To gain a better understanding of sustainable construction techniques, first it is important to look at what makes a technique sustainable when attempting to "build green".
What Is Sustainable Construction?
Sustainable construction includes techniques that contribute to creating a healthy environment for the future. This relates to both interior and exterior environments and starts with buildings that are energy efficient. While part of saving energy depends on the everyday practices of individuals, energy efficiency is more than remembering to turn off the light switch when you walk out of the room. With sustainable construction, energy efficiency is built into the structure.
The easiest way to condense what sustainable really means is to remember the 3 Re's. These should apply to construction decisions big and small as you plan your project:
The Big Picture
Sustainable construction includes many layers of decisions that impact the environment during the construction process and beyond. It literally required thinking outside the "box" you are constructing. For example, think about the above categories when ordering wood for your construction project. Applying sustainable construction techniques to buying wood includes things like looking for FSC certified wood and using wood that is generated locally. This reduces waste in shipping costs and cuts down on carbon emissions that would be produced by shipping wood from a location further away. The FSC website offers a database of FSC certified retailers to help find FSC retailers closest to your location.
The LEED Program
If you are are interested in building green but worried that it is too expensive, you're not alone. The same holds true for developers and other investors who are concerned about making less profit. The higher costs incurred when building a LEED certified sustainable home reinforces these concerns. The LEED certification program (Leadership in Environmental and Energy Design) has put in place standards of sustainable design and development for developers, architects, engineers, real estate professionals and others interested in sustainable construction. These standards cover a wide spectrum of construction and development projects including:
- New construction
- Existing buildings
- Commercial buildings
- Residential homes
The standards put in place through the LEED certification program are measurable and provide clear direction. They awards points for the above projects based on:
- Site selection
- Water and energy efficiency
- Materials used
- Indoor environmental quality
You can visit their site to see ratings for the various categories. LEED understands that every project is different and their point system takes this into consideration. Investors interested in building green would do well to find a LEED-accredited professional to help determine the cost efficiency of future real estate projects.
Sustainable Construction Techniques
The following list are some of the techniques recognized in sustainable construction:
- Low volatile organic compounds (VOC) paint
- Plywood processed without using formaldehyde
- Install big windows that provide plenty of fresh air and natural light
- Install energy and water efficient appliances
- Install low-emitting carpet
- Proper site selection and prevention of pollution on the construction site: For example do not build on:
- Prime farmland
- In a floodplain
- On threatened animal habitat
- Too close to wetlands
- Build within walking distance to 10 basic services
- Provide space for storage and collection of recyclables
- Establish minimum level of indoor air quality performance
- Minimize environmental tobacco smoke
- Build near alternative transportation
- Reuse or recycle construction materials when possible
Tax breaks and other incentives available for green building vary from one state to another and within a state they can vary from one local to another. DSIRE (Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency) provides a database with up-to-date information by state.