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ArrowGreen Glossary

Green Glossary

Green and building terminology can often sound like a foreign language. To help you get the most out of in your effort to “Go Green” refer to the following definitions for common green, environmental, energy and building terms.


Air Barrier
Meets ASTM E283 standards. A layer of material resistant to air flow usually in the form of polyolefin (i.e. Typar, Tyvek, and other housewraps). A material which is applied in conjunction with a building component (such as a wall, ceiling or sill plate) to prevent the movement of air through that component.

Air Changes per Hour (ACH)
An expression of ventilation rates - the number of times in an hour that a home's entire air volume is exchanged with outside air.

Air infiltration – from
Uncontrolled inward air leakage through cracks in a building envelope. May also refer to air leaking outward (also called air exfiltration).

A substance capable of causing an allergic reaction because of an individual’s sensitivity to that substance.

Blower Door
Diagnostic equipment consisting of a calibrated fan, removable panel and gauges, used to measure and locate air leaks.

Blowing Agent
A blowing agent is any substance, which alone or in combination with other substances is capable of producing a cellular structure in a plastic.

CFC (Chlorofluorocarbon)
Any of various halocarbon compounds consisting of carbon, hydrogen, chlorine, and fluorine, once used widely as aerosol propellants and refrigerants. Chlorofluorocarbons are believed to cause depletion of the atmospheric ozone layer.

Capillary Action
The movement of liquid within a material against gravity as a result of surface tension.

Carbon Dioxide (CO2) – from
Made of one carbon atom and two oxygen atoms, it is formed especially in animal respiration and in the decay or combustion of animal and vegetable matter. It is absorbed from the air by plants in photosynthesis, and is an atmospheric greenhouse gas.

Carbon Intensity
The amount of carbon by weight emitted per unit of energy consumed.

Climate Change (from the EPA)
Climate change refers to any significant change in measures of climate (such as temperature, precipitation, or wind) lasting for an extended period (decades or longer). Climate change may result from:
  • natural factors, such as changes in the sun's intensity or slow changes in the Earth's orbit around the sun;
  • natural processes within the climate system (e.g. changes in ocean circulation);
  • human activities that change the atmosphere's composition (e.g. through burning fossil fuels) and the land surface (e.g. deforestation, reforestation, urbanization, desertification, etc.)

Transmission of energy (heat /sound) through a material or from one material to another by direct contact. Materials with low rates of conductive heat transfer make good insulation.

Transmission of energy (heat /sound) from one place to another by movement of a fluid such as air or water.

The movement of water vapor from regions of high relative humidity (RH) toward regions of lower RH driven by a higher to lower temperature differential.

Selecting products that are long lasting and require little maintenance.

Embodied Energy
Considering how much energy was required to extract, process, package, transport, install, and recycle or dispose of materials that make up your home. Up to 70 percent of the total energy invested in a building’s construction is embodied in the materials themselves.

The release of a substance (usually a gas when referring to the subject of climate change) into the atmosphere.

Energy Efficient
Products and systems that use less energy to perform as well or better than standard products. While some have higher up-front costs, energy-efficient products cost less to operate over their lifetime.

Energy Recovery Ventilator (ERV) – from
An energy recovery ventilator (ERV) is an air to air heat exchanger or preconditioner, designed to reduce the energy required to heat or cool required outdoor air in mechanical ventilation systems by as much as 80%.

Energy Smart
Meeting your energy needs cost effectively and with the least impact on the environment.

Energy Star
ENERGY STAR is a joint program of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy helping to save money and protect the environment through energy efficient products and practices. In Canada ENERGY STAR is a voluntary arrangement between Natural Resources Canada's Office of Energy Efficiency and organizations that build, manufacture, sell or promote products or new homes that meet the ENERGY STAR levels of energy performance.

Envelope (Building Envelope)
The skin of a building—including the windows, doors, walls, foundation, basement slab, ceilings, roof, and insulation—that separates the interior of a building from the outdoor environment.

Environmental Impact
Avoiding materials that pollute the environmental quality inside a home and damage the outdoor environment and atmosphere.

Fluorinated Gases
Synthetic, powerful greenhouse gases that are emitted from a variety of industrial processes. Because they are potent greenhouse gases, they are referred to as High Global Warming Potential gases (“High GWP gases”).


GWP (Global Warming Potential) is an index, which expresses the climatic warming potential of a gas relative to that of carbon dioxide.

Global Warming
Global warming is an average increase in the temperature of the atmosphere near the Earth's surface and in the troposphere, which can contribute to changes in global climate patterns. Global warming can occur from a variety of causes, both natural and human induced. In common usage, "global warming" often refers to the warming that can occur as a result of increased emissions of greenhouse gases from human activities (Source EPA).

