Going Green in Portland - "Green Building"

Green building is a term that you hear a lot these days with more and more infill homes popping up in Portland’s inner NE and SE neighborhoods. Living in Portland is all about sustainability. Natives and transplants alike have adopted the mantra reduce, reuse and recycle. We have a very strong recycling presence when compared to other states and take pride in reducing our carbon footprints. You see tons of Farmers markets, fresh produce, locally made goods, resale and antique stores, architectural salvage stores and more in Portland. FLOSS (Fresh, Local, Organic, Sustainable and Seasonal) is another philosophy that is popular here. It is mostly used with restaurants and has impacted our city in a good way. Portland is known for being green in more ways than one so green building is obviously a natural fit for our city.


What is green building? There are some formal definitions of green building that include all the usual suspects; energy efficiency, water preservation, recycled materials and so on. The city of Portland has a very clear list of what it means to be Green in Portland. The term “green building” according to the city, refers to the way of designing and constructing buildings to increase performance and enhance the health and experience of people who live, work and play in these structures. Sounds pretty good right? Here’s more:


A green building:


Saves water and energy


Generates Low Carbon Emissions


Uses renewable energy


Is space efficient in size and design


Offers a healthier and safer built environment for its occupants


Uses locally sourced products and services (within 500 miles)


Processes waste


Captures water


Uses mineral materials


Reuses existing structures


Incorporates low toxicity, healthy and recycles content materials


Lasts a long time and is simple to maintain


Leaves behind minimal construction waste and does not negatively impact the site


All of these things sound marvelous and in a perfect world all new structures in the city of Portland would be hitting every one of the above mentioned criteria. In the real world I would say that most builders have adopted as many of these as possible while still looking at the bottom line. Some of the items above, like reusing existing structures, can be costly in time and money and therefore not possible with many of the new infill homes. That doesn’t mean that the new homes in the city are not green though. Many feature high efficiency furnaces, tankless hot water heaters, natural gas heat, energy efficient windows, superior insulation and so on. All of which are green and make homes extremely livable and comfortable for many years.


There are Green certifications for new homes and buildings, although most homes have green qualities without the certifications. LEED is one of the most popular certifications and is used widely among newer condo buildings in NW Portland. LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) is available for new and existing residential properties. Earth Advantage is a program that includes certifications in the following areas: site, energy, water, materials and indoor air quality, and community development. There are also Earth advantage designations for builders and realtors. The NW Energy Star and Water Sense programs are strictly for new construction. There is also the Energy Performance Score (EPS) which is not a certification, but an energy rating system that is similar to MPG with cars.


Overall, going green is a great thing for the earth and our beautiful city. It can be achieved slowly over time if you live in an older home by upgrading older windows, adding insulation, upgrading furnaces, water heaters, converting from oil to gas and so on. Going green doesn’t have to happen overnight, but if you are a green activist it might be time to look into finding a green certified new home with all the bells and whistles. Green bells and whistles that is.

Written by Amanda Folkestad and Brian Porter

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