Sustainable construction is the practice of creating a healthy indoor environment that’s based on ecological principles. The goal is to reduce the construction industry’s impact on the environment by utilizing sustainable development practices, energy efficiency measures, and taking advantage of green technology. Let’s take a look at what sustainable construction is, its principles, and some of its main benefits and challenges.
Traditional construction is wasteful
Traditional construction methods create a lot of waste material. Up to 30% of materials delivered to a job site end up as waste sent to the landfill.
Overall, the industry created 600 million tons of waste in 2018. Sustainable building focuses on reducing waste, recycling when possible, and reusing materials.
Sustainable construction has been gaining ground in the industry over the last 20 years, especially since the introduction of the LEED building rating system in 2000. Established by the US Green Building Council, the rating system provides a way for buildings to measure and show their sustainability. Since then, the number of green building projects has steadily increased over the years.
6 principles of sustainable construction
1. Conserve materials
One way to overcome the increasing amount of waste in the industry is to conserve materials. By using less, we can save natural resources. Conservation reduces waste and contrasts the pattern of overconsumption.
One example of conservation is the use of passive HVAC systems. These systems rely on natural patterns of heating and cooling to condition indoor spaces without the use of additional equipment. They take advantage of prevailing winds and other natural patterns, like sun exposure, to reduce or eliminate the need for energy and equipment.
Other common building features that are led by conservation include natural lighting, increased insulation, low flow water fixtures, and high-performance windows. All of these techniques lead to less energy or water consumption.
2. Reuse intact materials
“Reuse” is defined as the use of intact building materials with minimal processing. Processing may include refinishing or painting, but the material is used substantially for the same use it was intended.
Reuse can extend to all sorts of materials that can be removed from one building and used in another. This includes materials such as doors, windows, and bricks. Other materials, like lumber, can also be harvested and reused.
3. Use renewable and recycled content
Using products that are made with recycled content and from renewable resources helps cut down on construction waste. Many products can be made with recycled content, both post-consumer and post-industrial, cutting down on the new resources that must be harvested. Renewable products include materials made from resources that can be regrown or re-created within a short time span.
Materials made from renewable or recycled content include solar and wind power, wood, engineered wood systems, tile, linoleum, and roofing materials.
4. Protect nature
Sustainable construction seeks to sustain and restore as much of the natural environment as possible. This includes siting projects where they will do the least amount of damage to the natural environment and restoring areas when possible.
With this in mind, project materials are sourced as close to the project as possible to cut down on transportation effects on the environment, and projects are sited in areas that don’t affect wildlife habitation.
5. For new materials, stay non-toxic
In order to provide a healthy interior environment, sustainable construction seeks to reduce the use of harsh chemicals in construction. This includes volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, which are present in many construction adhesives, paints, and other finishes. By choosing low VOC options, workers are protected from harsh fumes and occupants get a healthier environment.
6. Improve quality of life
Sustainable communities are planned to reduce transportation needs and improve the quality of life of the occupants. With home and work nearby, as well as access to other amenities such as shopping and entertainment, these communities can reduce carbon emissions and encourage the use of mass transit. Community planning and project siting are key in ensuring that living spaces are valued by their occupants.
Benefits and challenges of sustainable construction
- Promotes healthier living
Sustainable buildings use less energy, less chemicals, and less water than traditional buildings. This is good not only for the environment, but for the occupants as well. They encourage occupants to walk or bike to work and provide opportunities for exercise and socializing.
- Reduces waste
Sustainable buildings create less waste going to the landfill than traditional buildings. By recycling waste and using less materials, they conserve resources and reduce landfill use.
- Promotes sustainability
As more buildings are constructed sustainably, word is spread and sustainable construction becomes more popular. Businesses can actively promote their use of sustainable construction techniques and the benefits they provide.
- Creates business differentiation
Contractors that provide sustainable construction can use this service as a way to differentiate themselves from other contractors. Building owners want contractors that are familiar with sustainable building methods.
- Perceived costs
Some sustainable building materials and equipment are more expensive than more traditional materials and equipment. However, there are substantial savings available over the life of the building, including energy savings. The savings offset any additional costs for construction.
Workers may need additional training on sustainable building techniques before attempting a project. They need to be up to date with the latest technology and building methods to help conserve materials and energy.
Bonus: Building a sustainable construction business
It doesn’t matter how sustainable your materials are if your company isn’t sustainable. More than half of all construction businesses fail in their first five years. Cash flow is key to sustaining a construction business. You must balance cash inflows and outflows to keep your company afloat.
There are many alternatives to help when cash is low, including material financing and short-term loans. Know your options and select the best one for your situation.
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