(Part of the No Sweat Solutions series.)

What follows is a table with a (very) incomplete list of means of reducing material intensity in building. These means alone could reduce the impact of constructing buildings by about 75 percent or more, and thus greenhouse-gas emissions from construction and destruction of buildings by about half.

Since we have green builders on this site, I invite additions to the list, especially if you can cite sources for impact reduction. I also invite comments on whether any of these are not as green as they appear at first blush.

Note that operations account for a great deal more of the impact of building than construction. So these are green only to the extent they do not compromise operating efficiency.

Table below the fold.

Savings in Building Construction
Methods Intensity Reduction (%) [1] GHG Savings (%) [1] Comments
Rehabilitate, don’t demolish [1]; even if only frame and foundation recovered, savings is substantial 75%-90% 50%-80% % reduction depends on portion of shell saved.
Super Adobe [2] 90%-99% 80%+ Low rise construction only. (cost [3])
Straw Bale Walls [4] – an agricultural waste that makes sturdy comfortable, climate controlled homes. 90%+ 80%+ Low rise, other limitations (cost [5]); Unlike many agricultural wastes, more is produced than can be used as a soil amendment; too much straw in soil is a nitrogen robber.
Strawboard [6] 75% 50% Replaces particle board, fiber board, most manufactured woods.
Bamboo [7] – much less land, water, fertilizer per pound of output than wood. Responsible harvesting may leave roots intact, and plants alive. 90% 80% Potential to cultivate native U.S. Bamboo [8] and non-native varieties [9] in U.S. or import from Latin American varieties too. (cost [F2] )
Truly sustainably harvested wood and salvaged/recycled wood 90% 80% Thinning for benefit of forest health not lumber companies–unlike harvest of prime trees, often falsely labeled thinning. True thinning could produce only a tiny percent of what current harvesting yields.
Wood/Bamboo framing in buildings 4 [10] to 7 [11] stories. 90% [12] 80% Wood and bamboo frames in building from 4 to 7 stories save substantial impact compared to conventional concrete, brick or metal – common construction methods above three stories.
Wood Efficient Approaches to Design [13] 26% 10% Cumulative with some other methods.
Geopolymeric Cement [14] (roofing tile as one commercial example [15]) 90% 66% This alternative cement is based on natural silicates, which requires neither limestone nor anything like the amount of energy Portland Cement needs. Economical in uses where greater strength per lb makes up for MUCH higher cost per lb.
Rastra [16] – an efficient insulated concrete form made from recycled EPS plastic and cement 90%+ 80%+ Shallow frost protected foundations [17] or buildings up to ten stories.
Pozzalano (fly ash and other waste or natural replacements for a portion of cement in concrete) + recycled steel 50% 25% Useful to further lower impact of Rastra
Skyscrapers need to make up higher embedded energy with operational efficiency Skyscrapers will require more embedded impact than shorter buildings. To make up for this, they need to attain operational efficiencies exceeding even “passive” smaller structures. After making them hyperefficient, solar cells can be added to make them net energy exporters. Because skyscrapers are so expensive to construct anyway, in many cases solar cells won’t increase their cost by a significant percent, even at current photovoltaic prices.
Panelshake roof [18] – from completely recycled ingredients 90% 80% Recycling, not extended lifespan, lowers impact.
Linoleum, bamboo, cork, recycled wood, and recycled glass floors 75%-90% 50%-80% All well known “green floor” techniques
Interface Carpet Tiles [19] 90%+ 80%+ All carpet tiles lower intensity over conventional carpets because wear occurs faster in heavily traffic areas. With tiles, just the worn areas may be replaced – extending overall lifespan of carpet. In addition, the tiles are recyclable, and the backing has been designed to be recycled back into itself; that is, you can make backing material for Interface tiles from the old backing from old Interface tiles. In general, Interface is famous for energy efficiency and sustainability.
Unburned clay based finishes [20] 85% 50%
Other natural finishes ? ? Huge variety, intensity unanalyzed. Some probably produce significant savings.
Low impact site design and grading [21] 75% 50%
Mechanical Equipment (climate control, plumbing, ducting etc.) 75% 50% Result of operating energy savings in buildings – dealt with in later sections on buildings
Pex [22] – Advanced plastic plumbing as long lasting, and lower impact than copper. 90% 80% More expensive than copper, but less labor to lay pipe; installed cost is the same or lower. Repairs are less expensive as well. Becoming standard.
Fiberglass window frames21 – Compared to aluminum, based on recycling % figures [23]; also lower impact and longer lasting than vinyl 80% 75% 100% recycled aluminum would have lower embodied impact than fiberglass21, but higher operating impact. Vinyl, though better than aluminum, is a worse insulator than fiberglass
Cellulose insulation [24] 80% 75% Must be careful not compromise operating efficiency – insulating properties comparable to fiberglass, but not as good as foam.
Glazing, Plastics, natural gas piping, wiring No savings in processes representing 10% of all embodied impact and energy.
Note: savings include increases in lifespan and durability unless stated otherwise

