The Impact of Building Materials in Construction

As we are all aware by now, buildings are crucial to both the economic development of a city along with the well-being of its citizens.

When designing a building facility, minimising the environmental burdens that can be caused by buildings is more important than ever, particularly due to the consumption of natural resources, pollutants created and waste generated due to the use of construction materials.
How Does Building Construction Affect the Environment?

Despite the above, it’s difficult for any decision maker to be completely aware of the environmental impacts that are embedded in or emitted from the creation of new buildings, as there is no concrete approach to assess the environmental impacts of construction materials.

It’s not just the methods and materials involved in the construction of a building that affects the environment, but importantly what the sole operation will be once built.
For example, using non-sustainable materials during the construction of a building has a temporary negative effect. The use of a non-efficient HVAC system also has negative effects on the environment that are long-term.

If everyone involved in the process had better insights about the environmental impacts of construction materials – clients, design team members, contractors and owners would be able to select suitable materials depending on the job and also begin to understand what complies as a “green building design”.

Green building may seem like a fancy way to be “environmentally friendly”, but it’s actually much more important than that. According to the Earth Institute, 40% of the construction industry’s carbon dioxide emissions originate from cement production alone – we can only imagine the size of the figure for all building materials.

Before we go into the benefits of green building materials, it’s important to understand how buildings have affected the environment and how they have contributed to climate change over the years.

Energy Consumption
According to the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), buildings account for an average of 41% of the entire world’s energy use. The two other main consumers of energy don’t even come close. The industrial industries accounts for 30% while transportation rounds up to 29% energy use.

One defining factor is the mass amounts of electricity that buildings tend to use. In the United States alone, buildings are responsible for 73% of the country’s electricity consumption.

So what exactly is eating away at such huge portions of energy? Well, it’s many different elements of a building, including:
• Lighting
• Heating
• Cooling systems

Water & Air Usage
Building construction in the USA is responsible for a huge portion of greenhouse gas emissions that in turn have been affecting climate change. In fact, all buildings are responsible for 38% of all CO2 emissions.

Many buildings are also responsible for a substantial percentage of the world’s water use, but a large percentage of wasted water also. It’s estimated that buildings use around 13.6% of all portable water, which is roughly 15 trillion gallons of water each year.

Building Construction and Demolition Waste
Both the destruction and renovation of buildings result in large amounts of non-recyclable waste. Building waste usually includes:
• Concrete
• Plastics
• Glass
• Metals
• Wood
• Bricks
• Asphalt

Although glass and plastics are indeed recyclable, these materials from construction sites are often disposed of in either incinerators or end up in landfills. This clearly contributes to both land and air pollution, but we also have to take into account the transportation required to remove such waste – this also holds its own environmental risks.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, there were over 170 million tons of debris generated in the construction and demolition of buildings in the USA in 2003 – 61% of which were created by non-residential buildings.

With such facts and figures outstanding, what can be done to ensure a more environmentally friendly and financially beneficial solution for all?
The Benefits of Green Building

The Environmental Protection Agency also states that around 170,000 commercial buildings are built in the U.S. every year, while 44,000 more are demolished.
As you can imagine, this is only going to result in further significant climate changes as the years fly by. It’s also why government policies have emphasized the growing need for “green construction” and why programs such as LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) have been gratefully created.

In simple terms, LEED is a rating system designed by the USGBC (The U.S. Green Building Council) created to evaluate the environmental performance of a building and therefore encourage sustainable design.

To better understand the impact of green building, we present the following five benefits:

• LEED Gold certified buildings (popular examples include King St. Station, Seattle and Pasadena City Hall) use 25% less energy and 11% less water than the average “non-LEED rated” building.
• A LEED Gold certified building also boasts 19% lower maintenance costs than the average “non-LEED rated” building.
• A LEED Gold certified building also creates 34% less greenhouse gas emissions.
• Green buildings simply consume fewer resources. LEED projects divert over 80 million tons of waste from landfills each year.
• Green retrofitting helps lower operating costs. The USGBC estimates that operating costs will be reduced by an average of 9% in one year and as high as 13% over five years.
Many construction businesses are increasingly becoming aware of the importance of green building materials. In 2017, it was estimated that 40-48% of all new non-residential construction would be green.

For further insight, back in August 2015, over 13.8 billion square feet of building space had been officially certified by LEED, compared to a minimal 2% back in 2005.

Not only does green building have a big effect on the environment – it’s also beneficial to employees working within those buildings. Expert studies show that “improved indoor environmental quality (IEQ) contributed to reductions in perceived absenteeism and work hours affected by asthma, respiratory allergies, depression, stress and to self-reported improvements in productivity.”

Say Hello to the “EnviroMetal”
Many construction projects are investing in both new ideas and traditional materials, and some are more environmentally friendly than others.

With that in mind, it seems like a good time to mention the benefits of steel (also recognised as the “EnviroMetal”). The material was crowned this nickname due to it being the most recycled metal on earth.

This especially applies to the production process – did you know that construction steel is one of the lower grades of steel and is 100% recyclable? As a bonus, steel can be recycled over and over again without losing any of its advantageous properties.
According to the Steel Recycling Institute, it is estimated that around 95% of steel in the construction industry is recycled successfully along with an 85% recovery rate from consumed construction industries.

Being at the forefront of supplying steel decking for many organizations throughout the construction industry, we at Raised Floors can certainly vouch for the popularity of a whole number of steel products.

Our steel floor decking and roof decking products have contributed to the development of multi-story car parks, sports facilities, residential buildings and sustainable homes projects

If your business or organization are interested in the investment of steel products for your next project, we recommend that you contact your local steel producer/supplier and they will give offer all the relevant guidance and advice you will need to get started.

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