The construction industry unfortunately consumes most of its resources in an unsustainable pace. However, there are many actions investors and contractors can take to reduce and minimize this uncontrolled consumption of resources. The answer is sustainable building. Here are some ways to get the wheels turning. Note: it’s not as intimidating as you may think.
Waste minimization strategy
The first thing you should consider is how to use the building materials efficiently, reducing the amount of materials used and minimizing waste at the same time. Another thing to contemplate is whether components of the building can be reused. Can the building be used for other purposes besides what it was originally intended for? Can the building be demounted so that some of its elements can still be reused and reclaimed?
The final step in waste minimization is recycling of materials. Recycling can be made easier by using pieces that can be easily separated and are not highly processed since those are harder to recycle.
A sustainable building is designed to use materials in the most productive and sustainable way throughout its entire life cycle, not just the construction process. The materials in a sustainable building can help minimize the environmental impacts such as global warming, resource depletion and toxicity, and the effect on human health.
Sustainable architecture often incorporates the use of recycled or second-hand materials, such as reclaimed lumber and recycled copper. Today, “green” architects and building companies look for materials that are rapidly replenished, such as bamboo (which can be harvested for commercial use after only six years of growth), sorghum and wheat straw (both of which are waste material that can be pressed into panels) or cork oak (in which only the outer bark is removed for use, thus preserving the tree).
Concrete is an old friend of the environment from the stage of raw material to the stage of demolition, making it a logical choice for sustainable construction. Fresh concrete is in a liquid state and is flowable, hence, it can be poured into various molds to form the desired shapes. The mixing of concrete and building of the molds can be done on the worksite, which will reduce the pollution and amount of fossil fuels used in transport. Concrete aggregates can also be made with reused materials such as crushed glass and stone, gravel, wood chips and slag. After a concrete structure has been demolished, the concrete can also be crushed and recycled into an aggregate suitable for use in new concrete pavements.
Water is another important resource that should be conserved in sustainable buildings. Installing water-saving devices and fittings such as low-flush or dual-flush toilets, aerated taps, and low-flow shower heads in your building greatly lowers wasted water. These fittings do not require any changes to the building design and are a great substitute for the conventional choices.
Additionally, using a rainwater harvesting system is another good way to minimize water usage. Rainwater harvesting systems can collect water that can later be used for flushing toilets, washing machines and vehicles, plant irrigation and cleaner’s sinks.
Conservation of energy
One of the easiest and cheapest ways to reduce the energy loss of your building is to insulate its external envelope. Make sure the external envelope is airtight, and provide proper ventilation. Another great way to reduce energy loss is installing double or triple-glazed windows. These super-efficient building elements will stop the heat from leaving and entering the building thanks to argon or krypton that is injected between each layer of glass to aid the insulation. Combined with low-emissivity coatings applied to the glass and fully insulated window frames, these windows will significantly contribute to your building’s energy conservation capability.
Today, more and more forests, agricultural fields and suburban and urban lands are replaced by solid surfaces, so the necessity to recover green spaces is becoming a priority for sustainable building. Green roofs are one way to add greenery to highly urban cities and provide numerous ecological and economic benefits, such as storm water management, energy conservation and increased longevity of roofing membranes. Additionally, they provide a more aesthetically pleasing environment for living and working. Green roofs also reduce air and noise pollution as well as the urban “heat island” effect.
By choosing to build sustainable commercial and residential buildings we will not only preserve precious resources but also leave a better environment for future generations.
About the Guest Author
Catherine Collins is a passionate home design consultant from Melbourne. She loves making homes beautiful and buildings sustainable, but she also like sharing her advice and construction knowledge with people. That is why she is also a regular contributor to the Smoothdecorator blog.