildings offset their initial steep investment costs.

Research findings reveal that the base cost of constructing a green building can be up to 16% higher than that of a conventional building. However, other studies with contrasting results indicate that engineers and the public could be overestimating the costs of building green structures. Therefore, about 60% of the world’s population believe that it’s more expensive to construct a green building than a traditional one.

For example, in a survey initiated by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), the respondents estimated the average cost of green buildings as 17% higher than conventional ones.

However, the United States Green Building Council research showed that these costs were only 2-3% higher than traditional (non-green) buildings. These costs may also differ depending on the building’s design and the type of systems installed.

Why Are Green Buildings More Expensive To Build?

Green buildings are more expensive to build due to their designs, finishes, and fittings. Moreover, developers wait longer to receive revenue as the construction of a green building takes longer than that of a conventional one.

These high investments pose a challenge to the adoption of sustainable development globally.

Although it may not always be the case, you’ll spend more money (and time) constructing a green building than a conventional one. However, as I’ve already established, the high upfront costs are lower than the long-term advantages you’ll be profiting off for years to come.

But what makes the initial investment in green buildings significantly higher than that of conventional ones?

A UK-based study compared the investment costs of developing green-certified and non-certified conventional buildings. The findings revealed that the initial cost of developing green buildings was 6.5% higher due to the following factors:

Design Costs

Although design costs contribute only 3% of the total construction expenses, they have a significant impact.

For instance, the study findings showed that the design costs of green buildings were 32% higher than those of non-green buildings. According to one of the researchers, this challenge results from the current gap in the knowledge of green building design.

Many architects, engineers, and design firms are not conversant with integrating sustainability features such as energy efficiency into building designs. Moreover, small companies cannot impart their employees with the necessary skills and knowledge due to financial constraints.

Additionally, most professionals in the construction industry work as sole proprietors, making it challenging to design and undertake large-scale projects.

However, these costs could reduce soon as more people learn about and embrace the green buildings initiative. Continuous education through seminars, workshops, or conferences is bound to facilitate the spread of knowledge on designing green buildings.

Fittings and Finishes

Green buildings require specially designed fittings and finishes to promote sustainability, including lighting and flooring materials. According to the research findings, the installation costs of these features can be 28 – 32% higher than in conventional buildings.

However, these upfront expenses are justified by the numerous merits and cost-effectiveness of sustainable fittings and finishes. For instance, the cost of installing a solar energy system in a green building in India was 3 million rupees ($39 332). However, after using the system for five years, the annual savings on electricity bills were around 288,000 rupees ($3,777).

Another comparative study between green and conventional buildings features showed that some fittings had high installation costs. These included:

  • Windows (with LEED features): $19,872
  • Contamination and non-toxic pest controls: $17,832
  • Solar roof: $77,796
  • Construction waste management: $6,200

The Californian-based study also acknowledged that integrating LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) features on green buildings enhances energy efficiency. This requires additional building materials that could increase the upfront construction costs.

However, the environmental impact of these sources and the savings on energy costs outweigh their initial expenses.

Characteristics of Sustainable Materials

Incorporating sustainable materials into the construction of green buildings makes these developments eco-friendly and maintainable. They have fewer operational costs as they use less water and energy. Moreover, these buildings pose minimal health and environmental hazards.

Although most developers use green materials to construct green buildings, not all of them are sustainable. However, interestingly, all sustainable materials are green. So, how do you distinguish between green and sustainable materials?

Let’s first look at the features of green materials.

  • Renewable (both energy and resources): For instance, solar and water.
  • Energy-efficient: For example, solar energy.
  • Natural: For example, soil, bamboo, and wood.
  • Have a low impact on health: For example, organic cotton and low VOC paint.
  • Have minimal impact on the environment: For instance, wood.

On the other hand, sustainable materials are green products that have undergone eco-friendly and future-focused production processes. Hence, apart from having a low impact on health and the environment, they are durable and utilize various technologies.

Here are other characteristics of sustainable materials:

  • Reasonably sourced and economical: The people who acquire, develop, or use these materials are in a safe environment and earn fair wages. Moreover, the process of acquiring and developing these materials is cost-effective.
  • Non-detrimental to quality of life: They don’t affect how people enjoy these products if they incorporate them into their daily activities.
  • Resilient: They don’t bow to natural or artificial stresses.
  • Reusable: These materials are recyclable.
  • Emotionally durable: They produce high-quality materials that people wish to keep for years.

Let’s also look at a few examples of sustainable materials and their use in the construction of green buildings:

Recycled Materials

They are among the most commonly used materials in green buildings. Recycled materials are more sustainable if obtained locally. Additionally, due to their versatility, they add a unique character to green homes.

