Incorporating sustainable building materials and products in the construction of a home offers the following benefits to the home owner, as well as the occupants of the home:
- Energy efficiency and conservation results in savings on utility bills
- Lower maintenance and replacement costs over the longterm results in further savings
- Healthy indoor environment promotes occupant health and improves quality of life and productivity
- Greater flexibility in building design
Environmental Benefits of Using Green Building Materials
Building projects around the world are responsible for the consumption of billions of tons of raw materials. The use of sustainable construction materials and products when building conserves non-renewable natural resources, which are rapidly declining. Furthermore, by integrating sustainable building materials in the home building project we can reduce many of the environment impacts that are associated with sourcing construction materials, including: extracting/harvesting/mining; transportation; processing and fabrication; installation; as well as the reuse, recycling or disposal of these materials at the end of their life.
So What are Green Building Materials or Products?
Firstly, sustainable building materials consist of renewable resources as apposed to non-renewable resources. But it goes much further than that, as the environmental impacts over the full lifecycle of the products/materials used are taken into account. The following criteria are typically used to assess the sustainability of materials and products used in green building projects:
- Energy efficiency
- Resource efficiency
- Water conservation
- Indoor air quality
The opportunity to reduce the environmental impact and improve both the environmental performance and indoor quality of a home is not limited to decisions based on location or design, but can also be influenced by relative small choices such as paint selection or choice of light bulbs. We need to consider the environmental footprint of every product that we incorporate into our homes, from the design and construction phase right through to the operational phase – this includes the impact of products used to build, renovate/retrofit, light and furnish our home, as well as products used in maintaining it, such as cleaning products. For a truly sustainable home, we need to consider the environmental impact of products in a holistic manner for their full lifespan from cradle to grave, including taking into account where the products were sourced from and where they will end up at the end of their useful life. Factors that need to be considered include:
- How much energy was consumed in the manufacture, shipping and use of the product/material?
- What materials does the product consists of, and where were these materials sourced?
- Does the product contain toxic substances, and if so at what concentrations, and were any chemical toxins emitted in the manufacture of the product/materials?
- How durable is the product; what is its anticipated lifespan; and is the product recyclable?
In the next article I will focus on resource efficiency, looking at what building materials can be used to maximize resource efficiency.