How Energy-Efficient Construction Methods Can Change the Way We Build
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Green building and sustainable architecture are popular concepts these days. In the U.S., building efficiency revenue rose from $75.26 billion in 2017 to $83.05 billion in 2018. If our children and grandchildren want to inherit a livable earth, eco-friendly initiatives must become the new normal.
Designing buildings with sustainability in mind is changing essential structures from the foundation on up. Discover how energy-efficient construction is changing how we build.
Building Orientation and Passive Solar
Solar power is changing the world, one panel at a time. Since 2014, solar panels have dropped in price by almost 50%. However, passive solar — where a building is oriented with its surroundings to take advantage of thermal energy — is cheaper and more efficient.
Humans discovered passive solar power a long time ago, yet it’s coming back into fashion. Homeowners and architects want to spend as little on climate control as possible. Therefore, they create a layout where the most frequently used rooms receive the most sunlight. Other parts of the house, on the other hand, act as a buffer against the wind.
Dematerialization and Recycled Building Materials
Dematerialization is the practice of reducing the material goods we produce. With the right approach, advanced countries can continue growing their economies while limiting their use of raw materials. In construction, this practice requires smaller quantities of metal, timber, glass, asphalt and fertilizer.
Today, it’s common for architects and soon-to-be homeowners to visit pawn shops, project sites and thrift stores to look for post-consumer building materials and imperfect appliances. Using recycled materials reduces the new items we manufacture and the related carbon footprint.
Building Envelopes and Next-Generation Insulation
Buildings need fully-sealed climates if they want to retain heat or cool air and reduce electricity demand. Energy-efficient construction gets it done in three steps:
- Step one: Reduce the number of square feet that require climate control. Use space and room shapes intelligently.
- Step two: Ensure the structure’s insulation has high R-values. You can heat some homes with a small gas fireplace thanks to roof insulation of R-100 and wall and floor insulation up to R-55.
- Step three: Pay attention to how airtight the building is. Small leaks around window frames and switch plates can cause unnecessary draws on electricity.
As far as insulation goes, builders have tons of sustainable options to choose from. Cork insulation and mycelium — a naturally insulating fungus — are eco-friendly choices picking up steam in many parts of the world.
Reduced Waste and 3D Printing
One of the construction industry’s frequently overlooked energy expenditures involves the transportation of materials and personnel. Plus, the energy associated with manufacturing building materials, shipping them to a reseller and distributing to builders across the world.
All of this adds up to a huge carbon footprint. However, 3D printing — additive manufacturing — could help us reduce areas where we waste energy and effort. Additive manufacturing allows builders to raise structures in a fraction of the time compared to traditional methods. Plus, they can do so directly at the build site, meaning fewer vehicles and personnel required. 3D printers extrude concrete layer by layer, combining it with proprietary additives like clay, sand or fiber.
Some 3D printer materials, like Spong3D, can improve a building’s thermal performance and adapt to different climates. This material isn’t ready for mass-production. Yet researchers believe it’s the future of high-performance climate control for efficient homes.
Putting Wasted Rooftop Space to Work
When you put unused roof space to work with solar panels, everybody benefits. Developers can research programs that reduce the cost of solar installation. Plus, the average-sized solar array of 5 kilowatts can cut your electric bill in half.
In addition to buildings using energy efficiently, green roofs require replacement less often than traditional roofs, further slashing expenses. They’re better protected against UV radiation and other elements that cause materials to age before their time.
Another way to use up roof space is with vegetation. Builders plant crops in a substrate layer, with various layers underneath for water-tightness and drainage. The vegetation absorbs and puts solar energy to use, helping buildings stay cool and lessening reliance on air conditioning. In 2015, France decreed builders must cover new rooftops in solar panels or plants. Germany, Australia and Canada have similar laws.
More Deliberate Design and Construction
Throwing up tons of inefficient and cheaply made homes is seen as wasteful and short-sighted. As a result, we burn energy, produce carbon and pollute the planet. Going forward, humans must be deliberate in how we design and build structures. It’s more cost-effective to make a structure to use little energy rather than retrofit it at a later date.
From passive solar to next-generation insulation, humans are looking for ways to reduce emissions and save the planet. Energy-efficient construction is here to stay.
About the author
Jane Marsh is the Editor-in-Chief of Environment.co. She covers topics related to climate policy, sustainability, renewable energy and more.