Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Green Job Series: Careers in Green Construction [Third Installment]

This installment of The Daily Leap's green job series describes some of the most common green specialty trade jobs with a focus on commercial and office sites.

Specialty Trade Occupations

After the designers and construction crews have played their roles in making a green building, skilled craft workers are needed to finish the job. These workers use their unique skill sets and utilize renewable or recycled materials to lessen a building’s environmental impact. Although tradespeople work closely with construction workers on the site, they are more highly trained and have more specific tasks. Their duties vary with their specialty and the project.

Job Duties

Carpenters trained in green techniques play an important role in reducing waste and improving building efficiency. One technique, called optimum value engineering, allows carpenters to use less lumber by increasing the amount of spacing between framing members. This technique also allows for more insulation to be added, increasing the energy efficiency of the building.

Electricians can help improve a building's energy efficiency by installing motion sensors to automatically turn off lights when no people are present. They can also recommend green products, such as smart power strips that stop plugged-in electronics from consuming unnecessary energy. Some electricians might be able to connect local solar photovoltaic panels to a building's energy system.

A good HVAC system is one of the most important contributors to a building's healthy indoor air environment. Built-up water in HVAC systems can be a fertile breeding ground for airborne contaminants, such as mold, that may spread through the building. Skilled HVAC installers can prevent this from happening by properly installing and maintaining the ventilation system.

Plumbers' knowledge of building codes and different system options has allowed them to become more involved in the design process. When working on green buildings, plumbers can recommend and install water-efficient appliances, such as dual-flush toilets, or systems that reuse gray water.

Insulation installers are important for both lowering a building's energy costs and creating a healthy indoor environment.. Properly insulated buildings lower energy consumption by keeping heat in during the winter and out in the summer. However, if a building is poorly insulated, wasted energy is not the only problem: diminished indoor air quality, resulting from insulating products that emit airborne irritants, is also a concern.

To help increase the energy efficiency of green buildings, glaziers frequently install double-paned windows. These windows lose less heat to the outdoor environment than single-paned alternatives. Skilled glaziers also are necessary to ensure that the window's glass is sealed properly into its frame. Any open seams would allow heat to escape and hurt the building's energy efficiency rating.

Temperatures in urban areas are often higher than those in nearby rural areas; hence, it may cost more to cool an urban building. This issue, called the heat island effect, can be mitigated through the work of skilled roofers. Cool roofs, which are made of reflective materials that deflect the sun's heat away from the building, can lower internal temperatures. Some roofers install "green" roofs, which cover the top of a building with vegetation, to achieve the same effect.

Roofers, especially those who are also trained as electricians, also might install solar photovoltaic panels.

Education and Training

Most of the workers in these specialty trade occupations learn their skills through formal training programs, apprenticeships, and trade schools. Craft training and apprenticeship programs usually consist of technical instruction and an additional 3 or 4 years of on-the-job training. Trainees and apprentices also must pass practical and written tests to demonstrate their knowledge of the trade. Many craft training or apprenticeship programs can be found through an NCCER or ABC training program sponsor or a local union chapter.

Continual learning is important for trade workers, because they need to acquire new, green skills. A carpenter, for example, should know current advanced framing techniques. Other trade occupations need to become familiar with green products and be able to install them.

Depending on the state in which they practice, some of these workers need to be licensed. Most states and communities require electricians, plumbers, and HVAC installers to be licensed. Licensing requirements vary, but workers typically must have several years of experience and pass an examination that tests their general knowledge and familiarity with local building codes.


The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not currently have wage data specific to the green construction industry. However, BLS does have wage data for the nonresidential building construction industry group, which includes construction of commercial and office buildings. The table shows BLS data for the specialty trade occupations in this industry group for May 2010. The wages shown are median annual wages for the United States as a whole; wages vary by employer and location.

Occupation Median annual wage
Carpenters $43,980
Electricians $47,620
Heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration mechanics and installers $41,560
Plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters $51,490
Insulation workers, mechanical $37,100
Insulation workers, floor, ceiling, and wall $35,910
Painters, construction and maintenance $35,050
Glaziers $36,640
Roofers $31,360

For more detailed information on specialty trade occupations in the green construction industry, follow the Occupational Outlook Handbook link.

Next week's green job series: Careers in Environmental Remediation.

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