Elements of Green Building


Green building offers development teams a comprehensive set of best practices to design and construct efficient, healthy homes that benefit the community, the environment, and the bottom line. These nine "elements" are the green building blocks. Note that the detailed pages on each of these components are oriented toward building professionals.

Site planning and design

Affordable housing works best when residents have easy access to key services and transit. Infill sites have these and many more environmental benefits. Site design should fit into the surrounding neighborhood and work with natural features to provide safe play spaces, shade the building, and naturally control stormwater runoff. Help builders minimize site impacts by shrinking the physical footprint of the development with more compact building and parking lot layouts and by taking care of trees and soil conditions during construction. Go to the Site page.


Green buildings and developments support strong communities by giving neighbors places to meet, establishing a sense of place and safety, and creating spaces for pedestrians and kids, rather than cars. Successful and sustainable designs involve residents and community members from the planning stage all the way through to operation and maintenance. Go to the Community page.

Indoor Air Quality

Indoor air quality significantly impacts resident health and comfort--essential goals for any building. Achieving a high quality indoor environment requires careful design, construction, and materials choices, and thus strong coordination among the building team. Indoor air quality centers on well-designed ventilation and moisture control, which goes hand in hand with energy efficiency and building durability. Ongoing maintenance is important, of course, as is a commitment to finding alternatives to toxic materials and finishes. Go to the Indoor Air Quality page.


Energy efficiency is the key to making a building a finely tuned, lean, green machine. By using energy modeling software early in the design process, designers can take advantage of the sun and wind to heat, light, and cool the building affordably. Modeling will show how a high performance building envelope and superior insulation can let engineers choose smaller, efficient HVAC systems, lighting, and appliances. Renewable energy, where feasible, is the ideal next step. Go to the Energy page.


Green, high quality building materials that minimize or eliminate indoor air quality concerns, avoid toxics, and greatly reduce waste are now widely available, often from local manufacturers. Recycled-content and pre-fabricated products reduce material use, cut costs, and often perform better than traditional alternatives. To set criteria for purchasing, consult existing guidelines, standards, and certifications. Life cycle analysis has provided several rules of thumb for different categories of materials. Go to the Materials page.


Reduce, reuse, and recycle construction and demolition waste to cut costs and improve building quality. Design for efficient use of materials and for durability, avoiding future waste. Then identify goals in a waste management plan and work them into contract documents. With the right setup, builders can recycle over 70 percent of some waste materials on the construction site, and residents can recycle 100 percent of others in their homes. Go to the Waste page.


Conserve finite freshwater resources and reduce utility bills by installing water-efficient appliances and plumbing fixtures, landscaping with drought-resistant plants and efficient irrigation, and putting rainwater and greywater to use. To soak up more of the stormwater runoff that plagues rivers and streams in the Washington metropolitan area, replace asphalt and turf with porous pavement and trees; then consider rain barrels, rain gardens, and green roofs. Go to the Water page.


Commissioning is the process of making sure that a building works right. By systematically evaluating and adjusting building systems to function together as designed, commissioning optimizes efficiency, health, and comfort. A commissioning agent--often a third-party architect or engineer--gives advice during the design phase and follows through with testing during construction and training of operations and maintenance staff. Go to the Commissioning page.


When architects use daylighting to flood an open floor plan with natural light; when residents open a window to let in fresh air and look out on thriving trees, green buildings don't just lower utility bills and keep residents healthy--they inspire. Distinctive and attractive design gives residents, developers, and neighbors a reason to take pride in a green development, to care for their homes, their community, and the environment. These values are the foundation of sustainability. By treating green design as an art, not just a science, we can elevate economic, aesthetic, community, and ecological values to serve future generations. Go to the Marketability page.