The construction industry, by its very nature, is one of the largest consumers of materials and produces more waste than any other sector. The need and importance of sustainability in construction has become a debated topic due to growing concerns over climate change and the finite nature of resources. This inturn has increased pressure on construction firms to reduce their environmental impact.
Understanding Sustainable Construction: One Vision, Three Pillars
According to the Belgian Building Research Institute and CSTC, sustainable building can be described as the search for buildings that provide a balance of the three following pillars:
1. Environmental Perspective
The construction sector is responsible for approximately 50% of the global consumption of raw materials. Heating and lighting of buildings also represents 42% of total energy consumption. Not only that, the sector is also a major producer of waste. A sustainable build should take these factors into account along with the biodiversity of the land. Efforts should be taken to preserve fauna and flora by building on land with little environmental value.
2. Social Perspective
Sustainable construction should not be limited to its ecological dimension. The average person spends 90% of their time inside buildings, so it is no surprise that our quality of life goes hand in hand with the quality of the building in which we are located. Air quality, thermal comfort and acoustic comfort are important factors to consider when building sustainably. In addition to the fact that buildings that are not properly designed have a negative impact on the health of users and residents, these can also lead to very high maintenance and heating costs.
3. Economic Perspective
An analysis of the construction arrangements and costs should make it possible to determine whether a project is feasible or not. Understanding, for example, the life cycle-costs of a building, the risks associated and the possibilities for innovation, allow for the conservation and renewal of the built environment. In the past we tried to minimize the initial construction costs, today we are trying to strike more of a balance.
Innovative Construction Methods and Techniques: Benefiting The Environment
Sustainable design shares that big-picture view of how our choices affect more than the present. Green design is a comprehensive approach to selecting and integrating processes and materials that create long-term consumer satisfaction whilst conserving the environment. The fundamental principles of a green build include;
- Optimize Site Potential – The location, orientation and landscaping of a building all affect the local ecosystem. Site design must integrate with sustainable design to achieve a successful project.
- Optimize Energy Usage – Creating net zero energy buildings is one way to significantly reduce our dependence on fossil fuel-derived energy.
- Protect and Conserve Water – Sustainable builds should use water efficiently and recycle water for on-site use, when feasible.
- Enhance Indoor Environmental Quality (IEQ) – The way a building is designed has a significant impact on occupant health, comfort and productivity. A sustainable build maximizes daylighting, has appropriate air quality, optimizes acoustic performance and avoids the use of high-VOC emission materials.
- Optimize Building Space and Material Use – As long as the global population continues to grow, so will the demand for natural resources. A green build is designed and operated to use and recycle materials in the most sustainable way across its entire life-cycle.
- Optimize Operational and Maintenance Practices – Green designers will specify materials and systems that reduce maintenance requirements, require less water and less energy. This should in turn be cost-effective by reducing life-cycle costs.
Practical Benefits of Sustainable Construction
Traditional construction methods lead to the accumulation of waste products and toxic chemicals, the majority of which take hundreds of years to degrade. The advantages of using Biodegradable materials, such as organic paints, are that they limit the negative impact on the environment as they easily breakdown without the release of toxins.
Insulation is one of the greatest concerns in the construction of homes and buildings. Green insulation has proven to be a sustainable construction technology as it eliminates the need for high-end finishes from non-renewable materials. Instead it is created from recycled materials such as denim and newspaper.
Sustainability experts universally agree that bamboo is the most eco-friendly building material on the planet. Bamboo has a high strength-to-weight ratio and exceptional durability, giving it a greater comprehensive strength than brick or concrete. Most importantly its rate of self-generation is incredibly high, with some species growing up to three feet in 24 hours.
Hempcrete is a building composite similar to concrete, however regarded as one of the top sustainable building materials. It is created by wet-mixing hemp hurds (wood fibers from the plant core) with a lime-based binder and water. The mixture is then cast into molds or applied directly, serving several construction and insulation purposes.
As Europe pushes forward to reduce both its energy consumption and carbon footprint, a host of innovative green building technologies and materials have come to light. The European efficiency-related construction market is expected to double to €140 billion in 2020. Green-construction related patent filings have also tripled over a decade.
Electronic Smart Glass
The electronic smart glass is a relatively new technology that works to shut out the harsh heat of solar radiation. The smart glass uses electronic signals to slightly charge the windows to change the amount of radiation it reflects. Other advantages include reduced heating and air conditioning costs.
Buildings are now being built to generate sufficient power in order to support their own energy needs and even direct surplus energy back into the cities power grid. Wind power technology is highly common in skyscrapers whereby turbines are mounted on the rooftop. The heavy air currents at high altitudes propel the turbine blades which generates the power requirements for the building.
Cool Roofs are designed to offer increased solar reflectance and decreased thermal emittance. Essentially, they reflect more of the sun’s rays than your average roof, and prevent the warm or cool air inside from escaping through the top of a building.
Solar power is produced by collecting sunlight and converting it into electricity. Solar thermal technology can also be used for water heating or space cooling for buildings. With unlimited energy and heat from the sun and zero greenhouse gas emissions, this makes solar one of the most sustainable building technologies.
The Future: Green Building
Studies show that the development and long-term growth of larger communities has had a major impact on the surrounding natural environment. As such, experts are now focusing on the design and construction of green buildings that could provide individuals with a more responsible way to consume natural resources. Not only does the widespread functionality of green buildings improve the local environment, but those working and living inside the buildings can enjoy healthier lives, free of pollution and waste.