Green Development
Taking into consideration the environmental impact on the community first and foremost, over social and economic impacts. For example, a cluster development can be considered a green development yet still be five miles outside of town.

Greenhouse Effect
Trapping and build-up of heat in the atmosphere (troposphere) near the Earth’s surface. Some of the heat flowing back toward space from the Earth's surface is absorbed by water vapor, carbon dioxide, ozone, and several other gases in the atmosphere and then reradiated back toward the Earth’s surface (Source: EPA).

Greenhouse Gases (GHG)
Any gas that absorbs infrared radiation in the atmosphere. Greenhouse gases include, but are not limited to, water vapor, carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs), ozone (O3 ), hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs), and sulfur hexafluoride (SF6). (Source: EPA).

To falsely claim a product is environmentally sound.

HCFC (Hydrochlorofluorocarbons)
Compounds containing carbon, hydrogen, chlorine and fluorine. They have shorter atmospheric lifetimes than CFC's and deliver less reactive chlorine to the stratosphere where the ''ozone layer'' is found.

HFC’s (hydrofluorocarbons) are man-made fluorinated gases that have a high GWP, leading numerous countries and Fortune 500 companies to support their phase-out. The insulating foam sector is expected to become one of the largest HFC growth areas and is predicted to become the second largest source of HFC emissions.

Heating, ventilation and air conditioning (cooling) system.

Heat Loss
Heat that is lost from a building through air leakage, conduction and radiation. To maintain a steady interior temperature, heat losses must be offset by a combination of heat gains and heat contributed by a heating system.

Heat Recovery Ventilation System
A mechanical ventilation system that recovers energy from exhausted indoor air and transfers it to incoming air. This system usually incorporates an air-to-air heat exchanger which transfers the heat from exhaust air to the incoming air or vice versa.

HFA Propellant
Usually hydrofluoroalkane-134a, used in chlorofluorocarbon-free (CFC-free) aerosol delivery systems.

Substances containing only hydrogen and carbon. Fossil fuels are made up of hydrocarbons.

Having no affinity for water; not compatible with water. ''Water fearing''.

A 100% water-blown, renewable-based light density insulation and air barrier material that reduces the need for petroleum-based polyols. Is responsibly made using castor oil and exceeds United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) BioPreferredSM and International Code Council (ICC) requirements for a rapidly renewable product. Insulates and air-seals in one step for maximum energy conservation while minimizing the environmental impact during manufacturing and construction.


A 100% water-blown, HFC-free, medium density spray foam insulation and air barrier material. Is responsibly made using recycled material enabling a building to be insulated and air-sealed for superior energy conservation while minimizing environmental impact. Offers performance advantages such as high insulation R-value, low vapor permeance and an ability to deliver additional load capacity translating into long-term building protection.

Indoor Air Quality (IAQ)
Assessment of the indoor air to determine levels of mold, bacteria, viruses, and chemicals produced by off-gassing of products used in the building or carried into the building by the HVAC system.

Uncontrolled leakage of air into a building through cracks around doors, windows, electrical outlets and at structural joints.

Materials with low thermal conductivity characteristics that are used to slow the transfer of heat.

Parallel horizontal structural framing members. Typically floor joists and ceiling joists.

Kilowatt-hour (kWh)
Standard unit for measuring electrical energy consumption.

LEED® or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design is a building environmental certification program developed and operated by the U.S. Green Building Council. LEED® Canada for New Construction and Major Renovations version 1.0 is an adaptation of the U.S. LEED Green Building Rating System (LEED®), tailored specifically for Canadian climates, construction practices and regulations.

Land waste disposal site in which waste is generally spread in thin layers, compacted, and covered with a fresh layer of soil each day.

Fungal growths often resulting in deterioration of organic materials, especially under damp conditions.

Any poisonous substance produced by a fungus.

National Green Building Standard (NGBS)
The NAHB (National Association of Homebuilders) National Green Building Standard is a voluntary accreditation program based on the three-year-old NAHB Model Green Home Building Guidelines. The NGBS provides credible, cost-effective green building certification standards, so a homebuyer’s money can go to green features vs. green program fees.

The ozone layer is the Earth's natural sunscreen, filtering out harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun. Ozone Depleting Substances are chemicals that release chlorine or bromine atoms, which deplete ozone.

Releasing of gas into the air from products treated with chemicals during their manufacture.

Compounds containing carbon.

Ozone (O3) – from
Ozone is a poisonous gas and an irritant at the earth's surface, capable of damaging lungs and eyes. But the ozone layer in the stratosphere shields life on earth from deadly ultraviolet radiation from space.

