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The Complete Guide to Environmental Construction: What, Why, and How

The Complete Guide to Environmental Construction: What, Why, and How

Every day, more and more buildings are becoming operational, and that's actually a much bigger problem than you think. In fact, commercial floor space is expected to grow by 33% between 2020 and 2050, with potentially devastating effects on the environment.

However, it doesn't have to be that way. What if we could build all the office space we needed without harming the environment? Well, it turns out we can. Let's talk about environmental construction, what it is, and why it's the future.

What is Environmental Construction?

Environmental construction services use renewable energy and building materials in their construction projects in order to limit the project's effect on the environment we all share.

The purpose of this is to create a sustainable future of buildings and habitats for humans that limit or remove the emissions of greenhouse gases and don't contribute to other harmful practices like deforestation. This is for both the construction process as well as the daily operations of the completed building.

A lot of construction practices, if not all, rely on unsustainable or harmful activities to the environment, including the air, water, and wildlife. Believe it or not, buildings contribute to 40% of greenhouse gas emissions, with building materials themselves accounting for 11% of emissions.

There are plenty of ways that buildings, especially industrial buildings, cause emissions, which means there is plenty of room to lower emissions in every building in the country.

Since we need to get down to net-zero by mid-century in order to avoid the worst effects of climate change, altering our building habits is a great place to start. First, let's talk about exactly how construction harms the planet.

Non-Sustainable Construction

Construction that is not sustainable is the majority of the construction projects taking place around the world. There are a number of culprits behind the unsustainability of our current construction projects, and they mainly come down to the systems used for each project.

There are a lot of institutional reasons why most construction projects harm the environment, and it's nearly impossible for a construction project to have a neutral effect on the environment.

For one example, even if you used all-electric equipment, the electric grid likely uses fossil fuels, meaning that it will create emissions. However, that's far from the primary culprit.

Transporting all of the materials, the materials themselves, and the tools being used to complete projects often create emissions. If you're using heavy diesel trucks to bring lumber, it's creating emissions. If you use a gas-powered excavator, it's producing emissions.

In fact, concrete itself emits plenty of CO2 both directly and indirectly. The manufacturing process for cement contributes to greenhouse gases and so does the transportation of such a heavy material. Not only that, but laying concrete on top of the ground removes some of our carbon sinks like plants and trees. The term "carbon sink" is used for materials that absorb carbon from the air.

Lastly, construction projects often rely on deforestation for building materials, which both create emissions to run the equipment and removes carbon sinks from the planet.

All of this is the standard form of construction used today and it is entirely unsustainable over the long term, not to mention the limited time that we have to peak emissions at a global level, according to the latest IPCC report.

The Importance of Environmental Construction

Like it or not, we have an emergency. The highest authority in the industry, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), declared what they called a "code red for humanity", sounding the alarm that humans need to achieve net-zero emissions by the year 2050 at the latest to prevent the planet from crossing the significant 2-degree threshold they have in place.

Should we cross that threshold by not dramatically reducing our emissions, the effects will be unprecedented, and possibly even worse than predicted if forest fires continue to increase and the permafrost melts in the arctic, releasing significantly more greenhouse gases.

Because of this, there is a massive demand for clean energy and design, and buildings will have to play a massive role in this. When you get a headstart on the transition from fossil fuels, you not only significantly reduce your carbon footprint, but you also receive the benefits of intelligent and financially sound design for longer than most businesses or people.

It doesn't even have to be new buildings that benefit from this type of construction. Existing buildings, especially old ones, that are not sustainable could benefit from things like asbestos removal, upgraded HVAC systems, and more.

There is no time like the present to start transitioning away from wasteful and damaging activities like traditional construction, and there is no better time to reap the rewards of it. Let's talk more about what makes sustainable construction so different from traditional construction.

How Environmental Construction is Different

With an electric grid that runs primarily on fossil fuels, it is nearly impossible to avoid all emissions, which is why it's so important that we transition our energy grid. However, advancements in engineering technology have allowed environmental construction companies to create buildings that are as environmentally friendly as possible and set you up for 100% clean energy when the right systems are in place.

By optimizing energy consumption, protecting and conserving water, enhancing the indoor environmental quality, and optimizing maintenance practices, buildings can be made entirely eco-friendly. It all comes down to the proper design for long-term sustainability and efficiency. Let's talk about how this is achieved.

Limiting Energy Consumption

There is a lot of waste in the construction industry, especially when it comes to energy consumption. Environmental construction companies work to mitigate the total amount of energy consumed by the building and work to ensure that the majority of that energy comes from sustainable sources.

