Eco-Construction: Environmentally Friendly Construction

Heavy materials, great big heavy-duty machines belching out smoke, lots of dirt and oil. When we think of the construction industry, our minds to do not immediately picture the most environmentally friendly of endeavors. Indeed, in the general shift towards cleaner technologies, heavy-duty machinery (as is typically used in factories and on construction sites) is expected to be one of the last things to switch over to electric power. And with global human population increase and, accordingly, urban development showing little sign of slowing down, it stands to reason that the construction industry will only boom into the future.

Environmentally friendly homes are one thing, but what actually constitutes environmentally friendly construction? Generally speaking, the factors that make a construction project environmentally friendly can be divided into two areas – environmentally friendly building materials and environmentally friendly methods. When it comes to construction, some materials used are eco-neutral and therefore usually plentiful in supply. Others may not normally be environmentally friendly but may have eco-friendly alternatives that can be used instead. De-ice gritting salt, to take but one example, can be produced in a number of ways. If sourced from solar evaporation of briny lakes, for example, then it has a very low impact on the environment. If sourced from more energy intensive processes, on the other hand, then it would not count as an environmentally friendly material.

Making the Right Choice

Such are the kinds of choices that have to be made when sourcing materials to be used in construction. Moreover, the most environmentally friendly construction methods are those that make the more eco-friendly choice wherever possible. Timber sourced from sustainable forests is one major example, and at the more cutting edge of things, there is a road being laid in Spain that uses paper ash instead of cement.

When it comes to the actual processes and methods used in the construction process, then there remain some fossil fuel-powered methods and machinery that are still unavoidable with certain construction projects. But there is plenty of room for innovation here as well. For example, solar power generators can be used wherever possible to power electric machinery. And more generally, electric machinery can be used wherever possible. If there is one major area where real development could be seen, it is in the development of electric machinery to replace that which has until now used oil. The journey continues.

Finally, there is of course the installation of environmentally friendly technology into the structure of the actual thing that is being built. You can probably already guess that the most well-known of this technology – and the one currently most widely used in construction – is solar power. Solar panels are an all-but essential part of an eco-friendly home, but there are other examples, such as a paper insulation and water recycling and filtration systems.

Elements of Environmentally Conscious Construction

As you can probably tell, it is actually particularly difficult to summarize succinctly what constitutes eco-friendly construction. The materials, methods, and scale of construction projects are as many and diverse as the things that can be constructed; from office blocks to homes and roads to railway projects – it is an incredibly wide field.

A better approach might then be to enumerate the ways in which you can check if the project you are involved in at least pays some attention to environmental concerns. Depending on what that project is, there could be wealth eco-friendly materials and methods used, or it might well be that it is unavoidable to use some unsustainable methods, materials, and machinery. Depending on how picky you are, it might be that the eco-friendly choice will put some limitations on the end result or involve some changes to the structure which you’d rather not make. The route to a fully eco-friendly construction industry seems set to be a long and winding one.

Here follows then a list of environmentally conscious construction solutions to consider and look out for.

Locally Sourced Materials

As mentioned above, using materials that are sustainably produced is a terrific way to make a construction project more eco-friendly. More important than even this, however, is how far they have travelled. As we all know by now, air miles and miles travelled in a large transport vehicle (which are always gas-powered) is one of things that can have a real environmental impact. Sourcing materials from nearby can make a seriously significant difference. This is something that is extremely easy to check as well.

Use of Natural Materials

High quality buildings and homes have always used natural materials – there is a real sense of luxury to them – but nowadays, natural materials have applications that they never had before, and can possibly replace less environmentally friendly materials in certain contexts. Examples include rammed earth for wall construction and even straw bale, which, contrary to what you might think, can be fire resistant and match any aesthetic. And for a sustainable alternative to wood, bamboo can even be used.

Sustainable Insulation

The chemicals typically used for wall insulation have in the past been major offenders when it comes to the environmental impact of a construction project. Nowadays, materials such as wool and paper can be just as effective. Again, these are every bit as fireproof as conventional material when constructed properly.

Solar Energy with Curb Appeal

Solar panels are pretty common in new construction projects these days. What might surprise you though is that they do not have to take the form of big unsightly panels bolted onto the roof. In fact, products such as solar roof shingles can blend seamlessly with traditional roof tiles, allowing you to offset in the finished project whatever environmental harm was done during the construction.

Structural 3D Printing

As mentioned, one of the biggest issues with construction materials is the distance they travel to the site. But what if you could make them on site? 3D printing just might have the answer. As things stand, it can be used to create small-to-medium-sized components but, as the technology advances, we can perhaps expect larger and more essential components and materials for building to be produced right on site.

There is a long way to go before construction is fully environmentally friendly but, as things stand, there’s already so much that can be done to build beautiful and build sustainable.