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Industry Updates

It’s Time to Put Rumors About Sustainable Construction to Rest

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Sustainability is a major trend in today’s building and design space — and for good reason. Sustainable buildings can last longer, have lower impact on the environment and ultimately result in lower utility bills for the building owner. What’s more, these buildings also provide healthy and more comfortable living conditions for occupants. There are huge opportunities and benefits to be realized by making the move toward more sustainable operations; and for contractors, it seems like a no-brainer. However, many industry professionals are hesitant to change their ways for fear of certain myths about sustainable operations, including the potential to incur costs or not make a great enough impact on building owners and residents. Here are the top four myths I’ve encountered in conversations with manufacturers and contractors who are looking to adopt sustainable practices but are afraid of getting over the initial hurdles. 

Myth No. 1: It’s expensive.

This is by far the biggest concern I’ve heard from industry professionals — and it’s somewhat warranted given the initial costs that may come up to make a change to more sustainable operations. What nearly everyone who has made the change will tell you however is that the “delta” in cost is quickly narrowed with each project you do. One quickly learns how using a higher-performance insulation system, for example, may allow you to reduce the size and cost of HVAC equipment. 

Resources can often be shifted to simply do things in a “smarter” way. It also helps to elevate the conversation from initial cost to lifecycle cost. When this is done, the real economic payoffs become clear. Will the things you plug into your house become cheaper over time? Probably. Will the energy you need to be comfortable become cheaper? Probably not. Doesn’t it just make sense to spend more effort ensuring the things that have the greatest impact are done right the first time? As my grandfather used to say, “If you don’t think you have the resources to do it right the first time, what makes you think you have the resources to do it twice?” 

Myth No. 2: It’s not as efficient as a more traditional approach.

When it comes to green building, modern technologies and strategies are making these sustainable processes much more readily available and efficient. And for those construction and building design professionals looking to ensure efficiency, adopting a lean approach to operations will help to mitigate any challenges.

Myth No. 3: There’s not enough information out there about green building. 

The reality is quite the opposite of this myth: The current trend began over a quarter of a century ago and we have learned so much in that time. As a result, new approaches, systems and materials have blossomed. There are plenty of educational materials and resources available across a variety of outlets. 

For one, professional associations and organizations like the U.S. Green Building Council (founded in 1993) can be fantastic resources to help you learn the basics about green building and connect you with resources to move your own company’s organizations to more sustainable processes. The National Association of Home Builders also has extensive research and guidelines available. 

These organizations also tend to host webinars and courses that are great for those learning to understand a breadth of topics from training to continuing education. Don’t forget to look to the Department of Energy’s Building America program for an extensive library of education on very specific topics and assemblies.  

Myth No. 4: There’s no real ROI. 

A common misconception is that green buildings take so much more work and so many more dollars, but the payout isn’t worth it. Sustainable buildings not only offer greater occupant comfort and satisfaction, but they also prove to be more efficient to operate during a longer lifecycle than traditional buildings and, in turn, result in reduced operation and maintenance costs and fewer necessary resources. The ROI from sustainable projects is noticeable almost immediately. In fact, studies show that green design directly results in a higher worker productivity and reduced absenteeism in the workplace. That in the end is why we build to begin with — for people.

Integrating sustainable operations into your construction business is the new normal. Despite a few stubborn myths and misconceptions about this approach, it’s important to understand the reality of sustainable design and building science. When societal influences and consumer demands of our industry changed, it was sustainability and building science that together provided the path forward for us and continue to do so. 

By building and retrofitting more sustainably, building and design professionals are producing longer-lasting structures with a greatly reduced impact on the environment. As more contractors join the sustainability cause, the message will continue to spread — helping us to not only satisfy our present needs but to also secure a healthier future. 

Lucas Hamilton is the manager of building science applications for CertainTeed, and is a physicist with 30 years of experience in construction and manufacturing.

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