As awareness of environmental issues continues to grow, it can be easy to identify areas where collectively, we aren’t great at preserving the environment. Driving through a new construction site or past a remodel, where dumpsters of seemingly usable materials wait for their trip to the garbage dump, one can’t help but wonder if there is a way to make construction more environmentally friendly. The answer is sustainable construction.
Increasingly, companies and citizens are choosing to engage in sustainable construction and green building practices that are more ecologically safe by choosing to reconsider the materials used in construction and how the building relates to the external environment. Many new construction projects also follow LEED or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, standards to protect the environment both during construction and throughout the lifetime of a structure. Sustainable construction is an increasingly attractive option for many but requires attention to all aspects of the project.
The Basic Principles of Sustainable Construction
One of the first considerations in a sustainable construction project is where to locate a building or a home. Site location can dramatically affect the health of the surrounding ecosystem and, depending on the distance to nearby services, contribute to increased transportation emissions. Sustainable buildings are those that:
- You can usually find them within walking distance to basic services and public transportation.
- Are built on land that preserves the natural environment and ecosystem. For example, sustainable construction should not use prime farmland, be located on a flood plain, near wetlands, or near threatened animal habitat.
- Provide space for storage and collection of recyclables.
- Use natural pest control and non-invasive plants in landscaping.
- Manage construction waste in an environmentally friendly manner.
One can use sustainable construction practices inside a building or home, in a number of ways. Most of these relate to the building products that are used in construction – both the origin of materials as well as their relationship to a healthy environment. Some things that improve the sustainability of a building’s interior include:
- Use of low VOC paint.
- Use of formaldehyde-free wood and other products.
- Installation of energy and water efficient appliances.
- Low-emitting carpets.
- Large windows to take advantage of natural light and fresh air.
- Use of reused or recycled construction materials whenever possible.
- Reliance on green energy technology such as solar panels or geothermal heating systems.
LEED Certification Process
Those interested in sustainable construction for their upcoming project can also apply for LEED certification for their building or home, signifying attention to all areas of sustainability and ecological conservation in the design and building process.
To become LEED certified, owners or builders must apply for certification and pay a fee based on the type of construction to be examined. A designated expert should inspect the building several times during and after construction to demonstrate adherence to the specific LEED standards.
Although certification does involve cost, it offers an attractive feature of a building or home, boosting its overall property and resale value. Also, the builder most likely will receive a number of rebates and incentives, offered for sustainable construction projects.
Finding a Contractor for a Green Building Project
While any contractor can help you with your sustainable construction project, finding one with experience using environmentally conscious building practices or LEED certification will make the project much smoother for them and you. Carefully check a contractor’s references from other green building projects they have completed.
When hiring a contractor specifically for a sustainable build, make sure to clearly outline specific green components of the project in the contract. Detail how waste will be managed on the site, use of low-emitting products in the construction process, and how the crews will care for the surrounding vegetation during construction.
Also, throughout the process, work closely with your contractor. Tell him useful details about the materials used in the project and the ecologically protective processes for the building. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and frequently communicate about your project.
Advantages to Using Sustainable Construction Practices
Green building and construction offer some benefits, regardless of whether or not there are specific LEED certifications requirements. These benefits affect both the exterior environment, as well as the building’s interior.
- Preservation of external vegetation, animal habitat, and surrounding landscape.
- Reduced strain on local resources.
- Healthier, cleaner air indoors.
- Increased resale value and resale attractiveness.
- Savings in energy and water bills.
- Possible tax benefits, incentives, or government rebates.
Disadvantages to Sustainable Construction
While ecologically sensitive construction offers numerous benefits, you should be aware of this concept’s challenges before diving into a green building project.
- Green building can be expensive. Recycled materials often come with higher price tags than traditional products.
- You might not find available green products locally. Therefore, you will include shipping in your total cost.
- Finding an experienced green building contractor in your area may be difficult.
- To take advantage of increased resell and property values, you might need to educate new buyers. Sometimes, you will even have to inform your mortgage lender about the value of green building.
On the whole green building and sustainable construction offers numerous benefits. These boost the health of the surrounding landscape and environment. Moreover, they improve the quality of indoor air as well. However, engaging in a sustainable project requires attention to each detail of the process. Most likely the LEED certification becomes a priority in most of the cases. Such attention makes finding a qualified contractor essential. This may mean that you will have to spend more time overseeing a project than normal. Also, while green construction can save you money in the long run, initially those costs may be offset by the increased expense of building materials and shipping.
At the end of the day, you’ll breathe easier knowing your construction project affected the environment minimally. Also, the indoor structure is considerably less toxic than non-sustainable construction.
What are your thoughts or experiences with green building projects? Would you recommend green building to someone else?