Ozone Layer
The layer of ozone that begins approximately 15 km above Earth and thins to an almost negligible amount at about 50 km, shields the Earth from harmful ultraviolet radiation from the sun. The highest natural concentration of ozone (approximately 10 parts per million by volume) occurs in the stratosphere at approximately 25 km above Earth. The stratospheric ozone concentration changes throughout the year as stratospheric circulation changes with the seasons (Source: EPA).


Particulate Matter (PM)
Very small pieces of solid or liquid matter such as particles of soot, dust, fumes, mists or aerosols. The physical characteristics of particles, and how they combine with other particles, are part of the feedback mechanisms of the atmosphere (Source: EPA).

Payback Period
The time estimated for a capital investment to pay for itself, calculated by relating the cost of the investment to the profit it will earn or savings it will incur.

The time rate of water vapor transmission through unit area of a material of unit thickness induced by unit vapor pressure difference between two specific surfaces, under specified temperature and humidity conditions.

R (as in R-Value)
A unit of measurement of resistance to heat flow in hr. ft2 ° F/ (used in R-Values).

Transfer of energy (heat/sound) from one object to another through an intermediate space. Only the object receiving the radiation, not the space is heated. The heat is in the form of low frequency, infrared, invisible, light energy, transferring from a ''warm'' object to a ''cold'' object.

Collecting and reprocessing a resource so it can be used again. An example is collecting aluminum cans, melting them down, and using the aluminum to make new cans or other aluminum products.

Recycled material – from
Material that would otherwise be destined for disposal but is diverted or separated from the waste stream, reintroduced as material feed-stock, and processed into marketed end-products.

Relative Humidity
The ratio expressed as a percentage of the amount of moisture air actually contains to the maximum amount it could contain at that temperature.

Choosing natural materials that are rapidly renewable, such as fast-growing trees and agricultural products.

A renewable product can be grown or naturally replenished or cleansed at a rate that exceeds human depletion of the resource

Rightsizing (as in Heating, Cooling and Air Conditioning)
Properly sizing HVAC equipment to meet the specific needs of a home. Factors such as amount and type of insulation/air barrier, air-tightness, type and size of the windows and floor area all impact the size of equipment that will perform best. When it comes to heating and cooling equipment, bigger doesn’t always mean better. Larger capacity systems are intended to meet the needs of a larger heating or cooling load. However, if the unit is too large for a home, it will experience less comfort and increased costs. Oversized equipment will operate in short run times or cycles, not allowing the unit to reach efficient operation. In addition, oversized equipment will not run long enough to remove humidity from the air. (Source: Energy Star: A Guide to Energy-Efficient Heating and Cooling).

Meeting the needs of the present without depleting resources or harming natural cycles for future generations.

Sustainable Development
Taking into account the surroundings of the development – the social, economic and environmental impact the development has on the community. All three are of equal importance.

Thermal Barrier
A material applied over Icynene® Insulation designed to slow the temperature rise of the foam during a fire situation and delay its involvement in the fire.

Thermal Resistance (R)
An index of a material's resistance to heat flow.

Temperature sensitive control device that signals a heating or cooling system to operate if the temperature in the building reaches a preset limit.

Overall thermal conductance. U value is equal to the inverse of the sum of the R-values in a system (U = 1 /R total).

Volatile Organic Compounds, typically substances such as the solvents used in paints and carbon-based chemicals that migrate from synthetic materials to the air.

Vapor Diffusion Retarder/Barrier
A layer of moisture resistant material usually which controls moisture diffusion (defined as less than 1 perm) to prevent moisture build up in the walls.

Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC)
Any compound containing carbon and hydrogen or containing carbon and hydrogen in combination with other elements.

Water Vapor
The most abundant greenhouse gas, it is the water present in the atmosphere in gaseous form. Water vapor is an important part of the natural greenhouse effect. While humans are not significantly increasing its concentration, it contributes to the enhanced greenhouse effect because the warming influence of greenhouse gases leads to a positive water vapor feedback (Source: EPA).


ALA - American Lung Association
ANSI - American National Standards Institute
ASTM - American Society for Testing and Materials
CSA - Canadian Standards Association
DOE - U.S. Department of Energy
EPA - Environmental Protection Agency
EEBA - Energy and Environmental
Building Association
EERE - Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Clearing House (DOE program)
IAQA - Indoor Air Quality Association
LEED - Leadership in Energy &
Environmental Design
NAHB - National Association of Home Builders
NBC - National Building Code of Canada
NGBS - National Green Building Standard
NRC - National Research Council of Canada
ORNL - Oak Ridge National Laboratory
USBIC - Sustainable Buildings Industry Council
UBC - Uniform Building Code
USGBC - United States Green Building Council


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