Construction & Defect, Civil/Structural

Maximizing Resource Utilization in Eco-Friendly Construction

23 May 2024

Co-authored by: Primitivo Suarez, Director, Orlando Branch Manager, DBI Consultants

Eco-Friendly Construction: Green Buildings

In the evolving sphere of construction, eco-friendly or green construction is no longer an emerging trend, but a standard expectation. This approach involves the strategic development of structures and the application of processes that are both environmentally conscious and resource-efficient throughout the building's life cycle. This comprehensive focus spans from site selection, design and construction, to operation, maintenance, renovation, and even deconstruction. The goal is not merely to construct buildings with a reduced environmental footprint compared to traditional structures, but also to consider the occupants' interaction with the building, and the effects of the building on the occupants (lighting, low VOC materials, limiting material off-gassing, IAQ, etc.).

Moreover, every decision, from material selection to the final product's energy efficiency to the building’s deconstruction, significantly impacts the project's overall sustainability. Amid the growing awareness of the environmental implications of conventional construction methods, the construction industry has witnessed a decisive shift towards green building. This practice prioritizes environmentally responsible and resource-efficient processes from the initial choice of building materials to the final operation and maintenance of the structure. This blog will examine various techniques and strategies employed within the sphere of green construction, and explain how and why implementing strategies such as water conservation, using sustainable materials, promoting energy efficiency, and incorporating green technologies is beneficial for not only the property owners but also our environment and planet, too.

Origin and Goals of Green Construction

The inception of green construction traces back to the 1970s, triggered by escalating oil prices and the consequent exploration into energy efficiency and renewable energy sources. As time progressed, the green construction market witnessed exponential growth. In North America, the market value stood at approximately $46 billion in 2012 and escalated to $135 billion by 2022. On a global scale, the market value reached roughly $365 billion in 2022. This figure is predicted to continue to grow in the next decade and beyond.

The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) is a globally recognized green building certification system that promotes sustainable practices, design, and development. It's worth noting that green building typically involves higher costs compared to standard construction, a factor that needs careful consideration.

Green construction continues to be driven by the desire to mitigate the significant environmental impact of buildings. In the U.S., a considerable part of water usage, energy-related CO2 emissions, waste generation, and electricity consumption can be attributed to buildings. The goal of green construction is to optimize the use of energy, water, and other resources. This is achieved through the use of superior windows and doors, LED lights, effective mechanical systems, efficient faucets, showers, appliances, and electronics.

In addition to resource efficiency, green construction also prioritizes improving indoor environmental quality to enhance occupant health and productivity. This includes careful attention to indoor air quality, temperature regulation, humidity, ventilation, air pollutants, lighting, noise, acoustics, and ergonomics.

Green construction also targets waste reduction, pollution control, and mitigation of environmental degradation. This is accomplished by reusing and recycling construction and demolition materials, thus reducing landfill waste. While green construction may involve higher initial costs and extended construction times, the long-term benefits are undeniable. These include reduced expenses, increased building resale value, and significant energy savings. Green buildings typically consume 40 to 50% less energy and about 30% less water compared to conventional buildings.

Key Aspects of Green Construction: Efficiency and Sustainability

Green construction places significant emphasis on efficiency standards. Indoor efficiency is achieved through careful consideration of mechanical components like heating, ventilation systems, and water heaters. Insulation, particularly options like rigid foams, is vital for their continuous insulation and thermal break capabilities. The selection of building materials, windows, doors, and lighting also factor into a building's overall efficiency.

Water efficiency indoors is attained through water-conserving fixtures such as low-flush or dual-flush toilets, water-saving showerheads, and faucets. Outdoor efficiency strategies encompass rainwater harvesting and landscaping techniques that minimize or eliminate irrigation needs.

Biophilic design is another green construction strategy that encourages a human-nature connection. By incorporating natural elements and patterns into the built environment, this design approach aims to reduce stress, boost mood, and increase productivity. Waste reduction is a major focus, with the reuse and recycling of waste materials and preference for products with minimal or no packaging.

In the realm of strategies and technologies, materials, lighting, insulation, indoor air quality, roofs, walls, windows, doors, renewables, water, and landscaping all contribute. Solar power is a significant technology in green construction, with net-zero houses integrating efficient design, insulation, renewable resources, and energy-saving technologies to achieve a balance between energy production and consumption.

Sustainable Construction: Effective Techniques and Innovations

Geothermal heating and cooling systems utilize the Earth's natural temperature to regulate building climates, offering a sustainable alternative to traditional methods. Insulation plays a pivotal role in green building, with the capability to control indoor climates and lessen reliance on artificial temperature regulation. Numerous eco-friendly insulation materials are available, ranging from dense fiberglass and mineral wool to options such as sheep's wool, denim, and cork. The critical factor is the accurate installation to avoid gaps or leaks that could undermine its efficiency. In addition, penetrations and gaps in the building envelope should be air-sealed. Similarly, cool roofs, designed to reflect sunlight and prevent heat buildup, are gaining traction. These innovations counteract the heat island effect, a phenomenon where built-up areas absorb and re-emit sunlight, creating warmer local environments.

Energy efficiency is another crucial element of green building. This can be accomplished through several methods, such as the installation of high-efficiency HVAC systems, use of energy-efficient appliances, and integration of renewable energy sources like solar or wind power. Not only does energy efficiency lower the building's environmental impact, but it could also yield substantial cost savings over the building's lifespan. Techniques to enhance indoor air quality and reduce waste are also of utmost importance. Some examples of such techniques are supply-only, exhaust-only, and balanced ventilation, coupled with air filtration. These techniques are employed to maintain a clean and healthy atmosphere. Additionally, moisture control via vapor drive and air sealing, usage of low VOC materials to minimize health risks, and soundproofing for noise control are integral to this approach.

Sustainable construction also encompasses effective stormwater management. Enhancing pavement permeability and using permeable pavers can facilitate groundwater absorption, thereby reducing runoff and replenishing local water tables. Green roofs, layered with vegetation, contribute to this process by absorbing rainwater and minimizing runoff.

Eco-Friendly Building Practices: Looking to the Future

Looking ahead, we anticipate the emergence of more advanced eco-friendly building solutions. Take electrochemical smart glass as an example, which adjusts its tint based on light conditions, reducing the reliance on artificial lighting and assisting with heat control. Technological advancements over the years have also resulted in innovations like photovoltaics and 3D houses, and we can expect more of these advancements in the coming decades, as we further incorporate intelligent systems into our homes and businesses. With the continued growing awareness and understanding of green building, we can anticipate more opportunities to boost energy efficiency and lessen our environmental footprint, signaling a brighter, greener horizon for construction.

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About The Author
Matthew Pritzl
Matthew Pritzl, PE
Senior Project Engineer
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