Back to Whatcom County home page Whatcom County | Departments | Contacts |  Help |  Search
 Planning and Development Servicesheader image
  PDS Home  | Building  | Code  | Fire  | GIS  | Natural Resources  | Permits  | Planning  | Calendar

Building Services

Building Home
Green Building


Our Services

Building Services
Code Enforcement
Fire Marshal
GIS Maps & Data
Natural Resources
Permit Center
Contact Us

Quick Links
Applications / Forms

J.E. “Sam” Ryan, CBO

5280 Northwest Drive
Bellingham, Washington 98226
Telephone: (360) 676-6907

Green Building

green building house

Intro to Green Building
As in the color green, there are many shades, variations and complexities to green development. Our goal here is to present the basics to get people to start thinking about ‘green’ and then to start implementing green building elements. By simply using a single green element you’re on the road to what may become a certified green home or other building. Then someday, who knows, a net-zero building?

What is green building?
Green or sustainable building is the practice of creating buildings that have fewer negative impacts on the environment and human health than conventionally built structures. Green building is making simple choices during the design and construction of your project that make it better for people who live or work there, better for our community, and better for the Earth.

Green Building Basics
The United States Green Building Council (USGBC) defines green building as: Design and construction practices that significantly reduce or eliminate the negative impact of buildings on the environment and occupants in the five broad areas of:

  • Sustainable Site Planning
  • Conservation of Materials and Resources
  • Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy
  • Safeguarding Water and Water Efficiency
  • Indoor Environmental Quality

Examples of green building practices:

  • Sustainable Site Planning
    • Is the site serviced by public transportation?
    • Are existing site conditions being protected
      during the building process?
    • Are native plants utilized to manage water runoff?
  • Conservation of Materials and Resources
    • Do they have recycled content and/or are they
    • Are they resource efficient such as engineered
      wood products?
    • Is construction waste minimized and then
  • Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy
    • Is the heating, cooling and ventilation system
      properly sized?
    • Is the duct system sealed and insulated?
    • Will the building be tested for air leakage?
  • Safeguarding Water and Water Efficiency
    • Are all appliances water-conserving with an
      Energy Star or other similar certification?
    • Are toilets dual-flush?
    • Is rainwater being collected and used for toilets?
  • Indoor Environmental Quality
    • Is moisture content of lumber measured prior to
    • Does carpet, pad and adhesives meet an accepted
      third-party certification?
    • Are interior adhesives and sealants low-VOC?

How does one start?
It’s simple! Start by sitting down and taking time to think about what you are about to build. Then ask questions. All of us fall into the trap of doing business as usual because the world’s in a hurry and that’s the way it’s always been done. Green building is not business as usual. Green building is doing things not as usual.

Stop thinking of building costs in only the initial terms of labor and materials. Start thinking about building costs in the long term such as operating and lifespan costs.

Stop thinking of building costs only in terms of $$$ directly from you. Start thinking about building costs in terms of the environmental costs for you, your children and your neighbors - those next door, in the next state and in another country.


The environmental costs of a project refer to the impact that your building project has on the natural world, and on the communities that are involved in producing and disposing of your building materials.

By asking questions, you’re getting others to stop and think. This raises the awareness and accountability of everyone involved, both for your project and future projects.

Think + ask about the origin of products and materials.

  • Is this material harvested, quarried or extracted in a
    way that is sustainable?
  • Is it healthy or harmful to the local environment,
    workers, the local population?

Think + ask about the manufacture of products.

  • Does the manufacturing process create pollution or
    health risks?
  • What kind of waste is created and is it toxic?
  • How and where is the waste disposed?

Think + ask + compare building products and materials.

  • Are there other materials that will work with lower
    environmental impacts?
  • Will the product’s use improve or worsen your
    building's impact on the people who will use it?
  • Will its use reduce your building's impact on your
  • Will its use improve or worsen your building's global
    warming impact?

Think + ask about the probable lifespan of products and materials. Some green materials or products may reduce your energy costs but will they last for a long time? Products with long life spans help reduce your building’s environmental impact because additional raw material + energy will not be required for replacement purposes.

Think + ask about the disposal of products and materials. When these materials do reach the end of their useful lives, can they be recycled or disposed of without negative environment impact? How toxic might that disposal be?

Don’t hesitate to ask questions – by asking, you send your designer and builder the message that you understand the concept of environmental costs, and that you want to minimize your building’s negative impacts on the earth.

Explore the remaining sections of Whatcom County’s website and continue the learning process by visiting other websites in the Green Building Links section.