In total, processes representing 10% or less of all embodied energy and impact in buildings may not be subject to significant reduction. Given the other reductions listed, this means that total embodied impact in building site preparation, construction and finishing can be reduced by 75% to 80% – at essentially zero market cost. Very roughly this would reduce energy consumption in site preparation, building construction, and finishing by a bit more than half.


Footnotes

[F1] % Savings refer to part, construction stage or whatever technology listed replaces – not entire building.

[F2] Asian imports will always be more expensive than native North American wood. For bamboo to be competitive here, North America must turn to closer sources – native or Latin American.


End Notes

[1]Ernst von Weizsacker, Amory B. Lovins, and L. Hunter Lovins, Factor Four – Doubling Wealth, Halving Resource Use – The New Report to the Club of Rome (London: Earthscan, 1997).

Wayne Trusty and Jamie Meil, The Environmental Implications of Building New Versus Renovating an Existing Structure. Jan 2001. ATHENA™ Sustainable Materials Institute, 23/Aug/2005 .

[2]Ernst von Weizsacker, Amory B. Lovins, and L. Hunter Lovins, Factor Four – Doubling Wealth, Halving Resource Use – The New Report to the Club of Rome (London: Earthscan, 1997).

Wayne Trusty and Jamie Meil, The Environmental Implications of Building New Versus Renovating an Existing Structure. Jan 2001. ATHENA™ Sustainable Materials Institute, 23/Aug/2005 .

[3] Amazon Nails, Information Guide to Straw Bale Buildingfor Self-Builders and the Construction Industry, 2001). 2003. Amazon Nails, 23/Dec/2003 http://www.strawbalefutures.org.uk/pdf/strawbaleguide.pdf .p2.

[4]Canadian Architect, “Measures of Sustainability – Embodied Energy,” Measures of Sustainability, 2002, Canadian Architect, 02/Feb/2003 http://www.cdnarchitect.com/asf/perspectives_sustainibility/measures_of_sustainablity/measures_of_su stainablity_embodied.htm .

[5] Amazon Nails, Information Guide to Straw Bale Buildingfor Self-Builders and the Construction Industry, 2001). 2003. Amazon Nails, 23/Dec/2003 http://www.strawbalefutures.org.uk/pdf/strawbaleguide.pdf .p2.

[6] 4, “Wheat-Straw Particleboard,”. Environmental Building News, no. 6 Nov/Dec 1995: Product Review, BuildingGreen.Com, 23/Aug/2005.

[7] International Bamboo Foundation, Bamboo Technologies | About Bamboo. 15/May 2004, International Bamboo Foundation, 26/Oct/2005 http://www.bambootechnologies.com/allabout.htm .

International Network for Bamboo and Rattan, International Network for Bamboo and Rattan (INBAR) | Bamboo and Rattan Facts. 2005, International Network for Bamboo and Rattan, 26/Oct/2005 http://www.inbar.int/facts.htm .

