What Is Sustainable Construction?

Photo: Wayne National Forest/Flickr.

Sustainable construction brings together the principles of green building methods and eco-friendly values in a bid to lighten the environmental impact of residential and commercial structures.

The concept encompasses using resource-efficient construction methods for the design, construction, maintenance, renovation and deconstruction of buildings.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that in the United States buildings account for 39 percent of total energy use, 12 percent of total water consumption, 68 percent of total electricity consumption and 38 percent of carbon dioxide emissions.

One of the goals of sustainable construction is to use materials that preserve natural resources, minimizes pollution and creates a healthy, nonhazardous environment. (Read more: Green building materials)

Bamboo is often touted as a sustainable material because it can quickly replenish after a harvest. Other green building materials include reclaimed lumber, recycled stone and recycled metal. In addition, the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED program often recommends using wool carpets, straw board, cotton batt insulation, linoleum flooring, poplar OSB, sunflower seed board and wheatgrass cabinetry.

Sustainable construction also takes into account the total area disturbed by the building of a new structure. LEED guidelines often call for developers to set up a tree and plant preservation plan with “no-disturbance” zones clearly delineated on drawings and on the building lot.

Another thing to consider before starting construction is limiting framing waste. According to LEED guidelines, developers should aim for a waste factor of 10 percent for framing. Detailed plans can help you prevent wasting framing materials for and roof deck, ceiling joints, wall sheathing, rafters, cornice work, studs, beams and headers.

Once construction begins, it’s important to install erosion controls. You can use straw bales, silt fencing, silt sacks, rock filters and similar measures to protect on-site sewer inlets, streams and lakes.

Long-term erosion control methods can be installed after construction is complete. These include using terracing and retaining walls to reduce soil runoff if portions of the lot are close to a steep slope. Also, the U.S. Green Building Council recommends planting one tree, four 5-gallon shrubs or 50 square feet of native groundcover for every 500 square feet of ‘disturbed’ lot area on the construction site (including the area under the roof).

One other idea incorporated into sustainable building is collecting recyclable material at the construction site. An area can be set aside for the collection and storage of recyclables. At a minimum, the collected materials should include paper, corrugated cardboard, glass, plastics and metals.

Got other ideas for sustainable construction? Leave them in the comments below.