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Going Green

Gradually Going Green

The past decade has seen the rapid rise of the United States’ green building movement. The US Green Building Council has developed from a small fringe group into a hugely influential and respected organisation which has helped to wake up the previously complacent and conservative construction industry to the problems and concerns of irresponsible development. The language of green building has become the norm in the US as well as in Europe and the rest of the world, with developers, architects, contractors and materials suppliers all proclaiming their green credentials.


How does this translate for us here in the Virgin Islands and how can we make a difference when designing and building a new home here? Back in 2007 I put together a simple environmental “checklist” for BVI homebuilders which contained 27 items to consider in order to do the right thing, so to speak. This list has helped to inform clients and has served as a constant guide for us when designing.

Now, after almost eight years of writing on green building and environmentally friendly development for Virgin Islands Property & Yacht, it finally feels like things are changing, and this green language is becoming the norm here, too. Government ministers are making impassioned speeches about renewable energy and erosion control, the BVI Tourist Board is promoting the Green Globe certification system for hotels, and Green VI has become a household name and is making headway in promoting recycling systems in the territory.

But, as many people are quick to point out, there’s a difference between talk, or “greenwashing,” and action. When it really comes down to it, it can be a challenge to focus attention, effort and money on the important issues. Of course, the biggest incentive to get things done, particularly in recent years, is to appeal to people’s pockets: if a green strategy will save money, it has to be a no-brainer. So, distilling our 27-point list down to the essentials, here are three fundamental ways to reduce construction costs and help the environment:

Control the size of the building.
The most basic green strategy is to reduce waste and excess, to improve efficiency. Be mindful of the size and scope of your building design at all times, and don’t let it grow too big. This will reduce the impact on the land, reduce material quantities, and is by far the best way to bring down costs. Your architect should always be looking at ways to maximize the efficiency of the planning of the building.

Minimize the need for expensive walls and earthwork.

The costs of concrete retaining walls are often overlooked at the beginning of a project. It’s not uncommon for a home builder to be hit by a surprise bill in excess of $100,000 near the end of the construction for walls which are needed to stabilize deep cuts into the land around the house. Careful planning and design input at the beginning of the project should be able to keep this down to a minimum, to blend the building into the hillside and work with, rather than against, the natural topography.


Minimize energy consumption.

Design the building to keep it cool, to eliminate the need for air conditioning. A shallow floor plan with careful placement of windows and doors will promote good natural ventilation and daylight. Consider reflective external surfaces, deep overhangs for shade (and protection from the rain), position the building carefully to take advantage of shade from any existing trees, and invest in efficient lighting and appliances.

These strategies should all be integral to a good, thoughtful design. Efficiency, simplicity and cost effectiveness should lead naturally to a well-considered building which works comfortably with the land and the environment. “Green” building doesn’t have to be exotic, expensive or difficult. All it takes is a little thought and care!

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