International Fund for Agricultural Development, Agricultural Research Grants | Programme for Development and Diffusion of Technologies for Smallholder Bamboo- and Rattan-Based Producers – Phase II. 2005, International Fund for Agricultural Development, 26/Oct/2005 http://www.ifad.org/grants/tags/518.htm .

[8] United States Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service, PLANTS National Database Reports and Topics – Arundinaria Gigantea. 22/Aug 2005, United States Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service http://plants.usda.gov/cgi_bin/plant_profile.cgi?symbol=ARGI .

[9] David Linvill, Frank Linton, and Michael Hotchkiss, Growing Bamboo in Georgia. 9/May 2001, Cooperative Extension Service – The University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, 23/Aug/2005 http://pubs.caes.uga.edu/caespubs/horticulture/GrowingBamboo.htm .

Carol A. Miles, Chuhe Chen, and Tamera Flores, Washington State University Bamboo Research Report 2000 – On-Farm Bamboo Production in the Pacific Northwest, 2000). May 2001. Extension Agricultural Systems Program, Washington State University Research and Extension Center, 23/Aug/2005 http://agsyst.wsu.edu/BambooReport2000.pdf .

[10]Kevin K. C. Cheung, Multi-Storey, Multi-Family Wood-Frame Construction in the USA, 27/Sep/2000). International Conference on the Seismic Performance of Traditional Buildings:Istanbul, Turkey, Nov.16-18, 2000. 15/Nov 2001. International Council on Monuments and Sites: International Wood Committee, 23/Aug/2005 http://grist.org/wp-content/uploads/2007/04/cheung-k.pdf .

[11]Laura Soullière Harrison, “National Park Service: Architecture in the Parks (Old Faithful Inn),” Architecture in the Parks: Excerpts from a National Historic Landmark Theme Study, Nov 1986). 26/Feb 2001. National Park Service – Department of the Interior, 23/Aug/2005 http://www.cr.nps.gov/history/online_books/harrison/harrison3.htm .

Chateau at the Oregon Caves, Oregon CavesOutfitters – An In-Depth Description of the Chateau. 2003, Chateau at the Oregon Caves, 23/Aug/2005

http://www.oregoncavesoutfitters.com/AbouttheChateau.asp .

[12]Jamie Meil et al., CORRIM: Phase I Final Report – Module J: Environmental Impacts of a Single Family Building Shell – From Harvest to Construction (Review Draft). 23/Aug 2004. Consortium for Research on Renewable Industrial Materials (CORRIM), 23/Aug/2005.

[13] Ann Edminster and Sami Yassa, Efficient Wood Use in Residential Construction: A Practical Guide to Saving Wood, Money, and Forests, 1998). Natural Resources Defense Council, 19/Feb/2006 http://www.nrdc.org/cities/building/rwoodus.asp .

[14]Zongjin Li, Ding.Zhu, and Yunsheng Zhang, Development of Sustainable Cementitious Materials. International Workshop on Sustainable Development and Concrete Technology: Beijing, May 20-21, 2004. 25/Mar 2004, 23/Aug/2005 http://grist.org/wp-content/uploads/2007/04/lisustainable.pdf .p57.

[15]Siloxo Pty Ltd, Siloxo –Melbourne Australia. Siloxo -Products and Services, 15/Aug 2003, Siloxo Pty Ltd, 18/Aug/2004 http://www.siloxo.com/products.htm .

[16]Rastra Found., What is RASTRA®. 16/Mar 2005, Rastra Found., 4/Sep/2005 http://www.rastrausa.com/ .

[17] Rastra Found., What is RASTRA®. 16/Mar 2005, Rastra Found., 4/Sep/2005 http://www.rastrausa.com/ .pp1-2.

[18]Michelle Clark Hucal, “Recycled Roofing,”. Environmental Design and Construction, no. Cool Roofing – May 2003 Supplement 1/May 2003, BNP Media, 5/Sep/2005 .

[19]Paul Hawken, Amory Lovins, and L.Hunter Lovins, Natural Capitalism: Creating the Next Industrial Revolution (Boston: Little, Brown and Company/Back Bay, 2000) “Chapter 7, Muda, Service and Flow” pp.139-141.

