April 18th, 2016 by Guest Contributor
The world’s most sustainable buildings are marvels of engineering. They are usually massive structures with seemingly unlimited green features: solar energy panels, water recycling systems, passive heating and cooling, sustainable materials, and the list goes on. Most technology integrated into such structures is cutting-edge and top-of-the-line, making for an utterly futuristic place. Moreover, famously green buildings seem to be effortlessly chic, with gorgeous architecture that speaks to the wealth and power contained within.
Indeed, the most exciting stories of sustainable construction sound expensive, but the truth is it doesn’t cost billions (or even millions) to have a green building. Any business looking to invest in sustainability can do so with simple and effective strategies that provide a number of benefits to inhabitants ― not least of which is cost.
Use Green Materials
Traditional building materials ― concrete, bricks, wood, and glass ― are strong and reliable, but they tend to consume untenable amounts of energy in production and fail to conserve energy during their use. Worse, some materials, wood especially, are drenched in chemicals that can make living and working environments toxic. Thus, one of the easiest ways to build sustainably is to opt for alternative building materials.
Fortunately, there are hundreds of green options available thanks to the pressure to build sustainably. Some materials are created from the recycling process, taking advantage of old, unused plastics, wood, and steel to create stronger, longer-lasting alternatives. Other materials are taken from surprising sources, including animals.
Here are three atypical sustainable building materials on the market:
- Fabric: Recycled plastic easily becomes polyethylene fabric, which permits natural light and reflects outside temperatures in fabric buildings. Fabric is especially useful when looking to design temporary warehouse structures for industrial clients.
- Wool: Packed into bricks or layered into walls as insulation, sheep’s wool is a versatile, durable, and renewable building material.
- Cob: A mixture of soil and straw, cob is as easy to use as concrete but takes advantage of waste products and requires dramatically less carbon emissions.
Though green materials are crucial for cutting a structure’s carbon footprint, the layout of a building has a much higher impact on its future energy efficiency. A number of design decisions can help or hurt a structure’s ability to conserve and create energy for its inhabitants. Perhaps the best-known green building feature is the tight envelope, which shields the house from outside elements to increase energy savings. Tight envelopes require special attention to joints, especially amongst the foundation, walls, and roof, as well as exceptional protection, such as appropriate layers of air barriers and outside insulation.
Other building features passively provide inhabitants with energy benefits. Businesses should consider the following during the design process:
- Orientation: Buildings with their largest faces to the north and south have more potential for solar heat gain, which increases internal temperatures. Businesses must consider their temperature needs based on regional climates.
- Apertures: Windows and doors should maximize solar gain during cold seasons and minimize it during hot seasons ― which usually means placing them on south-facing walls.
- Trombe walls and sunspaces: It is possible to collect and store solar heat with these uncommon building features, which can be customized to fit particular spaces and needs.
Rethink Construction Practices
Many construction firms attempt to be sustainable by using green materials and designs, but the process of building remains as inefficient as ever. To curb unnecessary waste, businesses must enact sustainable practices in their construction. Construction workers should be expected to reduce waste and work efficiently to save money and the environment.
Though each construction project is different, there are a handful of strategies most job sites can employ to be more sustainable. For example, builders might:
- Use reusable tools, like screws instead of nails.
- Save scrap materials for possible future use.
- Allow local scavenging once project is complete.
- Donate, sell, or otherwise recycle all leftover materials.
- Anticipate other waste and make plans to reduce it.
Preserving the health of construction workers is also a sustainable practice, which means building sites must always be equipped with proper protective gear.
Though registering with the U.S. Green Building Council may seem like a prestigious award, attaining LEED certification is actually less sustainable for most businesses. LEED has stringent requirements for its structures, and those conditions drastically increase construction costs from the research and design phase to the application for the certification. Unfortunately, the most prestigious levels of LEED certification fail to provide more than negligible benefits for sustainability. Thus, businesses would do well to use LEED practices as guidelines for increasing energy efficiency, but attempting to gain recognition for sustainable buildings is actually less sustainable in the long run.
This post was sponsored by Legacy Building Solutions
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