Sustainability in Housing
Sustainability has been a serious issue facing the construction industry for some time, but in recent years the importance of sustainable construction and development has increased near-exponentially. The climate crisis has begun to express itself in the form of tangible shifts in weather and climate across the UK, where environmental changes were previously limited to other continents.
The arrival of climate change to our doorstep has illustrated well the importance of immediate shifts towards carbon-neutral processes. The construction industry is responsible for a large portion of the UK’s carbon emissions; what can construction companies do to meet the new sustainability needs of a world on the brink?
It is easy to fall into the trap of engaging solely with the construction process when attempting to improve sustainability. We will come to effective methods of doing this, but the impacts of domestic construction projects and design extend far beyond the initial build phase. The World Green Building Council places both construction and the emissions of existing properties in the same sector – the ‘built environment’, which is responsible for a quarter of the UK’s carbon emissions.
As such, architects and construction businesses need to consider the long-term sustainability of property builds as a priority. Inefficiency in building design might see poor insulation or draughtproofing, leading to an overreliance on heating systems by future residents.
Simple shifts in design and construction approach can have considerable impacts on this, with the installation of wall and roof insulation helping reduce household energy usage. Double-glazed windows are a modern standard in domestic construction, but triple-glazing can help further reduce the egress of heat from living spaces.
More directly, the materials used in a given construction project can come with their own attached carbon footprint. Imported timbers can incur high carbon emissions, as can conventionally-manufactured concretes and concrete products.
A careful, sustainability-led approach to material decisions can help reduce the carbon footprint of a construction project. Locally-sourced materials keep transport-related emissions low, while cutting-edge engineered materials can replace less pollutive industry standards.
It is important not only to consider the provenance and footprint of materials chosen for a given domestic construction but also the future impacts caused by leftover and waste materials from the construction process.
Even if a material is manufactured or supplied in a carbon-neutral manner, offcuts and ‘spare’ material could have devastating ecological impacts in the long term. As such, managing proper material management and waste disposal form crucial parts of domestic construction project management.
Lastly, technology can have a marked impact on the carbon emissions of a domestic construction project in progress. This is most obviously seen in the development and adoption of powerful electric motors over the internal combustion engine, which directly minimizes greenhouse gas pollution. But it is also the case that software developments minimize carbon costs elsewhere, with digital documentation reducing waste and project management software reducing construction waste.