Going Green as a Building Inspector
According to the US Green Building Council (USGBC), 40 percent of America’s carbon emissions come from building structures. The term green is being coined as a whole new direction in American construction. The green construction market has grown dramatically since 2000 and it is forecasted to continue to grow. Experts have deeply analyzed the new eco-normal and they expect a whole lot of change in the next quarter-century of construction. Building inspectors can expect major materials diversity in future structural assessments, and they need to tool up for that.
What the Green Market Bears
The US Green Building Council estimates that the total value of green construction could grow to between $90-$146 billion by 2013. The US Green Building Council has adopted the McGraw-Hill definition of the “Green Construction Market”:
“We define a green building as one built to LEED standards, an equivalent green building certification program, or one that incorporates numerous green building elements across five category areas: energy efficiency, water efficiency, resource efficiency, responsible site management and improved indoor air quality. Projects that only feature a few green building products…or that only address one aspect of a green building, such as energy efficiency, are not included in this calculation.”
(Source: McGraw Hill, 2008 Green Construction Outlook Report)
From 2009-2013, a USGBC study estimates that LEED-related construction spending will have generated an additional $12.5 billion in GDP and supported 230,000 jobs. If ever a green market bore fruit, the building industry could well spend the next 25 years tasting it.
Green Building Inspection
Building inspectors will, of course, be tremendously impacted by not only the rebuilding of America for “green” living but by the technology needed to do so with safety and integrity.
Inspectors increasingly deploy a wide range of technological tools for assessing the all-important systems that lead to International Building Code (IBC) certification: fire, natural disaster, building usage, energy consumption, air quality, moisture content (MC), installation methods and building materials specification.
How do they do it? Meters, mostly and infrared technology. Infrared thermography can identify surface temperature variations of the building envelope, which relate to problems in the building structure such as air leakage in HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) systems, as an example. There are many meters available that can read the MC of building materials, measure carbon monoxide emissions and air particles and can even measure simple distances.
Of course, inspectors are reputed as much by their savvy as they are by their tools of assessment. Judging by the diversity of the eco-friendly wood products available alone, a building inspector’s savvy may be crucial in the transition to the new normal of green building.
Back to Basics
Diverse building materials need not cause distress, but eco-building inspection must address the simple truth: green building materials come from many sources, each with their own characteristics.
Let’s use MC as a green example. Engineered wood flooring products can contain 3-12 multiple inner core ply layers of either a hardwood or softwood plywood type of material cross layered, glued and pressed together. The top layer is a thicker hardwood veneer wear layer that is then glued and pressed on the top surface of the core. When installing these types of hardwood floors, inspectors must recognize that all composite wood products can contain different wood species with varying MC characteristics.
Even the adhesives used in floor coverings, which are increasingly replacing volatile organic chemicals (VOCs) with water, may influence the MC of the flooring product more than in the past. Within wood flooring products themselves, bamboo is gaining momentum as an easily regenerated source for new flooring applications. But bamboo (a grass, actually, and not a true wood) has a totally different cell structure than wood. Therefore, its MC profile differs from the conventional wood floors of yesteryear.
Take this same eco-materials trend to concrete, metal composition and a host of other building-related materials, and it becomes clear how diversified a building inspector must be in product knowledge and equipped with the proper tools to assess them all accurately. As the construction sector transforms to a green building paradigm, a building inspector’s mandate remains the same but with a new, broad-ranging set of ecological variables that they must contend with.
“The only constant is change…”
– Isaac Asimov
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