Impact of environmental buildings

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Abstract

Looking at the environmental impact that buildings have on the environment it is clear to see that construction methods can be made more efficient in order to reduce their carbon footprint. An evaluation of the methods will determine what is being done to counteract growing environmental concerns. The research looks mainly at what products are currently available and being used on projects now, websites from the basis for the information. The study showed that all of the techniques used have potential benefits and if harnessed to the maximum of their capacity then it can only stand to promote a positive image and reduce the buildings impression on the environment. The main costs of the systems is a potential cause for concern to any client but if the long term savings and advantages are taken into consideration then the positives will outweigh the negatives.

Sustainability is a word that has become synonymous with the construction industry in recent years due to the world becoming more environmentally aware, as a result all industries are having to become more efficient and look to reduce their impact on the environment. The World Commission on Environment and Development produced a report in 1987 regarding sustainability known as the Brundtland Report and from this it developed a definition which is very relevant to the construction industry, it defined sustainability by saying "Sustainable development meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs"(Brundtland, 1987).

Although this is an excellent definition of what the construction industry is trying to achieve it is also important to note that there are many different ways in which sustainability can be described in relation to building products, developments and targets. The construction industry has been decreasing its CO2 emissions in a variety of different areas such as reducing the amount of transport that the products used have to travel in order to cut down on CO2 emissions from transport lorries, the way construction materials are produced in order to decrease pollution and possibly the most work has gone into making buildings more efficient it terms of using up energy. Some of the ways that buildings look to use less energy can be simple things such as re using rain water from roof tops, using natural light to illuminate rooms instead of artificial light, natural ventilation systems, solar panels on roofs to provide some of the buildings electricity and insulation with higher U-values to reduce the need for heating in the building. The government has set a target of having all new non domestic building to be zero carbon by the year 2019 and this is a realistic objective that the construction industry must aim to achieve by any means necessary.

Many new construction sites are adhering to a new green evaluation scheme called BREEAM (Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method) which aims to provide a number of benefits and according to its website (bream.org, 2009) projects that adhere to it will achieve the following "market recognition for low environmental impact buildings, assurance that best environmental practice is incorporated into a building, inspiration to find innovative solutions that minimise the environmental impact, a benchmark that is higher than regulation, a tool to help reduce running costs, improve working and living environments and a standard that demonstrates progress towards corporate and organisational environmental objectives". This report will look at what current sustainable construction methods are available and what they do.

There are many ways that buildings can look to become zero carbon or as close as possible to, in order to achieve this designers will look to recycle or reuse any available resources, use renewable energy to create power for the building and improve the efficiency of the building. Looking in depth at the individual methods will help determine which are genuinely an environmental benefit and which are used more for a way of promoting a sustainable image. Firstly Grey water systems are becoming an increasingly popular method of saving on water consumption in buildings which is not only more sustainable but also can save money. The idea of grey water systems is to harvest rain water from the roof of the building (or any hard standing area) and it is fed through a cleaning filter using gravity and once cleaned it will be pumped into the building and used for flushing toilets, vehicle washes or garden taps. The system also integrates a storage facility so that water is stored for when there is less rainfall to rely on.

"Commercial System of grey water usage" (www.cpm-group.com)

The obvious benefits of these types of rainwater collection systems are that they save on water consumption and once they have been set up they will eventually save more money than they cost over a period of time. They use rain water so they do not require water from an outside source which will cut down the buildings water consumption and therefore reduce its carbon foot print. On the downside they can be expensive to incorporate into the design and if there is a fault it can be costly to fix, there are also limitations on the water as it is not clean enough to drink it can only be used for a number of things.

Another way to use a freely available natural resource in the building as a substitute for the usual method is to use ground source heat pumps to provide heating instead of traditional heating. The way that this works is for coils of pipe to pump a mixture of water and antifreeze around the outside of the building underground where it will absorb heat which is used to heat radiators, under floor heating systems and even hot water.

"Ground Source Pump" (www.energysavingtrust.org.uk)

Ground Source Pumps will reduce the amount of heat that the building needs to produce from other sources which will in turn reduce the amount of CO2 produced by the building, also fuel bills and wasted electricity will be reduced. Similar to the grey water system it is expensive to integrate it into the design and maintenance costs will have to be considered. The final point for consideration is that the area geographically of the building, it may not be feasible for a ground source system to provide enough heat to make it economical due to the climate outside.

