Green Building & the Piping Industry

What is a green building? It might be better to ask what it is not. All of us, contractors and workers alike, have been constructing non-green buildings for over a century. Until recently that meant installing, maintaining and repairing systems whose only object was to meet a specification and satisfy a customer. In other words, to bring water, heat, and take away waste in the most efficient, safe, and economical manner. Doing this was, and remains, our business. It is why we exist. The green building concept has largely developed over the past decade. Fundamentally it means the practice of increasing the efficiency of buildings and their use of energy, water and materials, while reducing impacts on the environment. This is done through a conscious effort over the entire building cycle, from design through construction, operation, maintenance and even demolition or removal.

A construction worker wearing a yellow hard hat and laying down construction materials

The difference between these two approaches and their methods is actually quite small. For professionals in the field it is merely another series of options—familiar choices about materials, installation and tools. On the other hand, because of the increasing popularity of green building, and the rising number of projects whose specifications include green building provisions, thinking, bidding and working green is becoming profitable; in the future it is likely to become the only reliably profitable mode of operation in a large part of the construction industry. Today green building practices are encouraged and sometimes required: in the future they will increasingly become mandated as part of industry codes and specifications. Of course, every segment of our industry is already acquainted with conservation of energy and material; after all, that’s what plumbing, piping, heating and cooling are all about. Building green is simply another expression of the same effort and work.

New Practices for New Goals
Green building standards are rapidly being adopted in both the public and private sectors, for work as varied as a simple faucet replacement to the design and construction of major facilities. Most contractors are familiar with these standards as elements within a larger set of specifications; for instance, as a local requirement for the use of graywater in the irrigation system of a public park. It is becoming increasingly common for customers and awarding agencies to establish or to refer to standards which are comprehensive in scale—ranging from particular origins and composition of construction materials to the type and use of tools and methods of installation, all the way through to the elements of the final punch list, and occasionally beyond. One significant difference is that the green building is perceived as a set of ongoing functions rather than a temporary challenge of construction to be accomplished and left for another job. These functions often begin before the traditional scope of construction work and end beyond it, too.