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 materials that have been manufactured and then shipped long distances, using machinery that consumes fuel and electricity, and assembled by workers who travel to the site daily in gas 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, while 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 construction. Some ways this can be done:
Use Local Materials
If you don’t have to ship pine boards from New Zealand, but can instead use wood harvested sustainably from the same region that you are building in, this will reduce the embodied energy of that material. Unless you live in New Zealand, and then go for it with your pine. If you live somewhere where forests aren’t abundant, then you could look into other options like straw bale, masonry, or stone.
Their local abundance is part of why we love to use natural plasters. Sand, clay, and lime are harvested and processed fairly locally, not shipped from across the sea. These materials can be used for floors, walls, and more.
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 much lower embodied energy.
Similarly to how single use to-go containers made of styrofoam can’t ever be considered “green,” a home insulated with lots of foam is also not very green, because of the amount of energy it requires to manufacture that foam. Materials like straw, hemp, and cellulose can perform just as well, at a lower embodied energy cost. 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 soon).
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.
It’s a good start to begin thinking 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.