Sustainability Techniques for Modern Home Builds
Find out how the construction industry champions sustainability with these cutting-edge building techniques.
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In modern construction, sustainability is more than a buzzword. It means choosing the best building practices to ensure that structures built today will last, improve or minimize the impact on the environment, and promote healthy lifestyles at home and work.
New building technology and techniques are making true sustainability a reality, brightening the construction industry’s future.
But what are some of these techniques, and how do they work? Some are as complex as cutting-edge materials, and some as simple as choosing the right place to build. Keep reading to learn more about the construction industry’s sustainability techniques in 2023.
Building information modeling (BIM) allows designers and project owners to work together to create their ideal building. These parties can collaborate on the building materials, design choices and flow of the building, identifying potential issues before the project breaks ground.
But BIM is much more than simple drafting. It lets designers see the impact certain materials or building techniques will have on the structure after construction as well. It also allows for the most efficient routing of materials like electrical, plumbing and HVAC utilities.
Long-term maintenance needs are also within BIM’s capabilities, helping designers ensure the building’s energy usage and environmental impact are sustainable down the road.
This isn’t necessarily a new technique or even cutting-edge technology, but a system employing some of the best modern sustainable building practices. Prefabricated buildings are constructed in pieces or pods inside a factory, giving builders better control of items too fluid for a building site.
Prefab construction maximizes material usage and minimizes waste. Every bit of “extra material” is accounted for and reused somewhere else, whether on that particular pod or another unrelated project. Also, prefab building requires a shorter construction schedule, reducing time on-site, which lowers emissions and energy consumption.
Modular Cohousing Projects
One of the most interesting current building trends, cohousing projects involve multiple families or residents living in the same building but sharing common spaces. These buildings can be like self-contained towns, providing gyms, lounging areas and even shopping in some cases.
With residents sharing spaces, these buildings consume less energy, and residents need fewer material goods. Residents can also work together to champion sustainable practices like gardening, solar energy and ride-sharing. And since many of these buildings are going up in cities, they encourage residents to walk and maintain active lifestyles.
Triple Paned Glass
Most modern buildings typically lose the majority of their energy through doors and windows. While double-pane windows help, the move to triple-pane windows is an even bigger step for sustainability.
These windows contain three panels of glass with an inert gas like argon between them, preventing energy transfer. This keeps cool air in and hot air out, or vice versa when the seasons change.
By keeping conditioned air in the space and less desirable temperatures outside, triple-pane glass reduces the need to run heat or air conditioning. That saves on utility bills and energy consumption, improving long-term sustainability.
By simply making smarter building lot choices, the construction industry improves sustainability without new technology. Building in dense areas where residents can take advantage of public transportation, cycling or walking reduces vehicle usage and encourages a healthier lifestyle.
Infill construction, i.e. constructing new buildings in empty spaces within a city, is also growing in popularity. This prevents urban sprawl, conserves land and lets residents access the same active lifestyle and transportation options.
Sustainable Building Materials
The industry continues to develop sustainable building materials, recyclable or renewable, to lessen its environmental impact. These include mass timber products, which can be recycled. Other, like bamboo, are renewable; bamboo can be aggressively harvested and replaced due to its wide availability and fast growth.
Other options include mycelium, which is made from mushrooms and can be molded into bricks when mixed with sawdust and demolition waste. And 3D printing using concrete creates air-tight, energy-conserving buildings that remain comfortable throughout the seasons.
Green roofs may be some of the most interesting building techniques used today to bolster sustainability. These are spaces on flat roofs where grass, bushes and other plants grow. It replaces some of the green square footage removed during construction.
Green roofs also better facilitate rainwater management than standard roofs alone. Instead of rainwater washing down gutters and out into the sewer system, green roofs absorb it, helping plants grow. If designed carefully, these spaces can be wonderful places for gardens in urban environments, or simply areas for building residents to hang out.
Note: A green roof isn’t a park; they aren’t made to handle extensive foot traffic.
With careful planning, designers can make the most the sun’s energy without using solar panels or any electrical devices at all. Passive solar, aka designing a home to harness the sun’s energy for heating, allows buildings in cooler climates to rely less on their heating source and more on design choices.
One example of passive solar: A bank of south-facing windows that lets warming sunlight into the home all day long. Also, using construction materials like concrete with a high thermal mass encourages passive solar. The concrete will heat during the day and release energy into the home throughout the night.
Building sustainable structures includes ensuring they last, and self-healing concrete aims to do just that. While the material is still new and isn’t ready for widespread use, it’s capable of filling its own cracks, similar to how the body heals itself.
Self-healing concrete contains calcium carbonate, a chemical compound released during cracking that mixes with moisture. This mixture fills the crack and regains most of the structural integrity, helping the structure last longer than standard concrete alone. With buildings lasting longer, less concrete needs to be made and recycled. That leads to fewer concrete trucks on the road, reducing carbon emissions and improving sustainability.