With the right services, buildings will be made to reduce the demand for heating and cooling by incorporating climate-responsive design, utilizing sunlight, optimizing the lighting and HVAC systems, and more.

Saving Water

There will also be a responsive design to ensure that water usage is limited within the building, which not only saves water in scarce areas but also reduces the energy burden needed to pump water through the system.

Large amounts of resources are allocated to produce, pump, filter, transport, and heat water within every building, and it's something we all take for granted. An environmentally smart design for your water system will save money on utilities and the overall need for energy.

This can include recovering and filtering non-sewage or greywater waste to be re-filtered and repurposed within the building, incorporating stormwater systems, and improving the overall quality of your water system.

Location, Location, Location

Believe it or not, choosing the right site is also a large part of environmental construction. By limiting the amount of land disturbance, you will minimize the amount of deforestation and environmental harm caused by your construction project.

Ideally, you want to reuse a site that's already been tamed by humans, retrofit existing buildings, or otherwise build off of existing foundations.

There are other factors that go into optimizing your building's energy efficiency, including sunlight, heating opportunities, well water capabilities, and more. If your location isn't already picked out ahead of time, your construction team will be able to work with you to meet your needs.

Sustainable Building Materials

When possible, using salvaged or recycled materials are always best for the environment, as they limit the amount of waste that roughly 8 billion people leave on our planet. Using reconditioned fixings and furnishings is a great way to limit the amount of additional waste left about.

Another strategy is to simply limit or reduce the number of building materials necessary for each project. Again, there is a lot of waste in the construction industry, and limiting that will go a long way toward saving materials and money.

There are also plenty of new promising technologies being developed to create the most sustainable materials, including cement from recycled plastic, 3D-printed homes, and more. As technology improves, so will energy efficiency and sustainability.

Indoor Optimization

Again, most of the emissions from buildings come long after the project is finished. The inside needs to be optimized for long-term energy consumption, and there are a number of ways to go about that.

Optimizing your indoor space to limit energy consumption will include maximizing your ability to control airflow and temperature within every space, use the right design to save on materials and energy waste, and prevent airborne bacteria or other inhalants by offering proper moisture management systems.

There are other aspects like choosing the right kinds of artificial lighting systems, electric systems, and more. This also helps with indoor comfort and the health of the people who are inside for long periods of time.

Save on Maintenance

A lot of emissions, especially from commercial or government buildings, come from wasteful maintenance practices. With the right design and training for maintenance staff, this waste (along with harmful emissions) can be reduced dramatically.

This could include proper waste disposal designs, trash compactors, garbage disposals, cleaning systems, and more.

This will also include a long-term strategy of using eco-friendly and sustainable cleaning supplies, automated monitors to control water usage, and composting food products. All of this will go a long way to keeping your buildings sustainable over time.

Is Environmental Construction Too Expensive?

We understand why this would be a concern, as many of the eco-friendly products on the market tend to be far more expensive than their traditional counterparts. However, this isn't always the case with construction.

Let's put it this way, all construction is expensive. However, construction that is friendly to our environment doesn't necessarily have to be more expensive.

In fact, there have been massive improvements in sustainable building materials and projects that have allowed certain models to be cheaper than their traditional and environmentally harmful counterparts.

This is actually one of the biggest barriers to switching to sustainable construction en masse, as 64% of respondents to one poll suggested that the perceived higher costs would lead them to not seek out these services.

However, that's simply not the case. Limiting the consumption of building materials, recycling them, and optimizing the building systems tend to have the opposite effect, often making construction projects more affordable, especially on larger scales.

In certain cases, the upfront costs of sustainable construction may be slightly higher, but that isn't what you should look at. If you're considering long-term costs associated with operating your building, there is no comparison. Even if your circumstances make the construction process slightly more expensive, the long-term financial benefits will pay off.

Financial Benefits of Sustainable Construction

We understand why there's a need for sustainable construction, but there are plenty of reasons why you should want to use these methods for your project.

Other than simply saving the planet, there are plenty of benefits that come with environmental construction, even on your wallet. If it's a government building, taxpayers will be happy to know that their buildings are environmentally friendly and saving them money. Investors, employees, and customers will feel the same way about your business.

Reduced Energy Costs

The first and most obvious benefit of optimizing your building for environmental efficiency is that you will save money on utilities. If you're heating and cooling massive buildings, those bills add up to a lot, especially in regions with extreme climates.

