Insurers are Beginning to Recognize Green Building… But what Makes a Building Green?

By Robert Mittleman, Riemer Insurance GroupAs we begin this New Year, the housing and real estate industry is turning its attention to the potential environmental risks and challenges associated with “green” compliance. The insurance industry has always been a leader and advocate for both the education about, and eventual reduction of, foreseeable risks. Recently, insurers have extended their aspiration of improving standards in the direction of the environmental arena, with a major focus on global warming.This challenge to increase both awareness and compliance will create significant opportunities in 2008. Green building practices represent a significant step toward minimizing the destructive influence on the environment resulting from traditional building procedures, and insurance providers are beginning to reward businesses that incorporate these techniques. Fireman’s Fund Insurance recently announced new coverage aimed at promoting green building with the introduction of Certified Green Building Replacement and Green Upgrade products. While traditional policies insure building restoration to rebuild it to its original condition, Fireman’s Fund is now providing coverage that will enable commercial property owners to rebuild and replace while including green alternatives. Riemer Insurance Group is a specified agent that can access this Fireman’s Fund program, and their agents have been specifically trained on this innovative new insurance product. With all this talk of “green buildings”—owners and builders who may not be educated or experienced in this arena may be shy to ask the simple question, “What makes a building green?” The easiest answer to this question is that a green building is constructed of “green” materials. Green building materials can be defined as falling within several different broad categories:Products that Have as Their Principal Component either Agricultural Waste Content or Salvaged or Recycled ContentMost of the building materials derived from agricultural waste products are those that are made from straw. Straw is generally obtained as the stems left after the harvest of cereal grains. Citrus oils are also increasingly being used in a variety of products—these oils are a waste product from the manufacturing of lemon, orange or other citrus juices.It is always environmentally advantageous when, rather than purchasing a newly manufactured product, a previously manufactured product can be “re-used” in construction. Salvaged building materials, which are commonly available, include plumbing fixtures, framing lumber, millwork, bricks and period hardware.Recycled materials used in construction can be divided into two groups: either pre-consumer or post consumer recyclables. Post consumer recycled products are those that have already been used by consumers and are then converted into other materials. A good example of this would be rubber flooring tiles created from discarded automobile tires. One concern with this specific product is that these tiles be used solely outdoors due to the release of gasses. Another consideration, not always thought of when it comes to post-consumer recyclables, is the potential pollution or energy consumption involved in the recycling process including the collection of the discarded materials and the reprocessing of them into new usable material. The upside to post-consumer recycled materials is that they may be diverted from landfills.Pre-consumer recycled materials, on the other hand, are those that have not made it yet into the hands of consumers and are most commonly obtained as the by-products of industrial manufacturing processes. Examples of products derived in such a manner would include PVC scrap from pipe manufacture used to make shingles, fly ash used to make concrete, or iron ore slag used to make mineral wood insulation. Scrap materials generated in a manufacturing process that may be fed back into the same process are generally not considered recycled nor green materials. Other than the types of products described above, there are several other broad categories for materials that would go into the construction of a green building.Products that conserve natural resources by:• Reducing material usage• Products with exceptional durability or low maintenance requirements• Certified wood products• Rapidly renewable productsProducts that avoid toxic or other emissions:• Natural or minimally processed products• Alternatives to ozone depleting substances• Alternatives to hazardous production• Products that reduce or eliminate pesticide treatments• Products that reduce storm water pollution• Products that reduce impacts from construction or demolition activities• Products that reduce pollution or waste from operations.Of course this is by no means meant to be an exhaustive guide to designing nor building a green building, but merely an introduction to the topic. There are many other types of materials that may go into your green building—some of these products save energy or water. All contribute to a safe, healthy built environment. Robert Mittleman is an account executive with Riemer Insurance Group. Founded in 1978, Riemer has offices in Hallandale, Fla. and Atlanta.