Green building and sustainable construction practices probably took off as an extension from the U.S. environmental movements of the 1960’s and 70’s. Like the larger environmental movements, green building practices were first treated as a fringe movement and a hindrance to efficiency in the construction industry.
However, more sustainable construction practices have been in an upward trend for a while now, with a particularly sharp increase occurring during the last few years. There isn’t a single best explanation for this trend, but an increase in scientific literacy with regards to how pollution and waste impact the environment has seemed to resonate strongly with younger generations.
What is Green Building?
The EPA defines green building as:
Green building is the practice of creating structures and using processes that are environmentally responsible and resource-efficient throughout a building’s life-cycle from siting to design, construction, operation, maintenance, renovation and deconstruction. . . Green building is also known as a sustainable or high performance building.
Currently, the most widely used green building rating system in the world is Leadership in Energy Environmental Design (LEED) which was designed by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGB). Not only does LEED examine details about the building design and materials used, but it also looks at other metrics like construction practices, the long-term operations and maintenance of a property, neighborhood development, and much more.
Best Practices: Sustainable Construction for Green Structures
It is often assumed that sustainable construction practices and green structures have a higher upfront cost but make up for that by reducing other costs over time. However, because of the steadily increasing popularity of sustainable and green culture, manufacturers and builders have been able to reduce their overall costs through economies of scale.
So, even if certain green technologies and materials have a higher upfront cost right now, that could change relatively quickly as the movement continues to pick up steam.
Here are some of the big ideas that the modern architecture and construction firms are using to create more affordable and efficient green structures:
1. Low Tech Vs. High Tech
It always seems like there is a tech solution to everything, but is the tech solution always the best solution? It may be surprising to think about, but green technology isn’t always the best answer. Sure, integrated technology like digital assistants and the IoT can help save energy, but sometimes designing a building to fit its natural surroundings and utilize what is already there can do so much more.
2. Passive Heating, Cooling, and Solar
This refers to positioning and designing a structure to take maximum advantage of the natural climate conditions in an area. Passive heating and cooling is also closely related to passive solar designs, but not exclusively as some areas may not get enough sun to justify the cost of solar panels. Passive temperature control and solar design are two examples of low tech features can be used to enhance the performance of high-tech alternatives.
3. Going Modular
Using modular building components can have a lot of benefits during nearly all stages of the building process, from design to construction and beyond.
- For architects, modular components provide a framework for design that can cut down on the costs of design upfront, while also reducing the amount of revisions needed as a project moves forward.
- During construction, modular components can reduce a lot of unanticipated costs because the parts were originally designed and built to work together.
- Modular components can also reduce the long-term maintenance and performance costs of an existing property because they are easy to add onto and often reusable.
4. Source Local
Locally sourced goods and services aren’t just about monetary costs, they also can have a huge impact on the environment. Working with local suppliers reduces transportation, which will reduce the carbon footprint of a construction site.
Depending on the project, working with local suppliers can also have a huge impact on the well-being of a neighborhood, both by increasing the economic wealth in the area and by inspiring other professionals to adopt the same community friendly standards.
5. Adaptive Reuse
Whether building onto an existing site or starting completely from scratch, adaptive reuse principles can play a huge part in sustainable construction and green building. Adaptive reuse can be something as simple as using parts of an already existing structure in the design of your new building.
It can also refer to something a bit more involved like brownfield reclamation, which is the practice of cleaning up a contaminated area while constructing a new, usable structure. The EPA has several programs to incentivize builders to help reclaim brownfield properties that have largely been ignored due to contamination concerns.
Sustainable construction has come a long way since the days when it truly was cost-prohibitive to invest in a green building. Now, whether you’re thinking of going green in your home or your office, there are several ways to get the most out of your money while helping the environment in the long term.