Going Green: A Guide to Sustainability in the Construction Industry

Published January 11, 2016 by Whirlwind Team

green construction building

With new innovations in sustainable and reusable materials, it is easier than ever to “go green” in the construction industry. If you are a general contractor you are probably fielding many more RFPs for green buildings than ever before. If you are a building owner, you have learned to enjoy the savings, and the prestige, a green building can provide.

Eco-friendly construction made it to the list of top industries in 2014 drawing talent from every area of design and build. And it has expanded even more in 2015. The U.S. Green Building Council states that the percentage of nonresidential building starts has grown from 2% in 2005 to 41% by 2012. It is expected to become nearly 50% of all nonresidential construction in 2015. Within 10 years time, green building stars have increased nearly 2500%.

There are many ways and more reasons to go green.

Lower costs

Until recently, the upfront costs of a green building were substantially higher than they are now. Competition and innovation have helped lower the amount of money required to acquire the right materials, use green construction methods, and obtain LEED certification.

The higher initial cost was typically a deal breaker for most buyers and builders. Environmentally friendly and sustainable materials were more expensive and less ubiquitous. Now, due to increased demand and competition, prices have come down to where you can make or get a reasonable bid in comparison to traditional construction.

In addition to this, building with steel, the ultimate in recyclable building material, prefabrication and pre-engineering off the job site decreases costs, as well, in shorter construction time and the reduced need for highly skilled labor.

Once complete, owner costs for maintenance and utilities continue to be low because the building is designed to make it possible to save in these areas.

“Green” materials

Going green can be looked at in two ways. One is how materials help with operating costs and the other is what the materials add to the environment.

Lighting design is important to both utilities and the work environment. Workers do best with natural lighting. Proper lighting design will maximize natural light while limiting heat build-up. Done correctly, less power will be used for cooling and for additional lighting.

Window coverings are available to help modulate the amount of incoming light as well as the loss of heat and air through the window glass. These coverings can be made of sustainable materials themselves as well as out of components that do not give off toxic fumes.

Carpeting and wall coverings are other methods of controlling the indoor temperature and environment. Sound levels can be reduced with carpeting and softer wall coverings; in addition, these materials can provide another layer of insulation to ease the heating and cooling bills. Newer carpeting and wall coverings are made of components with low or no volatile organic compound emissions.

Green building includes a variety of roof styles and colors created to reflect heat and sunlight and keep the building and its surroundings cooler than a conventional roof. A metal roof also keeps more green in your wallet because it is more durable than tile, asphalt shingles, or other roof materials.

Nowadays you can turn to Health Product Declarations (HPDs) and Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) to guide you toward the most effective materials for each part of your building. These documents can be found with building materials to educate the end user on the product’s impact on health and the environment.

Manufacturers can also provide Life Cycle Assessments (LCAs) to measure the total environmental impact of materials or a complete project from construction to end-of-life. Remember, with a steel building, this can mean decades. The LCA is a major portion of the EPD.

Pre-engineering and pre-fabrication

You can save both money and time by using a prefabricated building.

Building manufacturers have developed processes that reduce the amount of waste material. They also follow stringent manufacturing and safety guidelines to decrease health insurance costs and the cost of rework. 

While a building is being engineered elsewhere, work on the job site can continue concurrently. The site can be prepared and the foundation poured while awaiting building delivery. Once at the site, the building can be constructed more quickly, mitigating pollution from equipment exhaust.

Providing expertise

As the demand for green buildings increases, you can become known as an expert in the field, becoming the “go-to” company for consultation and construction expertise. As you continue to erect green buildings you will gain knowledge of efficient and effective processes for green building. You will build relationships with companies in the green industry that supply eco-friendly materials and equipment.

You will also become very familiar with the different levels of LEED certification and how much of the construction cost will go towards certification costs. Materials to help you reach a Silver LEED certification will add only 1-2% onto the total cost for your building while netting you higher rents and saving on utilities and materials.

Steel is the ultimate “green” material

Steel is highly durable and can last for decades. At the end of its life, steel can be recycled from old construction without the need to mine metal or leave waste in a landfill. Because of its flexibility, steel frames are simple to insulate and modify to withstand temperature changes resulting in lower energy costs. Building with steel is quicker than with other materials leading to lower equipment running times and lower fuel costs as well as a smaller carbon footprint.

Building a green future

The green building is no longer a prestige project. It is becoming the de facto standard in construction today. As environmental impact comes under closer scrutiny and materials become more widely available, the costs and time spent obtaining a LEED certification and erecting an environmentally friendly building will decrease significantly, to the point where it is more economical, not just in lifetime costs but in construction, to use sustainable and recyclable materials and processes.

If you are not keeping up with this trend you will be left behind as the world moves toward a more eco-friendly model.


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