By optimizing the use of daylight, room efficiency, temperature control, ventilation, water usage, and more, you will save a lot of money on energy over the long run, month after month, for the entire time you operate the building.

Talk to your construction company about your heating, electric, and water bills to get a better idea of how much you can save by simply optimizing your systems.

Material Costs

When you minimize the need for materials and get them from recycled sources, you save money. The cost of materials is a major factor in the cost of a construction project, and buying them as cheaply as possible is more important now than ever before.

The cost of traditional building materials has increased by over 25% in just 3 months and is still continuing to rise. Well, using alternative materials is a great way to avoid overpaying for your construction bill.

Not only that, but your construction company will work with you to make the project as cost-effective as possible, both for the construction process and for long-term operation. That includes making sure that the building is in the optimal location, that the design will require the optimal maintenance costs and more.

Tax Incentives

Getting a headstand with going green offers many tax incentives, especially if you're using solar panels to help offset your energy consumption. The federal government will even give you a 26% tax rebate on the cost of installation of solar panels, and you can look at the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency to see more about what your state offers.

In most cases, state incentives aren't just for solar panels. They include incentives and rebates for most energy-efficient and green technologies that add up to a lot of savings for larger buildings.

Some states offer massive reimbursements for green technologies that already save you money just on operating costs, so if your state offers these incentives, it's a no-brainer.

Repairs and Maintenance

Maintaining and repairing sustainable buildings is often a lot more cost-effective, as durability is an important factor in sustainability. There will also include different maintenance tools and techniques in your building's design to promote efficiency, eliminate waste, and save you money.

Frequently Asked Questions

Since sustainable buildings are still fairly new in the world of construction, there are many questions some may ask about them. We'll try our best to answer your questions, but feel free to contact us with any additional questions about environmental construction.

Are Sustainable Buildings Just as Good as Traditional Buildings?

Absolutely, yes. Sustainable construction companies would never use recycled material or make cuts that would affect the quality or integrity of the building. This is especially true because that would be the antithesis of their business model.

The longer that a building lasts, the more sustainable it is. The need for demolition in 50 years will only create more waste for the planet. Durability and longevity are important parts of sustainability, so the right construction company will never sacrifice quality.

What Are The Health Benefits?

This is an excellent question to ask because climate change is such a serious threat that we often neglect to talk about the immediate health benefits to the public.

When you're trapped inside with closed windows for long periods throughout the week, like most people with jobs are, you're breathing in air that isn't exactly the freshest. You're breathing in refrigerant and whatever's in your air conditioning filter during the summer and some leftover toxins from your heater in the winter.

It doesn't just harm you and your employees, but any customers who spend long periods of time within your building, as well as people in the surrounding community. Emissions are simply not good for human health, so taking steps to minimize them is always welcome.

By providing the right ventilation and maintaining proper indoor air quality, you will not be harming the health of yourself or your community.

Are There Green Buildings Near Me?

Most likely, yes. In fact, they are being built all over the globe. There have been sustainable 3D-printed homes for those in need within African and Latin American countries as well as modern skyscrapers using the best energy practices. In fact, you can see plenty of examples near your location by looking at some of our past projects.

Every area can incorporate green buildings, so if your area is late to the party, you should try being the first to include sustainable construction.

What is Life Cycle Assessment?

This is an assessment performed by the federal government to discover a building's impact on the environment "from cradle to grave". This includes how wasteful the building is, the emissions produced, and more.

Are There Federal Laws Related To Green Buildings?

Yes. There are federal requirements for sustainable designs attached to the Energy Policy Act of 2005 and the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007. There have since been executive orders and state legislation related to sustainable construction, but this varies by region and type of building.

How Can I Get A Green Building?

Whether you're building a house, apartment building, business complex, or government project, you can benefit from green construction. You just have to reach out to your local environmental contractor and see what services they can offer you.

Can I Incorporate These Designs in My Home?

Sure! Upgrading your HVAC systems, sealing your windows and unwanted airflow, switching to an electric stove, and adding solar panels to your home are great ways to start, but there are many additional practices you can add to your everyday life that will also help.

No matter how big or how small the project is, we can all benefit from reducing our carbon footprints.

Build For The Future

Now that you know more about environmental construction, there's no time like the present to start benefiting from it. Your health, your community, and your species depend on it. The sooner you turn your building into a sustainable fixture, the sooner you will start reaping the rewards. Stay up to date with our latest construction news and feel free to contact us with any questions!

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