7 Ways to Make Buildings Eco-friendly Today
Shelter is one of humankind’s most essential needs, yet our buildings are some of the biggest culprits of wasteful energy consumption. Even if we ignore the monumental energy costs of construction, residential and commercial structures require more than 40% of the nation’s energy to provide protection, and comfort. Much of this energy is devoted to practices that seem superfluous, such as providing light during the daytime or cool air during warmer weather. Fortunately, sustainability engineers and eco-friendly architects are working hard to decrease buildings’ inefficient energy usage.
Here are some of the best strategies for decreasing energy waste in any structure, from industrial warehouses to family homes:
Solar panels, now more accurately called photovoltaic (PV) cells, not only reduce reliance on unsustainable fossil fuels, but can also reduce energy bills as well. Considering the fact that modern PV technology operates at a higher efficiency than algae (about 20% compared to the plant’s 6%) and roughly the same as gasoline cars, we are reaching the beginning of the age of solar power.
Perhaps the most exciting developments of recent years, building materials are becoming astonishingly earth-friendly, energy-efficient, and effective. Hundreds of developers are continuously working to improve current products and produce new ones, but today, we have some outstanding materials to construct with:
- Cross-laminated timber. Using an innovative gluing technique to produce strong, lightweight panels for flooring, walls, and roofs from less-desirable wood, including that killed by the plague of mountain pine beetles, this material prevents waste.
- Mineral wool board insulation. Providing fire protection, sound separation, and temperature control, and more without the use of harsh chemicals and with 75 percent recycled content, these blocks are rated for use in residential and commercial structures.
- Polyethylene fabric. Resistant to destructive elements, this recycled fabric is exceedingly durable; plus, it permits natural light without extreme temperature variance, which cuts commercial energy costs significantly in fabric buildings.
Advanced Home Framing
Embracing the new green challenge, several architects have produced wondrous works of sustainable design in commercial and public structures around the world. However, closer to home, advanced framing techniques can make any residential structure more energy efficient. Specifically, advanced framing relies on less materials to complete a building, which can lower construction costs by as much as $1,000 for a single-family house and cut future heating and cooling expenses by up to 5%.
Just over a decade ago, the thought of a smart house seemed far-fetched, but today, nearly everyone has at least one smart home appliance. Usually, connected technologies are more energy efficient because they allow owners more precise control. For example, the Nest thermostat learns users’ schedules and creates a precise schedule of heating and cooling to save energy and provide comfort. Other appliances, like refrigerators and washing machines, are also becoming smart, using fewer resources and tracking human behaviors for an optimal balance.
Energy-hungry incandescent light bulbs are so uncommon nowadays that they seem to have become quirky relics. Compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs) and light-emitting diode bulbs (LEDs) are slightly more expensive, but their longevity (10 times longer than incandescents) and energy efficiency (1/30th the use of incandescents) pay users back over time.
Believe it or not, the color of a structure has a major impact on its energy efficiency. Just as streets tend to get burning-hot during the warm summer months, a dark-colored home absorbs more heat than a light-colored one. Thus, one must consider a building’s location before selecting an exterior palette: cold environments necessitate dark colors, while light colors are more comfortable in hot places.
Perhaps the best arrow in the quiver of green construction is the ever-increasing amount of data we gather on building energy use. Cities around the country are mandating that structures of certain sizes (or in certain locations) regularly report their energy usage, and with this information, engineers, architects, builders, and other construction professionals can work to improve tools and techniques for a greener future.
However, we may eventually have the greenest, most sustainable buildings in the world but still have an energy consumption problem. Developing efficient structures is important, but saving the environment begins and ends with the people who live and work inside any type of building. No matter how energy smart your home is, you must still reduce, reuse, and recycle to keep the environment healthy.