While digging in and breaking ground may feel like the very first step in any construction project, there’s so much more that goes into the building than getting your hands dirty. While the structure itself is important, there’s an array of steps that come first in the planning process, especially if you want to be sustainable. There are many moving parts to any build, and prioritizing the environment adds another layer that’s well worth it.
Many builds and construction projects actively disregard the environment, making it much more important to pay conscious attention to sustainability and eco-awareness. While certain steps may be common sense, others might include helpful and new information that can guide you on your path. Whether you’re just starting out or you’ve been in the game for a while, caring about the environment will help both you and the Earth feel good about your build.
1. Conserve Energy in Your Process
In addition to using energy-efficient materials, you can also conserve power during the building process itself. Just like including large windows so a structure can rely on daylight helps conserve overall energy in the finished project, working strictly during daylight hours can help save electricity during the process. If possible, try to start when the sun goes up and not work late into the night.
You can also switch to heavy equipment that runs on biodiesel, a more eco-friendly alternative fuel source. These small changes can conserve resources so your build stays as green as possible.
2. Test Your Soil
Before you even start on construction, it’s important to test your soil so you can make sure everything is safe and that your build works with the environment. The mineral levels, strength, moisture and density of your soil are all essential components that will determine digging and laying the foundation, and they shouldn’t be overlooked.
Another important soil test is resistivity testing, which determines how much electricity runs through the soil. While this might not seem important at first, it’s crucial if you’re concerned about sustainability. Resistivity is the measure of soil’s ability to resist the flow of electrical current. With lower resistivity, your soil will be more likely to corrode faster. Understanding these details before you build will improve safety and cause less damage to the environment.
3. Use Sustainable Materials
One of the best ways to ensure your build doesn’t harm the Earth is to use sustainable materials throughout your process. Using recycled, reused or local materials is a great jumping-off point for ensuring you’re not generating new waste. Avoid utilizing unnecessary resources or increasing your carbon footprint with excess transportation. Specifically, keep an eye out for materials that contain petroleum, formaldehyde or phthalates, as those can be particularly harmful to the environment.
Going for as few VOCs as possible is also a great idea when shopping for materials, especially if you’re buying new. Get creative with your materials by installing recycled wood, bamboo, cork and concrete. Sustainable materials are often better on your budget, anyway.
4. Work With the Landscape
Building and construction often displace local wildlife and disrupt ecosystems, especially when digging and building on the previously undisturbed property. To minimize the negative impacts on local landscapes, you can work with the land’s natural shape. Your structure will better stand the test of time and the elements.
Think about using hills and valleys to your advantage rather than flattening out surfaces. Incorporate the unique features of the landscape by using trees for natural shading and collecting rainwater runoff. If you’re truly looking to keep the planet in mind, keep it at the forefront of your vision as you break ground.
5. Choose a Sustainable Building Site
Speaking of the landscape, choosing a site that’s not disruptive or harmful to the environment is a great option. Usually, this means avoiding things like farmland, forests, parks, historic sites or other important natural areas. Breaking up places with meaning and purpose usually doesn’t bode well for local ecosystems. Instead, you can go for fill-in properties such as vacant lots or land that’s been developed before. That way, you’re simply recycling already used space rather than taking up more.
6. Reduce Waste When Possible
While this one may be a bit obvious, never underestimate the power of simply reducing the waste of any given build. Using recycled materials is always a great start, but you don’t have to stop there. Techniques like precasting concrete, designing with eventual recycling in mind and using soft deconstruction help minimize waste within the building process.
Look into the resources your area has available for recycling or responsibly disposing of any waste you do create throughout your build. That way, you can avoid dumping waste into the Earth even if it is necessary for your project.
7. Utilize Existing Structures
If you’re building on a site that already has structures on it, you can consider trying out a soft deconstruction and using some of the structures and materials available to you in your brand new space. This could mean reclaiming parts of the existing building and going up from there or simply recycling materials that you reclaim from whatever was there before. Not only does this give you the opportunity to reduce, reuse and recycle, but it can also save you time and money on your build.
8. Plan Ahead
One of the biggest wasters of material, time and resources — not to mention money — is poor planning. Don’t be the builder who measures once and cuts twice. Doing that creates unnecessary waste. Make sure you double-check your details to be sure everything is in order. Measure everything, keep to the schedule and carefully examine shipments. You can never be too careful.
Building for a Better World
For years, construction often made itself the enemy of the environment. When you break ground for a new building, you can think about the planet and keep your priorities in check. From recycling materials in the build to checking the soil levels, there’s no end to the precautions you can take to protect the planet you love while you make new strides in the building.