Can you deconstruct?
If you’re planning a major project, which requires at least part of the house to come down, ask the builder if they can “dismantle” the materials for recycling and reuse – rather than just tearing it down and sending the scrap to landfill.
Can you reuse material?
If you did decide to deconstruct part (or all of) your home, find out if the builder is able to use some of the salvaged material in the new construction. This not only saves resources – the old material can also provide pleasing aesthetics to the new construction and help keep the project’s budget under control.
Do you have a green accreditation?
Australia’s two major building industry bodies – the Housing Industry Association (HIA) and the Master Builders Association (MBA) – both provide green training and accreditation to their members.
An HIA GreenSmart Professional is an accreditation that’s awarded to individuals who have completed the GreenSmart Professional training course. The course focuses on a structure’s overall sustainability performance including:
Passive solar design and natural ventilation
Design and operational issues for water and energy efficiency
Selection of water and energy efficient appliances
Marketing sustainable housing to clients.
MBA members who complete the Association’s ‘Green Living’ training and adopt sustainable innovations in their operations will be able to identify themselves as Master Builders Green Living Builders.
The aim of the training is to provide builders with:
The necessary skills to understand the scope and application of energy provisions in sustainability innovations
Improved management and business skills to enable builders to pursue energy innovations
The necessary tools and information to design and construct energy efficient structures that not only meet minimum standards, but set a new benchmark in the housing sector for energy innovation.
Can you source materials locally?
While locally made building materials may be limited in your area (or a little out of your budget), it doesn’t hurt to find out what’s available.
Remember that materials and products that are manufactured locally travel a shorter distance to site, meaning they have lower embodied energy than materials that have been shipped in from overseas.
Do you choose materials with embodied energy?
The embodied energy of a building refers to the energy consumed throughout all process of its initial production – from the mining and processing of natural resources to the manufacture and transport of the finished product.
Until recently, it was accepted that the embodied energy content of a building was relatively small compared to the energy used during operation of the building throughout its life. Recent research however has shown this is not the case.
According to the CSIRO, the average household contains about 1,000 GJ of energy embodied in materials used in its construction, equivalent to around 15 years of normal operational energy use.
There are a number of tools available to help builders, owners and designers calculate the embodied energy of a building and therefore make informed choses on which materials are the most environmentally sustainable.
Do the materials you choose have other benefits?
Many homeowners are beginning to catch on to the non-environmental benefits of sustainable materials and products. Efficient lighting, heating and cooling systems are not only capable of keeping your home comfortable throughout the year – but they can also cut big dollars from your utility bill.
In addition, some recycled plastic decking can last longer than its wooden counterparts and VOC-free paint can have a number of health benefits for any family members with allergies.
How will you manage waste?
This is a two-pronged issue, and if you really have a finger on your project’s sustainability pulse, you will ensure your builder reduces and recycles material waste both during, and after the construction process.
During the construction process, waste reduction can include designing and building a house to material sizes. This not only slashes the amount of waste heading to landfill, it can also give you access to significant construction savings.
Queensland-based designer builder has told us that designing first and cutting material later can add all sorts of costs that aren’t immediately obvious into a building.
“Obviously, if you design a building around material size you are buying less materials so you are saving some money,” he says. “There is a significant costs these days for disposing of construction waste, so if you have less waste during your construction that is the second layer of saving.”
When the project is nearing completion, you should also ensure your builder recycles materials such as scrap metal, and disposes of any hazardous waste at the proper facilities.
Remember that builders often have a financial incentive to recycle some materials, which can not only work out cheaper than sending it to landfill – but can also turn a healthy profit.
But it’s important to also ask about those materials where it’s more expensive to recycle and dispose of properly (such as treated wood or chemicals) than it is to send them straight to the local landfill.