Construction Practices Impact on the Environment in the U.S.

Did you know that in the United States construction accounts for 36% of total energy use? That is a huge number when you stop and think about it. Perhaps if the products we used were biproducts of another industry (like, hmmmm……STRAW) we could lower that number a bit.

But hang on, it gets worse. 65% of the United States energy consumption is related to the construction industry. The U.S. uses more energy than the rest of the World as is, and 65% of that energy is used by the construction industry.

The process of building is also responsible for 30% of greenhouse gas emissions. Most people talk about cars when it comes to greenhouse gases, but rarely consider the home they build as an impactful source of pollution. What may seem more understandable, 30% of the raw materials used in the United States go towards construction. Again, if we could focus on the use of bi products like straw, fly ash, and recycled materials, we could have a significant impact on the shape of things in the States. In fact, if people recycled their product waste instead of throwing it away (as is often the case on job sites) we could reduce the 136 million tons of garbage produced annually by construction projects. That’s 30% of the total waste output for the U.S. each year.

As you may already know, the World’s water supply is in trouble and is not large enough to sustain the growth we are seeing worldwide. With that in mind, consider that construction projects account for12 % of potable water consumption in the United States. That is a lot of water and much of it can be seen cleaning out wheelbarrows and washing down the sidewalk after a day at the job site. Conservation has to become the mantra for contractors if we plan to keep our great trade alive without killing the World in the process.

3 Responses to Construction Practices Impact on the Environment in the U.S.

  1. jesse phillips
    jesse phillips Thu, September 13, 2007 at 1:42 pm #

    Thanks for this information. I have to admit, I did not know that construction produces so much damage. Does the use of straw bales really help to reduce the impact of all of this. After all, you still need to frame if using post and beam, and it still takes energy to produce the flooring and other aspects of the home. So how much baling a home really save?

  2. Andrew
    Andrew Thu, September 13, 2007 at 1:42 pm #

    Jesse,
    It is true that the bales are only one part of the overall building. That said, I don’t focus all of my attention on the baling portion of the home. I work with the designers and architects to help create an efficient design both in regards to how the home functions and how it is built. A lot of waste can be addressed while the house is still on paper. Allow your sense of care for the environment to move out from just the bales and encompass the entire home. Work with a round table of folks during design to minimize waste. This team should include the builder, designer, plumber, electrician, HVAC contractor, cabinet maker, and so on. If everyone is present during revisions, they all can have input that will save resources when the house is actually built.

    Another angle is to be sure to use every scrap of material during the construction process. This can be expensive as labor tends to cost more than materials; however with the proper planning, once again, this system can actual be cost effective and good for the environment.

    Basically, there is a lot to consider when building a home and the walls are just one piece of that. Take your time, plan well, and build the entire home with a sense of duty to the environment and you may be surprised how much of an impact you can have on the numbers I wrote about earlier and, perhaps more importantly, your friends and neighbors. Change the wasteful behavior of just one contractor and imagine the ripples flowing out.

  3. joe charter
    joe charter Thu, September 13, 2007 at 1:43 pm #

    Andrew: These are staggering statistics. Where do they come from – what is your source? Do you take waste wood scraps out to the BioMass Center?
    Joe

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