[20]Wuppertal Institute for Climate, Environment and Energy, Material Intensity of Materials, Fuels, Transport Services, Version 2;28.10.2003. May 2004. WuppertalInstitute for Climate, Environment and Energy, Wuppertal Institute for Climate, Environment and Energy, 5/Sep/2005. p3(clay),p8(cement).

American Clay Enterprises, American Clay Finishes™ Clay Veneer Plaster Product Specifications. 18/Dec 2003. American Clay Enterprises, 5/Sep/2005 http://www.americanclay.com/pdfs/ProductSpecs.pdf .

Athena Swentzell Steen and Bill Steen, Artistry in Clay & Lime. 3/Jun 2005, The Canelo Project, 5/Sep/2005 http://www.caneloproject.com/pages/workshops/clayartistry.html .

[21]Michael Clar, Buckeye Development, LLC – Pembrook Woods Low Impact Development. Feb 2000, Buckeye Development, LLC, 5/Sep/2005 http://www.buckeyedevelopment.net/lowimpactdevelopment.htm .

[22]U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Partnership for Advancing Technology in Housing, Affordability and Value Through Housing Technology Program and Services Guide. 20/Jun 2002. U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Partnership for Advancing Technology in Housing, 5/Sep/2005 http://grist.org/wp-content/uploads/2007/04/guidetoserv.pdf .p3.

[23]The Aluminum Association, Inc., Aluminum Association | Climate Change. 2004, Environment and Climate Change – Conservation, Preservation, and Recycling, The Aluminum Association, Inc., 5/Sep/2005 http://www.aluminum.org/Content/NavigationMenu/The_Industry/Government_Policy/Climate_Change/Climate _Change.htm .

[24] Alex Wilson, “Insulation Materials: Environmental Comparisons,”. Environmental Building News 4, no. 1 Jan/Feb 1995, BuildingGreen.Com, 5/Sep/2005 http://www.buildinggreen.com/auth/article.cfm?fileName=040101a.xml .

More recent data from the United States National Institute of Standards and Technology suggests essentially the same thing.

Barbara C. Lippiatt, BEES 2.0 -Building for Environmental and Economic Sustainability Technical Manual and User Guide, Jun/2000). June 2000. Office of Applied Economics, Building and Fire Research Laboratory, National Institute of Standards and Technology, 5/Sep/2005 .pp 62,65.

A contractor for the EPA analyzed the same BEES database and came to the opposite conclusion:

United States Environmental Protection Agency Office of Research and Development, Framework for Responsible Environmental Decision Making (FRED): Using Life Cycle Assessment to Evaluate Preferability of Products, Oct 2000), EPA/600/R-00/095. June 2001. United States Environmental Protection Agency Office of Research and Development, 5/Sep/2005 <http://www.lcacenter.org/library/pdf/fred.pdf&gt;.pB-5.

Their conclusion does not seem to match the data. Where BEES database, as added up in manual site shows cellulose requiring about one fifth the energy input (for manufacturing and raw materials combined) as fiberglass, the FRED example shows cellulose requiring more than 20 times the energy per kilogram. Since this varies from every other analysis ever done to be believed it would have to more specific as to where the difference came from.

For example the Minnesota Building Database shows about one tenth the global warming impact for cellulose as fiberglass

University of Minnesota College of Architecture and Landscape Architecture Center for Sustainable Building Research, “Minnesota Building Materials Database – Generic Fiberglass Batt,” Minnesota Building Materials Database, 26/May 2004, University of Minnesota College of Architecture and Landscape Architecture Center for Sustainable Building Research, 5/Sep/2005 http://www.buildingmaterials.umn.edu/07211_batt_bees.html .

University of Minnesota College of Architecture and Landscape Architecture Center for Sustainable Building Research, “Minnesota Building Materials Database – Blown Cellulose,” Minnesota Building Materials Database, 26/May 2004, University of Minnesota College of Architecture and Landscape Architecture Center for Sustainable Building Research, 5/Sep/2005 http://www.buildingmaterials.umn.edu/07210_blown_bees.html .