Green Jobs: Commercial Building Construction

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Building construction is way down in most of the US, but when the economy recovers and building picks back up, green building will be the norm. In this recession, we have learned how to cut back on expenses,  including energy use. We discovered it wasn’t a big sacrifice; we were still comfortable in our homes. We’ve learned that our natural resources are finite and how important it is to conserve them. We have also learned that buildings are energy hogs.

According to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), buildings in the US account for:

  •  39% of total energy use
  •  12% of the total water consumption
  •  68% of total electricity consumption
  •  38% of the carbon dioxide emissions

States and municipalities are rewriting building codes to help improve those figures, and architects are learning to design with energy efficiency in mind. Some day, we won’t say ‘green building’, because all buildings will be low energy users.

green light bulb

Photo: Giulio Pepe

There’s a wealth of green job opportunities

President Obama’s Better Building Initiative would create thousands of jobs that would retrofit commercial buildings to be more efficient. Tax incentives, loan guarantees and grants to help rewrite building codes, regulations and performance standards could also fund thousands more jobs in the construction industry.

Green construction jobs and careers are more extensive than just putting up walls and a roof. A partial list of green jobs includes:

  •  electrician
  •  machinist
  •  painter
  •  energy auditor
  •  plumber
  •  LEED project manager
  •  home retrofitter
  •  weatherization specialist

Some of these require a college degree (managers), while others require special training and licensing (plumber, electrician), and others need no formal training at all.

How to get started in green construction

Now is the time to get an education or work experience in green construction, since that knowledge will be in high demand when the industry gets rolling again. There are workshops, internships and apprenticeships as well as degree programs at universities, community colleges and vocational schools.

Some jobs can be learned with on-the-job training. Even though construction is slow right now, hands-on training is the most effective way to learn the trade. Basic construction knowledge is imperative to specialize in building with natural materials, such as strawbale or adobe. An apprenticeship with a green builder is more practical experience that will be in high demand later.

green house

Photo: Combined Media

Look to the US Green Building Council (USGBC) and the Sustainable Buildings Industry Council (SBIC) for training programs. Trainers are needed, too! This takes some qualification, but green building experience in a down market can be advantageous for training the future workforce. Scour job boards for a green construction job.

I have a great example of how contractors need to be educated. When I remodeled my house in 2007, I hired a contractor that ended up knowing nothing about passive solar, low-e windows, green materials or even low-flow toilets. I gave him my design, and he drew it to scale and took care of the details, but when it came time to buy materials, or over-insulate the ceiling, I had to teach the crew about green building. Contractors need to learn these things to stay competitive for the future economy. Who is going to hire that company to build for them if they don’t know how to create an energy efficient space? No one.

Now is the time to break into the green construction field. Figure out what you want to do, find some training, get some work, and be prepared to make a difference in the green economy that’s on the horizon.

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Nan Fischer

Nan Fischer has been living and building green for over 35 years. Nan’s emphasis on the BuildDirect blog is about how to make your dollar stretch further, while also moving toward a more sustainable lifestyle, as well as upcoming and existing technology to help us live in an ecologically-friendly way. Nan also authors posts on the website of her seed business, sweetly seeds.