7 Ways to Reduce New Construction Greenhouse Gas Emissions

The building sector accounts for nearly 39% of all greenhouse gases emitted each year globally.

Over a quarter of these emissions are estimated to originate from embodied carbon, or the carbon emitted to produce the materials required for construction.

This startling information has put the construction industry under a microscope and forced many construction managers to develop ways to create more efficient buildings and reduce their architecture carbon footprint.

Energy efficiency in the construction industry is so important that cities like New York City, Washington D.C., and St. Louis have even implemented Building Performance Standards.

These standards require operational improvement of commercial buildings overtime to meet performance benchmarks, such as reduced emissions.

Just thinking long-term, it doesn’t seem implausible that many cities, states, and even the federal government might implement harsher regulations to force construction managers to go green.

As a result, thinking green now will help your building meet current regulatory compliance and future regulatory compliance.

However, going green doesn’t entail investing large sums of money. Many of the steps we’ll discuss help reduce construction costs by recycling materials and investing in affordable alternatives.

In total, the implicit benefits of energy-efficient architectural plans include:

  • Lower carbon footprint
  • Lower construction costs
  • Reduced energy costs
  • Reduced repair costs (if investing in high-quality materials)
  • Higher comparative property value
  • Regulatory compliance

With this in mind, let’s discuss seven ways to reduce carbon emissions on a construction site.

1. Plan Building Designs for Efficiency

Early on, planning for environmental engineering is critical to map out material utilization and develop contingencies o that become increasingly difficult later during construction.

Some design notes to consider include:

  • Minimizing design loads
  • Maximizing material utilization
  • Conducting life cycle assessments of each material

First, designing buildings to account for environmental variability does not require using excess materials to plan worst-case scenarios. For example, properties outside of flood zones or a hurricane path don’t need extra considerations to protect against basement flooding.

Additionally, life cycle assessments should be conducted during new construction to assess the environmental impact of all embodied carbon materials and the impact of electric and water consumption.

Additionally, aspects like stormwater compliance and eliminating environmental pollution from construction waste materials and sediment runoff often get overlooked.

That’s why the need for environmental and engineering consultants is so essential in safeguarding against environmental hazards and creating a stormwater management plan.

Finally, planning out proper material utilization helps save your business money from over-purchasing materials and additional construction costs.

2. Take the Surrounding Environment Into Account

Overall, HVAC and electricity consumption account for 20% of all greenhouse gases. Your construction company could save property owners lots of money on future heating and lighting costs and reduce their building carbon footprint by leveraging natural lighting.

For example, many buildings should be built with north and south-facing windows and on an east-west axis to account for natural light and heat their homes organically.

However, taking the environment into account also means restoring it after disturbing it. This process includes replacing any disturbed foliage and cleaning up any polluted or altered water sources during and after construction projects have ended.

3. Continuous Insulation

In 2012, the ASHRAE Standard 90.1 updated its guidelines for commercial construction building codes to include continuous insulation. So what is continuous insulation?

Unlike traditional insulation that’s stuffed in between walls and the studs, continuous insulation is wrapped around the wall on the interior and exterior of the building to provide a thermal barrier that prevents heat loss almost entirely.

Rigid foam is a great alternative to fiberglass that’s cost-effective and effective. EPS and GPS rigid foam have the highest R-value of any rigid foam, work well within walls, roofs, and floors, and resist moisture better than fiberglass.

Best of all, continuous insulation can be used for virtually any structure, whether it’s steel or wood-beamed buildings and walls with stucco, siding, wood, etc.

4. Optimize HVAC Systems

Inserting energy-efficient HVAC systems into any building project could help reduce emissions. Furthermore, scheduling HVAC systems to reduce operating performance at off-hours is a great way for construction and building managers to save money.

Some additional ideas include:

  • Install smart thermostats
  • Invest in ductless compressor units
  • Use an energy-efficient humidifier

5. Choose Low-Carbon Cement

Switching from energy consumption, construction managers could make the biggest carbon reductions by investing in low carbon embodied materials.

For example, carbon remains one of the most carbon-intensive building materials. One way to reduce the use of cement is to invest in low-carbon alternatives, such as ash, low-strength cement, and slag for cement mixes.

One report found that using low-carbon cement and cement alternatives could “reduce GHG emissions by 6% between 2017-2050.”

6. Recycle and Reuse Materials

Lots of materials, such as wood, brick, and concrete, can easily be reused and refabricated to their original condition. In addition, reusing materials lower the amount of carbon output required to manufacture a new item.

Best of all, reusing equipment, especially wood, typically costs less than purchasing new materials and can be easy to work with.

7. Switch to Timber

Perhaps one of the biggest trends in green construction is the switch to timber. Not only are wood-framed homes and buildings come with a lower carbon footprint than metal-framed buildings, but they’re generally energy efficient.

Thanks to a renewed push to replenish forests globally, timber has become a popular low-cost and sustainable alternative to metal. In particular, timber traps heat better, costs less to produce, is stronger than most woods, and provides the flexibility required for multi-level construction designs.

Despite popular sentiment, green construction is not expensive or intrusive. On the contrary, planning out for energy-efficient and carbon-neutral buildings helps save constriction managers money and helps them comply with present and future regulations.

Beyond this list, there are several additional ways to reduce carbon emissions of a construction site, including using renewable energy, such as solar panels, installing LED lighting, or using Energy Star applications, such as water heaters.

Of course, educating yourself on green construction is key to reducing the carbon footprint of your construction site. One area to consider is hiring an environmental consultant who will help you comply with local and federal building codes and educate you on ways to maximize material utilization and save costs.