What is sustainability in construction?
Most people are familiar with the term sustainability, but what does it mean in construction? If we were to ask most people to define it, they would probably come up with terms such as green design, environmentally friendly, and renewable energy. The U.S. Green Building Council defines it as “a holistic concept that starts with the understanding that the built environment can have profound effects, both positive and negative, on the natural environment, as well as the people who inhabit buildings every day. Green building is an effort to amplify the positive and mitigate the negative of these effects throughout the entire life cycle of a building.”
Foremost considerations in sustainable construction are: site selection, energy use, water use, indoor environmental quality and material section. So why is sustainability so important in the construction industry? According to the U.S. Green Building Council, in the United States alone, buildings account for almost 40 percent of national CO2 emissions and out-consume both the industrial and transportation sectors.
So, it should come as no surprise that sustainability is incredibly important in early childhood centers. Infants and young children are very sensitive to their environment while they are developing and growing. Harmful chemicals can have a more significant impact on a child’s health compared to an adult. What’s more, sustainable construction can also be used as an education tool. Children are like sponges, they absorb information, and if their classroom is using the latest sustainable products and technologies, they will learn about what they can do and why they are so important for our environment. To this end, here are a few things you should consider when working sustainability into your early childhood center design.
The site of the property can have a large impact on the sustainability of the building. Consider the following when designing the most sustainable building:
- Where is the property is located?
- What is the climate of the area?
- Does it have ample access to public transportation and services within walking distance?
- Are there opportunities for shared uses for the building or the parking lot?
- What is its orientation?
- Does it have good views?
- How does it interact with nature and the elements?
- Is it a private space or is visibility to the public something to take into account?
The building envelope
The building envelope refers to the “skin” of a building (foundation, walls, windows, and roof). When choosing what type of materials will be used, some of the factors to take into consideration when dealing with sustainability are:
- Using more insulation than mandated by code will reduce future energy use.
- Do materials have recycled content?
- Are they harvested or produced locally?
- What are the byproducts and waste of production?
- What are their life cycles?
Although building systems are not the first aspect of a building that comes to mind while discussing design, they play a major role when it comes to sustainability. There are many different HVAC (Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning) systems that are now more energy efficient and can run off of renewable energy such as geothermal and solar. These types of mechanical systems can help reduce the reliance on fossil fuels and decrease the building’s environmental footprint.
Choosing green finishes for your building today is much easier than, say, 20 years ago. Due to the high demand, companies are competing to make the most sustainable building products and finishes. Since infants and young children are so sensitive to harmful chemicals, it is imperative to choose green products for all the finishes within your early childhood center.
While each of these categories is important on their own, the building really needs to work as a whole to be sustainable. Choosing an appropriate site, using energy-efficient building systems as well as green building materials will reduce waste and consumption to really make a difference in the sustainability of your early childhood center.