Sustainability isn’t a new concept, but it is a new priority.
In the past, builders rarely thought about a structure’s long-term use during the construction phase. If the end result looked great and functioned efficiently, its sustainability decades down the road wasn’t of any concern.
Now, the opposite is true. When materials are sourced, the focus is not only on what is presently good for the building, but also on what benefits surrounding environments, societies, and economies in the future.
The pressure to design, build and maintain something that stands the test of time is greater than ever. Putting a high premium on a building’s sustainability — even after the initial construction phase — can ensure it has a long, fruitful future.
The Perks of Long-Term Preservation
Sustainable construction takes many forms, but it always comes back to this question for builders: How can we reduce the use of critical resources like energy, water, and raw building materials? The answer affects a space’s design, location, and usefulness in significant and exciting ways.
Sustainable design is most effective when it’s prioritized from day one in the design process. Retroactively upgrading a structure to achieve sustainability is a more difficult and expensive task, especially when a structure’s composition makes it clear that the contractors and engineers didn’t account for future viability during the building process.
Many of these buildings still have tremendous utility and historical significance. That’s why forward-thinking architects and engineers seek innovative ways to improve long-term sustainability after construction.
There are significant improvements builders can make to improve a structure’s sustainability, even if the project has a limited budget and schedule. Here are three that apply to most renovation undertakings:
1. Do an HVAC overhaul. These systems are huge consumers of energy, especially older models that yield a lot of wasted energy and unnecessarily high utility costs. This is a prime target for a post-construction sustainability project because HVAC is not a structural element.
Operationally, a complete system replacement creates a relatively minor disruption. The U.S. Green Building Council estimates that a green design can slash energy consumption by 24-50 percent, water consumption by 40 percent, and solid waste creation by 70 percent. Introducing solar energy and smart windows to the mix can cut those figures even further, so examine whether this step makes sense for current and future opportunities.
2. Invest in recycling. One of the core values of sustainable construction is relying on materials that can be recycled or repurposed in some manner. Emphasize reducing building waste and recycling as much waste as possible.
Any renovation project becomes both more economical and more sustainable if it relies primarily on recycled building materials such as glass, plastic, aluminum, steel, and copper. Make the right kinds of renovations, and try to guarantee that they’re minimally invasive and not disruptive to the building’s occupants or its functionality.
3. Secure the structure. Renovating existing structures is a popular strategy, but understand this: The stability of any building is the most important upgrade the project requires.
Upholding a structure’s strength and stability is crucial in the long term. Rebuilding because a structure has become at risk of falling is not only expensive, but it’s also a waste of resources. Utilizing helical piles to bolster the foundation is a seamless way to give an old unit new strength, especially considering that many variations of these reusable resources are made from recycled materials.
Reducing an older structure’s footprint while simultaneously extending its lifespan requires a careful, customized strategy. Rather than just focus on cosmetic upgrades, look for the kinds of renovation projects that can make an aging building fit for the long haul.
Prioritizing sustainability is a good start. Make it a consistent trait in all renovation projects to give a structure its best chance to be useful for occupants in the years to come.