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Sustainable Construction - Building a Better Future

Updated on September 25, 2013

Top 3 Tips for Building Greener

Sustainable construction is referred to in a number of ways, including sustainable building, green building and green construction. These eco friendly energy-saving processes incorporate designs and principles that endure, preventing a negative long-term effect on our planet. Environmentally responsible and resource-efficient methods can be employed throughout the building process. Sustainable construction methods include nearly every component, from green foundations to framing and structural, plumbing, heating, cooling, drywall, windows, lighting, landscaping, interior finishes and waste stream management. Nearly every aspect of construction can be made more sustainable and energy-efficient. From siting to design, construction, maintenance, renovation, operation and ultimately demolition, building green means designing in a way that reduces the overall impact of buildings on the natural environment and human health.

Here are 3 important ways to build in green value:

Green Buildings Can Incorporate Many Energy-Saving Features Like Solar Panels
Green Buildings Can Incorporate Many Energy-Saving Features Like Solar Panels

1 - Focus on Saving Energy

A cornerstone of sustainable construction is energy-saving design throughout all parts of the construction process. With the average American home using about a half ton of coal energy per month (the equivalent of 2 barrels of oil), this amount of energy consumption from existing non-renewable sources is simply not maintainable. Architects can incorporate passive and active energy-saving design features that minimize energy requirements, a benefit now and into the future. Natural design takes advantage of passive features such as positioning the building for greatest passive solar gain. South-facing glass walls can take full advantage of winter sun exposure, a design principle that costs nothing. Strategically-placed overhanging eaves can provide passive solar cooling by preventing solar gain during the hot summer months. Simple design elements like these can provide significant energy savings.

2 - Make Foundations and Framing More Sustainable

Concrete is a major construction component in every foundation. Although concrete is unsurpassed as a strong, flood-preventing material and effective thermal mass building insulator, it must be made more sustainable. The production of cement, a major component of concrete, creates up to 5% of worldwide man-made emissions of CO2. The production of concrete uses huge amounts of fossil fuels and contributes greenhouse gases. By using alternatives like recycled content paving materials, low VOC sealants, Integrity Block, and other developing green concrete alternatives, you can help preserve the environment.

With its light weight, beauty, versatility and relative durability, wood remains the top choice for construction framing. Responsible forest management, sustainable wood alternatives and efficient wood waste management at the construction site are essential for preserving this finite resource. Certified wood from responsibly managed forests bearing the seal of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) help to ensure proper forest management. Pine trees take 24 years to grow large enough to make 2x4's and oak trees about 150 years to reach full maturity. Wood waste at the construction site is a major waste of this precious resource. According to the U.S. Forest Products Laboratory, the new construction, remodeling and repair sector generates 6.7 million tons of wood waste annually, with 88% of that amount potentially recoverable. By using alternatives to wood such as engineered lumber, bamboo and recycled or repurposed wood and wood waste, we can help preserve our vital forests.

Steel is the word's most recyclable construction product
Steel is the word's most recyclable construction product

3 - Use Recyclables When Possible

One way to make the construction process more sustainable is by using recycled and recyclable materials and processes. For example, using steel can be a sustainable strategy for builders; it takes about 40-50 trees to frame a typical 2000-square-foot home, or about 10 acres of forest. The same home constructed with steel would only use the equivalent of about six scrapped automobiles. Although steel does have an energy-intensive production process requiring large amounts of fuel and creating CO2 emissions, it is the world's most recycled material. More than 80 million tons of steel are recycled each year. Steel can be recycled repeatedly while maintaining its integrity and performance.

There are numerous recycled fabrication alternatives for interior finishes too. Cabinets and flooring can be constructed from wood alternatives such as bamboo. Kitchen countertops can be made more sustainable by using recycled steel or glass terrazzo, replacing energy-intensive options like granite or other natural stones which are mined from deep earth and transported thousands of miles to the job site. Local sourcing of these items can greatly reduce embodied energy costs as well, providing even more sustainable benefits.

Sustainable construction is more than just 'tree hugging'. Consumers want energy efficiency and now consider it to be the most important factor in a newly built home. By using locally-sourced materials, green products and energy-saving construction strategies, you can construct buildings that work not only for today, but more importantly, you can create truly respectable monuments that will stand the test of time.

Which sustainable feature would you want most in a home?

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