Sustainable homes: what is a housebuilder’s environmental responsibility?

The UK has a challenge on its hands. Given the country’s commitments to climate goals and that the construction industry contributes hugely to its annual CO2 output, there are improvements to be made in what and how we build. Meanwhile, the UK is constantly facing pressure to build enough homes for its population. One outcome of this is that housebuilders are increasingly exploring how sustainable homes can protect the environment.

A sustainable house with an electric car charging

Sustainable design principles are key to implementing environmentally friendly construction practices. This term refers to a design process that prioritises sustainability and uses natural resources. Put simply, sustainability means minimising the environmental impact of all aspects of construction, including material sourcing, water consumption, site management, building energy usage and waste removal.

Buildings that follow the sustainable design principles are often called ‘eco-homes’. Their designs aim to improve energy efficiency and indoor environmental quality for occupants, as well as reducing the environmental damage caused by the construction of the building. As there is an urgent need for housing in the UK, construction practices need to become more sustainable in order to lower greenhouse gas emissions whilst also responding to increased demand. The global construction industry currently uses 40% of the world’s energy supply – coupled with the rising population, it is clear that sustainable homes are the only way forward.

Location, location, location

When housebuilding, there are many factors to consider when choosing a location. These include transport links, construction budget and the viability of a site. When building a sustainable home, using a brownfield site is much preferred over a greenfield one. A brownfield site is a previously developed area that has become derelict, whereas greenfield sites have never been built on. 

For many developers, greenfield sites are far more attractive as they are cost-effective in the short term. Since greenfield areas are untouched, they are often in very good condition so the construction process is straight forward. However, the environmental impact of developing on a greenfield site is significant, contributing to poorer air quality, pollution of natural habitats and increasing urban sprawl. In the long term, attempting to reverse environmental damage is much more expensive than the initial savings of choosing undeveloped land, and new builds produce higher levels of carbon emissions than sustainable houses. 

Brownfield sites are a more environmentally friendly choice, despite potential issues from the previous development. With sites that have been abandoned or fallen into disuse, there is the risk of hazardous substances and past contamination. However, brownfield sites are often in desirable locations for buyers. It can also be easier to get planning permission for areas that have been used before. Starting costs for brownfield sites are higher than greenfield, as any contamination needs to be removed. However, the actual redevelopment can be cheaper because there is infrastructure already in place, such as electricity or drainage systems.

Material choices for sustainable homes

As expected, material choices are a fundamental factor in determining the sustainability of a building. The most obvious choice when designing a sustainable home is using renewable resources. They should also improve energy efficiency for occupants after the house is built. However, you should think about sourcing, material extraction and transportation to the site when considering a building’s overall sustainability. 

Using sustainable design principles means only ordering what you need, so quantity of material is also a consideration. The less material you need to transport to the site, the lower your carbon footprint. The carbon footprints of construction projects begin long before building starts, so effective management of resources is part of producing sustainable homes. Thinking about cradle to cradle is a good place to start – what is the lifecycle of the materials you are using? What is the most energy-intensive stage, and how can the impact be reduced?

There are numerous opportunities to get creative with materials, but there are more conventional materials available when planning for a sustainable home. For example, timber can also be sustainable if there is enough replanting, and you can choose reclaimed bricks or materials with high recycled content. In the long term, durability of material is an important consideration. Will your building last a lifetime, or will you need to carry out substantial maintenance within a few years?

Efficient building practices

When building an eco-home, it’s crucial that you carry out construction sustainably, as well as having an energy-efficient end result. Efficient building practices are an important part of mitigating any environmental damage caused by construction.

Obviously, on-site construction uses a large proportion of the energy usage involved in completing a building. Having an organised taskforce and clear schedule is an easy way of avoiding project delays and maintenance issues. Every inefficient use of energy, material or time contributes towards environmental damage.

Using what you’ve already got is another way of reducing resource waste and boosting sustainability. Eco-homes are designed to work with the environment, so you can take advantage of wind changes and temperature to reduce energy consumption. For example, preventing air leakages, installing solar heat pumps and using thermal insulation are all cost-effective ways of boosting sustainability during construction. 

Finally, removal and transportation of waste is the last step in building a sustainable home. If your waste disposal strategy is responsible, you will significantly reduce the risk of continuing environmental damage after project completion. That includes water contamination or pollution.

How can PlanRadar help build sustainable homes

PlanRadar can help to reduce defects and mistakes onsite by facilitating communication and efficient onsite practices. This lowers the amount of waste and ensures you spend your energy effectively.

Our cloud-based task management platform automatically synchronises changes and makes information available to team members in real time on all devices. PlanRadar’s task management features give you a complete overview of all tasks, their completion status and deadlines. Having a central project dashboard helps all managers track progress. It can also help them to keep subcontractors accountable for completing their part on time.

PlanRadar also facilitates digital project transfers, so you can ensure your paperwork complies with building regulations, contract requirements and company procedures. You can standardise data entry in the app, which makes carrying out inspections and compiling reports easy. Clear communication is key to avoiding errors; with effective project transfer, there is reduced risk of resource waste and increased site optimisation. 

Contact us to find out more about how PlanRadar can help you, or try a free 30-day trial here.

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