Apart from having systems built on additionally to serve the building in terms of water and heat there are also systems that are designed into the building to harness more of the available renewable resources. The best example of this is natural ventilation, where vents in the building will allow airflow into the building to provide natural cooling. This is a fantastic way to use the natural wind instead of energy, in buildings it is essential for there to be an overhaul of old air with fresh air and to do this naturally is a great way reduce the carbon footprint of the building. Savings will be made from the reduced energy consumption but it depends on the location of the site as it is not always possible to get enough air in the vents to make it economical. Having natural air in the building reduces the need for artificial air flow and in a similar way natural light can be used to reduce the need for artificial light. If the building can be designed so that natural light can penetrate as many rooms as possible then again less energy will be consumed by lighting. Both of the mentioned systems rely on the location but are excellent ways of using a renewable energy source as a replacement for something that in past years would have been totally energy dependent. Another way that buildings look to reduce energy consumption is improving thermal performance by keeping heat in the building, by looking at cold bridging it is clear to see that in some buildings heat escapes where gaps in the shell of the building allow it to. If this is addressed and proper insulation is installed then heating bills and usage will be reduced saving money and carbon.

With non domestic building looking to reduce there energy consumption by innovative design they can also look to produce there own energy from solar panels and wind turbines on or around the building itself. By having solar panels that convert sunlight into electricity and wind turbines using the wind to generate power the building will save on energy consumption and reduce the carbon footprint. One of the major benefits of these two systems is that they are clearly identifiable from the outside and this shows that the building is aware of environmental problems and is trying to move towards a zero carbon world. Like all the other options available they are initially quite expensive to set up and can be costly to maintain but the principal of saving money over time to pay for itself remains and if the location is prime and lots of sunlight and wind can be harnesses then they will be excellent sustainable construction methods.

All of the above mentioned construction methods have obvious potential advantages both environmentally and financially and if they can be used efficiently then they should all be used as often as possible. By having the building produce its own energy through renewable resources will serve to benefit the environment as much as the financial rewards, also any energy saved by advanced technologies in the building itself will only serve to aid the occupants and environment. The introduction of BREEAM and other environmentally targeted schemes are encouraging and challenging the construction industry to raise its standards for sustainability and reduce its carbon footprint. Through developing products and methods with higher efficiency and lowering the environmental damage of the production of building it is possible to achieve completely carbon zero building in the future and all methods and technologies will contribute to this.

Bibliography

Bathtram (n.d.) Definitions of Sustainability [Internet], Bath, Bathtram. Available from: <http://www.bathtram.org> [Accessed 20th November 2009].

Breeam (2009) What is BREEAM [Internet], Watford, Building Research Establishment. Available from: <http://www.breeam.org< [Accessed 22nd November 2009].

Brundtand, G. (1987) Our common future: The World Commission on Environment and Development Research Report. Oxford, Oxford University Press.

Carbon Trust (2009) Natural ventilation in non-domestic buildings - a guide for designers; developers and owners [Internet], London, Carbon Trust. Available from: <http://www.carbontrust.co.uk> [Accessed 22nd November 2009].

Commercial System of grey water usage. (2009) [Online Image]. Available from: <http://www.cpm-group.com/environmental/oasis-rainwater-grey-water-combination.php> [Accessed 22nd November 2009].

CPM Group (2009) Oasis Rainwater and Grey Water Combination [Internet], Somerset, CPM Group. Available from: <http://www.cpm-group.com> [Accessed 22nd November 2009].

Devon Sustainable Building Initiative (2008) Sustainable Construction Policy [Internet], Exeter, Devon Sustainable Building Initiative. Available from: <http://www.sustainablebuild.org/> [Accessed 20th November 2009].

Energy Saving Trust (2009) Ground Source Heat Pumps [Internet], London, Energy Saving Trust. Available from: <http://www.energysavingtrust.org.uk/> [Accessed 22nd November 2009].

Ground Source Heat Pump. (2009) [Online Image]. Available from: <http://www.energysavingtrust.org.uk/Generate-your-own-energy/Ground-source-heat-pumps> [Accessed 22nd November 2009].

Sustainable Build (2009) Construction Methods [Internet], Cheshire, Sustainable Build. Available from: <http://www.sustainablebuild.co.uk> [Accessed 20th November 2009].

Urban Wind Energy (2009) Natural Ventilation In Buildings [Internet], London, Urban Wind Energy. Available from: <http://www.urbanwindenergy.org.uk> [Accessed 22nd November 2009].

Whole Building Design Guide (2008) Natural Ventilation [Internet], Washington, Whole Building Design Guide. Available from: <http://www.wbdg.org> [Accessed 22nd November 2009].

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