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Sustainability in Construction

Updated: Jun 9, 2022

Building construction methods and designs have come a long way in the last few decades, with technology making leaps and bounds in how we run our homes every year. At the forefront of the advancements the industry has been making is energy conservation and reducing our carbon footprints. While we’re happy to see that sustainable construction is gaining traction and acceptance through its trendiness, it’s worth acknowledging that there’s a lot of green-washing out there intended to ultimately do little more than catch our attention and snatch up our dollars. To help you wade through all of the options you have when building and maintaining a home, cottage or cabin, we’ve compiled a list of the basic principles to consider.


Function

First things first: how will you be using the space? If you’re working directly with an architect or designer for your custom home or getaway, they’ll want to learn about how you will use and interact with the space day-to-day, picking up on habits that would make your life more convenient and practical to work those flows into the layout of the space. This is called functional programming. Unlike out-of-the-box options that developers offer, having others help you work through how you’re most likely to engage with the spaces within will create the most efficient and comfortable layouts to suit your lifestyle. This can lead to saving space that may otherwise go unused the majority of the year (who has a dining room out there that only get attention 2-3 times a year for special occasions?) - saving on space could lead to materials and energy saving in heating and cooling down the road. While having a functional program plan put together is by no means required, sketching out your own ideas and household habits to paper is a great step in the right direction to sustainable building.


Durability

We’ve all seen them: box store homes that look like all the others. Old homes that have been flipped using trending and cost-effective products to look good…. until you start living in them and things wear down or don’t stand the test of time in terms of style. When selecting your finishes, both interior and exterior, consider two major points: longevity and ease of repair and/or replacement. As far as longevity goes, you want to imagine how the finish will look once it’s got a few scratches on it, how it will hold up to the elements etc. In general, more ‘natural’ products age beautifully even when worn down over time. Think of wood floors and stone countertops - they have a timeless quality about them even covered in scratches as they patina over time. As far as repair and replacement goes, consider the fact that one day the finish will need freshening up. In some cases, total replacement will be necessary. Using the example of wood floors once again, they can be refinished in place if ever scratch beyond what your taste tolerates or if you want to change up their hue. A laminate floor (particularly thinner, lower-end options) on the other hand cannot be sanded down and refinished as the low-quality inner layers would be further exposed. With this option, flooring could not be refreshed but would instead require replacement, not to mention replacement of its baseboards as well.



Heating and Cooling

This, in our humble opinion, is the biggest opportunity to optimize comfort while reducing recurring greenhouse emissions. While there are a number of programs out there meant to replace the technology in your home with options that burn less fuel, the most practical and impactful solution is to require less fuel in the first place. Start with insulation. Following the principles of PassivHaus design, by insulating our homes as much as possible (they recommend insulating foundations, walls and roofs anywhere from R40 - R90, depending on construction details and location) we eliminate the need to constantly be burning fuel, no matter how ‘green’ that fuel is marketed. Through some simple searches online, you’ll be amazed by how little effort and energy can go into heating one’s home, and only in extreme circumstances.

Daylighting goes hand in hand with good insulation. When windows are shaded in the summer, things stay cool. In our Canadian winters, we want as much sunlight as we can to pour through them. By building with horizontal sun shades over windows (think pergolas) and planting deciduous shades trees on sides of your home that take on a lot of sun year round, you can get by on little to no additional heating and cooling measures depending on climate.

Whatever your budget and location, building for quality, durability and longevity will keep you the most comfortable, without a doubt saeving you time and money in the long run. So go ahead, build sustainable!

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