From the Colosseum to the Empire State Building, from a local courthouse to the local corner store, buildings and architecture make up a central part of our lives and consciousness. Perhaps no one is more aware of this than people in the construction business. This is an area that has seen more than its fair share of challenges in recent years, with the economic crisis of 2008 still looming in the background.
While construction has seen moderate growth since then, leaders in this industry continue to focus on improving the efficiency of construction projects. Making construction more efficient can not only directly contribute to a company’s bottom line, but also represents an investment for future sustainability and energy savings.
Choosing the Best Site
Designing and constructing energy efficient buildings begins with choosing the most appropriate site. There are a number of factors to consider when determining the most efficient use of a construction location. For maximum sustainability, it is best to choose sites where the least amount of land disturbance is needed.
Preserving the existing topography of a construction site minimizes excavation and allows for the conservation of trees, topsoil, and grass. Purchasing replacements for these can increase final construction cost. Also, a site that has been clear cut will often increase storm water runoff during construction, resulting in the loss of valuable topsoil and other erosion issues.
There are many other considerations involved as well. The access of the structure to sunlight could affect the building’s heating and cooling requirements. How windy the area is will also play a role in heating and cooling. This includes the direction of the prevailing wind, as well as the effect that cold winter winds or cooling summer breezes will have on energy efficiency.
A location’s current water drainage patterns should also be examined to ensure that the maximum amount of natural drainage will remain after construction. This will retain the current site’s topography while minimizing possible water damage in the future.
Optimal Building Design
Architects and designers can take steps such as locating spaces with no HVAC requirements toward a building’s colder areas, along with limiting the number and size of north/south side windows on buildings in cold climates. Making sure that windows in each room provide cross ventilation will give free cooling during the spring and fall. Designing buildings that provide maximum daylight can reduce the amount of artificial lighting that is required.
General contractors and sub-contractors can also contribute to efficient building design. Air and vapor barriers should be appropriately installed. These products, which inhibit the movement of airflow and water vapor inside a structure, need to be well secured and sealed to inhibit any possible damage done to them during construction.
In addition, contractors can ensure that air leaks in a building’s thermal envelope are properly sealed. This has been shown to save energy expenses by up to 50%. Finally, contractors can make sure that insulation is installed precisely according to the manufacturer’s instructions. When insulation is inappropriately installed, it reduces energy efficiency and can even be detrimental to the building.
Efficient building design makes the best use of resources. The construction of new buildings can produce a fair amount of debris and waste, so using resources efficiently is very important to keep the industry sustainable. There are many ways to accomplish this.
These include techniques known as “optimum value engineering” that reduce the amount of wood needed for construction. Building with wood is a sustainable method in general. When wood is taken from sustainable sources, it provides more energy efficiency than working with cement or steel.
Another familiar practice that helps make the most out of resources is recycling. Much of the waste created in the construction process could be recycled, but simply isn’t. Salvaging and recycling this waste requires some planning, but ultimately saves money while protecting the environment.
In addition to using and recycling construction materials, new buildings should incorporate features that make it convenient for consumer goods to be recycled throughout the building, further helping to save space in landfills and foster sustainability.
Saving Time and Money
As the construction industry continues to gain economic stability, it’s important for different sectors of the industry to employ time and money-saving techniques. There are a vast number of techniques for this purpose, including purchasing materials in bulk. With the volatile nature of the material costs, bulk purchases can be made that save time and money.
Many seasoned contractors have close contact and knowledge of the marketplace for their supplies and are able to navigate cost spikes with bulk purchasing. Another time and money-saving technique in construction is to purchase locally. Purchasing within a 500 mile radius can bring many logistical advantages that include less fuel consumption and faster delivery times, as well as decreasing a company’s carbon footprint.
A Growing Field
The art of maximizing design efficiency in construction has grown a great deal in recent years, and continues to do so today. In an economic climate that can be filled with uncertainty, making time and money-saving choices that lead to better overall sustainability is always a smart choice.
Working with the best sites, building designs and most efficient use of resources not only aids the bottom line of the construction company. Efficient design and construction contribute to an economy that will ensure high performance and sustainable buildings to help the environment for years to come.
To read more about our products and the processes we utilize and recommend for optimizing efficiency, visit our Architect's Corner and select from our wide range of data sheets, CAD files, and more.