How to Build in the Face of Climate Change

Currently the conventional construction industry contributes heavily to climate change. That cannot be debated. What if it could be changed?

Welcome to the modern world of increasing carbon emissions.

No matter the exact numbers, we know that creating buildings from new products, using machinery that consumes fuel and electricity and materials that are manufactured and processed with this same energy, and assembled by workers who travel to the site daily in fuel burning vehicles cannot be the greatest thing for the planet right now. We are struggling with the real effects of climate change in the present day, which also hearing every day about the potential futures we and our children will face.

How can building actually help?

We are part of a small but growing class of builders who believe we can offer some solutions to the big problems of carbon emissions associated with constriction.  Some ways this can be done:

Use Local Materials

If you don’t have to ship pine boards from New Zealand, but it can instead be harvested in the same state or region as you are building, this will reduce the embodied energy of that material that comes from transportation related to getting materials to the site. Unless you live in New Zealand, and then go for it with your pine.

This is part of why we love to use natural plasters. Sand, clay, and lime are harvested and processed locally, not shipped from around the world.

Use Materials with Lower Embodied Energy

If you can choose build a home out of cement blocks or adobe blocks, you can drastically reduce your building’s carbon footprint by choosing the adobe. Cement is one of the biggest greenhouse gas emitters, but adobe blocks can provide as much structural support, increased thermal mass (means more comfortable home in the face of extreme temperature swings), and a way lower energy use in their production (local as can be!).

Just like single use to-go containers made of styrofoam can’t really ever be considered “green,” a home insulated with lots of foam is also not very green. There are many more examples of this, so feel free to ask us about low energy materials when designing your dream home!

Use Materials that Sequester Carbon

Straw is made of carbon, and when a home is insulated with carbon-rich materials like that, you’re locking that carbon out of the atmosphere for the life of the building, How cool is that?

In contrast, a fiberglass batt or mineral wool board (or foam of any kind) takes a ton of energy to create and doesn’t sequester carbon at all. Bummer.

Other materials that sequester carbon: wood studs, hemp, cross laminated timber, and fiber boards (some made from hemp are coming onto the market).

Practice Efficient Home Design

Paying attention to your climate and site conditions and using principles of passive solar design will keep your home comfortable throughout the seasons while reducing your energy bills. It also lowers your carbon emissions.

Another part of designing a wall system is preventing air and water leaks. A tightly air-sealed and well-insulated home will last longer, reduce issues of mold or rot, and be more energy efficient for both heating and cooling.

Start today

I think it’s a good start to think about some of the factors listed above when designing and building a home. We can’t change the industry overnight, but the broader acceptance of low carbon building methods today could go a long way.