Examples of recycled materials include:

  • Recycled glass: Ideal for making tiles and countertops.
  • Reclaimed wood: The perfect material for flooring and making furniture, wall panels, sliding barn doors, and ceilings.
  • Recycled metal: This is one of the best materials for making decorative art pieces, support beams, and panels (on an accent wall).

Bamboo

It’s a renewable green product that becomes sustainable when appropriately harvested for local use. This means that if you source bamboo in one country and ship it to another one, its sustainability diminishes since shipment utilizes a lot of fossil fuels.

Bamboo is an ideal alternative to wood when it comes to constructing green buildings. It is eco-friendly since it serves as a carbon sink and requires minimal (or zero) fertilizers to grow. Moreover, it grows at a higher rate than trees.

It is also economical due to its high resistance to pests, mold, and mildew. Bamboo is an excellent material for making cabinets, floors, and fences.

Natural Stone

For ages, people have used natural stone in construction. Its low toxicity minimizes health and environmental hazards. Moreover, it promotes quality of life by allowing sufficient indoor airflow. Natural stone also has low embodied energy, reducing its operational costs.

It’s economical to use natural stone in construction since it is durable and cost-effective. The material finds excellent use in outdoor walls, countertops, fences, and fireplaces.

Cellulose Insulation

Cellulose is a form of fiber insulation made from 75-85% recycled paper or denim. People have used cellulose insulation for decades, as it is non-toxic, energy-efficient, and comprises reusable materials. Moreover, the chemicals used to treat it (boric acid and borax) are flame retardants and pest repellants.

Cellulose insulation is the standard insulating material in modern frame homes. It minimizes heat and draft leaks, making it a cost-effective alternative.

Solar Cells

Solar is one of the most remarkable sources of clean energy. Solar (photovoltaic) cells convert sunlight into electricity and are green buildings’ most popular energy source. Moreover, many governments provide incentives to help their citizens install solar-powered systems.

Solar energy is renewable, eco-friendly, and sustainable. It has a positive impact on health and the environment due to its low emissions. Additionally, its efficiency allows users to save electricity costs in the long run.

Solar cells are ideal components to include when making solar panels, lighting, and fans in both residential and commercial buildings.

Benefits of Constructing Green Buildings

Traditional building approaches have adversely affected the environment due to increased pollution and the depletion of natural resources. Shifting to sustainable development is one of the most efficient ways to salvage the remaining reserves and promote a healthy environment.

Therefore, it’s high time for all stakeholders to spread awareness of green buildings’ environmental, economic, and social advantages.

Here are the benefits of constructing green buildings:

Economic Benefits

Green buildings provide many economic benefits due to their efficiency. Despite having high upfront costs, the construction of these sustainable buildings promotes long-term savings. Moreover, green building projects provide jobs, boosting a country’s GDP.

Green buildings reduce the following costs:

  • Utility bills (for water and electricity consumption).
  • Construction costs due to the use of locally sourced and recycled materials.
  • Operational costs.

Apart from reducing costs and increasing savings, green features also improve a property’s value. For instance, the asset value of green buildings is 7% higher than that of conventional buildings. As a result, these properties have higher occupancy rates.

Environmental Benefits

The use of green and sustainable materials is ecologically beneficial. Green buildings reduce greenhouse emissions and protect biodiversity by supporting ecosystems. Due to their energy and water efficiency, sustainable buildings conserve natural resources.

Green buildings also produce minimal wastage. Moreover, the reduced emission of toxic gasses and pollutants improves air and water quality.

Here are some statistics on the positive impact of green buildings on the environment:

  • LEED-certified green buildings in the US consume 11% less water and 25% less energy than conventional buildings.
  • Australia’s green buildings have 62% fewer greenhouse emissions and 51% less potable water than non-green houses.
  • Green buildings in South Africa (Green Star certified) save 30-40% in carbon emissions and energy annually.

Social Benefits

People living or working in green buildings enjoy a healthier and safer environment. Sustainable developments promote one’s quality of life by minimizing health hazards. Additionally, reduced emissions and improved air and water quality allow occupants to lead longer, happier lives.

Since green buildings utilize sustainable materials, their construction doesn’t strain local infrastructure. Moreover, sourcing raw materials naturally promotes the livelihoods of the community. As a result, environmental conservation through green buildings impacts the creation of happier and healthier societies.

Conclusion

Green buildings are sustainable developments that provide a plethora of environmental and societal benefits.

However, the misconception that green buildings are unaffordable hinders developers and homeowners from investing in this type of housing. Although the upfront costs of developing green buildings can be significantly higher, their numerous benefits (economic and environmental) offset these initial expenses.

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