Steel Buildings – Can They Be Green Buildings?

If you’ve ever been inside an uninsulated steel building in the middle of summer, you know how hot it can get inside.

But can steel buildings still be a good choice for green building? Apparently, they can.

Let’s look at some features of steel buildings that could be considered eco-friendly, or green.

Steel does take a lot of energy to make. But it’s also easy to recycle, and it actually gets recycled, because it costs a lot. In fact, steel is the most recycled material on earth. Just about all steel that you buy also has high levels of recycled content.

Steel has a longer life cycle than wood or other materials, so they don’t need to be repaired or replaced as often. Some steel buildings have manufacturer structural guarantees of 50 years.

And when the day finally comes for a steel building to be torn down, all of that steel is going to get recycled yet again.

Heating and cooling loss around doors, windows, foundation and roofing can be a lot lower with steel buildings than with other types of building materials, because of how well steel buildings fit together.

Metal roofs are cool roofs, when they are painted the right color or reflective. Check out the Energy Star website and you’ll see a large number of metal roofs listed as Energy Star compliant.

And check out the LEED points that you can earn with a steel building.

The University of Connecticut’s steel building was the first athletic building in the United States to earn LEED Gold status.

In Canada, Steelcare Inc.’s 50,000 square foot steel building was the first industrial building in the country to achieve LEED Canada Gold.

Air quality can also be better inside a metal building, because steel doesn’t offgas. With the right paint, there will not be any VOCs (volatile organic compounds).

But what about that incredibly hot metal building I was talking about before? It didn’t have insulation!

Insulation is key with metal buildings, and there are many different ways to insulate them effectively. Reflective insulation in particular works well with steel buildings.

Interested in learning more? Here’s a good article about metal buildings and energy efficiency from a trade publication for building operations management .

Anyone have any experience with steel buildings that have either Energy Star or LEED certification? Please leave a comment and tell us about it.

Dishwashers, Energy Star, water efficiency and the environment. A consumer guide.


Flickr photo courtesy of fixedgear.

Do you hand wash your dishes because you don’t want to “waste” water and energy by using the dishwasher? If so, then consider this:

If you run hot water through your sink and keep it running, you are using at least 2 gallons of water for EVERY MINUTE that you have the sink turned on. And that is assuming that you have an efficient kitchen faucet. Does it take you 10 minutes to do the dishes by hand? Well, then you just used at least 20 gallons of water!

No way, you say! I don’t keep the water running. I fill up the sink and wash my dishes that way. Well, how long does it take you to fill up the sink? More than 3 minutes? I just did a test with my own kitchen sink. It takes my faucet 30 seconds to fill up a 1 gallon container, so my faucet is putting about 2 gallons per minute. After 4 full minutes, my kitchen sink was just over half full. That’s 8 gallons of water.

Not too bad, right? Wrong!

Want to know how much water a new Energy Star dishwasher uses each time that you run it? Just 4 gallons! Okay, so what about a regular new dishwasher? How about a mere 6 gallons. It’s right there on the Energy Star site for you to see for yourself.

Want to know how much it will cost you to use your dishwasher for a whole year under average conditions? Try under $30!

Don’t believe me? Look at the government mandated EnergyGuide label at your local appliance store and see for yourself. Outside the USA? The Australian government requires both Energy Ratings and WELS water ratings to be provided on every unit. EU Energy labels also show the specific amounts of energy and water used, with a grade scale from most efficient to least efficient.

Even if you think the EnergyGuide label is overly optimistic, then double their numbers and you’re still around $60 a year.

Compare this to taking a shower, where you’ll use 2.5 gallons per minute if you have an efficient showerhead. Just one person taking a 5 minute shower will use 12.5 gallons of hot water. And you were worried about the impact of your dishes!

From a strictly practical perspective, I could stop right now and sum up this post with one sentence that says, “Use your dishwasher to save water and energy.”

Want some extra eco-credit? Here’s what you do:

1. Only run full loads. You’ll be using even less energy and water than if you run twice as many half filled dishwasher loads.

2. Air dry your dishes instead of using the heating element. If you run your dishwasher at bedtime, you won’t unload it until the next day anyway, so there’s plenty of time for the dishes to drip dry. That makes your dishwasher even more energy efficient than it already is!

3. Take it easy on the pre-rinsing. I’m not going to lie and tell you that modern dishwashers don’t require any pre-rinsing at all because they work perfectly and your dishes will sparkle happily ever after. I own a brand new Energy Star Kitchenaid dishwasher that had high reviews from Consumer Reports, and I still have to pre-rinse. But I only have to scrape most plates and only use a brush under the faucet to get those stuck-on cheesy areas, and the dishes come out clean. Test out how little pre-rinsing you can get away with using your own dishwasher! You aren’t being lazy, you are saving the environment.

4. Use a phosphate free dishwashing detergent. Phosphates are a good thing to avoid because they encourage algae growth when they get into our waterways. The good news is that Consumer Reports rates several phosphate free dishwashing detergents highly. “The Ecover tablet and powder, Citra-Dish, 365 Everyday Value, and Seventh Generation do a good to excellent job cleaning.”

Anyone else have any good dishwasher tips or anecdotes they’d like to share? Leave a comment!

PS When I was looking for photos for this post, I noticed a disturbing number of photos of cats playing in dishwashers on Flickr. What’s up with that?

PPS It isn’t just cats, either! There are plenty of dogs, and even a goat.