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The construction industry isn’t always known for environmental friendliness. The field has historically caused water, soil and air pollution, habitat degradation and harm to wildlife and humans. Fortunately, innovative construction methods that benefit the environment have taken the place of traditional practices.
Advances in materials and methods have made building new structures and renovating older ones more eco-friendly and longer-lasting. Which of these environmentally-friendly methods can we practice in the construction field? Read on to discover five ways crews care for Mother Earth while creating the home or commercial structure of your dreams.
Synthetic Roof Underlayments and Green Roofs
Seasonal weather can put wear and tear on your roof. Leaves may accumulate in the gutter during the fall, snowstorms put extra weight on your home during the winter and excessive rain in the spring and summer could cause leaks and water damage.
Yet, when you need to redo your roof — about every 25 to 30 years — the process creates a ton of waste. However, today’s underlayments increase the longevity of your home and cut waste. Opt for a 30-pound felt to protect the structure longer if exposed to the elements due to storms and shingle loss.
Green roofs are another option, particularly for larger commercial buildings with flat tops. This innovative design features a layer of vegetation over a waterproof system with foliage that cools the facility and releases life-giving oxygen. Additionally, you can grow much of the produce required if you have an onsite restaurant.
You can reduce rooftop temperatures by 30–40 degrees Fahrenheit more than conventional rooftops and decrease structural energy use by 0.7%. This is particularly convenient for limiting the urban heat island effect in cities.
Passive Solar Design and Solar Thermal Cladding
Passive solar design uses the sun’s energy to heat and cool living spaces more efficiently. A building’s materials can reflect, transmit or absorb the rays. One primary feature is a large, south-facing window that catches the light between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m.
Solar thermal cladding also takes advantage of our nearest star. These materials work by using heat pipes to transfer outdoor energy for indoor use in heating water. If you don’t use these for the exterior, you can find vertical blinds that absorb solar radiation using this method.
Like green roofs, passive solar designs save on building energy. Its environmental-friendliness mainly derives from emitting no fossil fuel pollution into the air. Additionally, passive solar eliminates radiator noise and welcomes natural light into your living space.
Self-Healing Concrete and Hempcrete
All concrete eventually develops microcracks — you can see these forces at work if you inspect your foundation. These allow the ingress of water and chemicals into the structure and can eventually lead to the need for a costly replacement. However, self-healing concrete uses the help of bacterial reactions to mend these cracks as they appear, increasing the structure’s longevity.
The live bacteria lie dormant for 200 years until water seeps through the cracks, prompting germination. The bacteria then eats away at the calcium lactate, turning it into insoluble limestone. The limestone becomes hard and fills the gaps.
Hempcrete is one of the most eco-friendly building materials. It’s carbon-negative, meaning the plant absorbs more carbon dioxide than it makes as it grows and requires no fertilizer or pesticides. It also absorbs noise by 40% to 50%.
Although this material was previously challenging to find in the United States, the 2018 Farm Bill’s passage permits the growing of hemp. Expect this material to become more widely available soon.
Pre-Fabricating Materials in Controlled Environments
One of the most innovative construction methods that benefit the environment involves using prefabricated walls and roofs. This technique protects the planet by reusing the extra materials that end up in landfills in traditional builds.
Prefabricated structures create 15.38% less landfilled waste than conventional construction. Landfills are overflowing and cause significant environmental damage. They also produce excessive carbon dioxide and methane gas emissions.
Waste reduction is particularly noticeable onsite, as construction moves predominantly to an indoor facility before being transported in larger components for assembly. Additionally, inclement weather can delay traditional construction and if a storm blows up during a crucial stage, it can damage studs that crews must replace. However, with prefabricated walls, the building goes up much more quickly, resulting in less material loss.
Recycled, Upcycled and More Sustainable Materials
Lumber requires cutting down a ton of trees — or does it? Crews can now choose from a variety of recycled building materials, such as the following:
- Newspaper wood: As the name implies, these use newsprint and cardboard that is sealed to become waterproof and fire-resistant.
- Plasphalt: Who would have thought plastic waste could have a practical purpose? This material is more resistant to wear and tear than traditional asphalt and uses particles that could otherwise kill ocean wildlife.
- Nappy roofing: While people need hygiene, sanitary products create tons of waste yearly. This process removes organic matter from napkins and reuses the polymers to create waterproof ceiling tiles.
You also have more sustainable choices for materials today. Bamboo, for example, grows about 23 inches per day and creates anything from fencing to flooring. Whereas traditional hardwood lumber for flooring reaches maturity at 25–30 years, bamboo is ready for harvesting every five years. As such, bamboo has become a popular choice for green construction in recent years, with many homeowners requesting the material for new construction.
If you get innovative, you can also upcycle things like the wooden pallets you’d typically discard on construction sites. These transform into outdoor wall art for hanging plants or part of a walkway to the front door or through the garden.
Adopt These Innovative Construction Methods That Benefit the Environment
Rising environmental destruction and climate change concerns have led many sectors to change their processes and resource consumption. Whereas the construction industry once meant substantial damage, technology has improved the sustainability of the practice. Contractors and builders should utilize these innovative construction methods to benefit the environment on their next build.
Original Publish Date 8/6/2021 — Updated 11/14/2023