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By John Biggs
December 4, 2017
In the immortal words of Kermit the Frog, “it isn’t easy being green.” It turns out when it comes to building, it’s easier than our dear Muppet friend made it out to be, and the benefits to construction companies and the environment are tangible and numerous.
We’ve seen leaps and bounds in energy-efficient construction in recent years as developers look to reduce their carbon footprint and save money on energy costs. Some buildings even generate more energy than they produce (known as zero-net-energy buildings). Aside from the long-term environmental benefits, investing upfront in construction with an eye for sustainability can result in substantial cost savings, and the demand for such green-minded construction is only increasing year by year.
Solar panels used to be something most commonly retrofitted onto a residential roof, mostly as a status symbol to show off to neighbors. But as the technology has become more practical and less expensive, even large commercial buildings are deploying solar technology. According to eSub, solar investment in construction is expected to rise to nearly $4 trillion over the next two decades. Tesla founder Elon Musk recently made a splash by unveiling the company’s new solar roof panels, which unlike the bulky solar panels of olden times, integrate unobtrusively into a building’s roof.
The impetus for this green revolution is a global one. The United Nations set out an ambitious Agenda for Sustainable Development that includes goals for more environmentally friendly construction practices. According to the World Green Building Trends report, the percentage of builders globally with at least 60% of their projects certified green will double between 2015-2018.
The world’s most widely used green buildings rating system is Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED). The system encourages the incorporation of solar technology, water conservation and sustainable building materials. And there’s big money to be made and saved by adopting the LEED certification. According to a study by Booz Allen Hamilton, LEED will contribute nearly $30 billion to the US GDP by 2018.
The study also estimates LEED-certified buildings will save $1.2 billion in energy costs, $715 million in maintenance, $150 million in water savings, and $54 million in waste savings. That’s not chump change, so it’s no wonder the interest among builders and developers in employing sustainable construction practices is skyrocketing.
A big change being seen is the adoption of eco-friendly building materials. Your typical building is laden with components that are known to be harmful to humans. These volatile organic compounds (VOCs) can be found in many common building materials like drywall, paint and carpeting. As more builders are becoming aware of these potential hazards, and as demand for safer materials increases, they’re turning to alternatives which function in the same way, but without the environmental or human health risks, such as low-VOC paints.
Concrete is the world’s most used construction material. But its creation is brutal on the environment. Concrete production accounts for upwards of 10% of the entire world’s carbon emissions, according to a report by the PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency. One such remedy is something we’ve talked about here before: self-healing concrete. Using living bacteria in the mixture, it creates a form of concrete that can repair itself once the spores within are exposed to moisture after cracking. This cuts down substantially on maintenance and repair costs typically associated with concrete-based construction.
Water consumption is another frequent topic of sustainability advocates, and developers are rising to the global challenge to reduce wasteful use of water deploying tankless or demand-type water heaters. These heaters operate without storing gallons of constantly heated water, which is a big energy drain on residential and commercial buildings alike. They also aren’t dependent on a huge tank, which reduces their overall footprint and increases usable building space.
Green construction moved from fad to mainstream pretty quickly over the recent decades. New regulations, incentive programs and big cost savings will almost certainly see this trend line continue upwards as the real benefits of sustainable building practices become harder to ignore for builders.
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