In a post from March, Sam Marquit wrote about the viability of using green construction techniques like radiant roof sheathing and tankless water heaters. In today’s post, Noelle Hirsch, an expert in green construction management, discusses ways that contractors and builders can incorporate eco-conscious design into their buildings, which appeal to consumers and environmentalists alike.
Efficient Construction Management, LEED Certification & the Water Crisis
It is becoming increasingly clear that the United States, along with the world as a whole, is facing a water crisis. Freshwater supplies are drying up, while industry and agriculture demand grow. The construction industry may seem an unlikely place to find a solution, but many of the most innovative conservation efforts start in homes, offices, and other everyday places where water is used indiscriminately. In many regions, people are catching on to the fact that implementing small changes in how buildings and infrastructures use water may have a profound effect on the global water shortage.
“In the next twenty years, global demand for fresh water will vastly outstrip reliable supply in many parts of the world,” The Atlantic reported in May 2012. “Thanks to population growth and agricultural intensification, humanity is drawing more heavily than ever on shared river basins and underground aquifers. Meanwhile, global warming is projected to exacerbate shortages in already water-stressed regions.” There are a number of ways to address this problem. In the short-term, though, simple changes to how individuals use—and waste—water on a daily basis may be the best solution. Construction management and architectural design is where these changes take root.
The United States Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) credentialing system is held by many to be something of a paradigm for water-efficient construction. The LEED system ranks buildings according to five levels—certified, bronze, silver, gold, and platinum—each of which corresponds to an ascending degree of sustainability. Construction managers who earn LEED certifications for their projects are often eligible for federal money, as well as industry accolades and positive press.
Water conservation is not the only factor going into LEED certification, though it does play an important role. Buildings that are designed to reduce water use by up to 20% can earn one point towards certification; achieving a 30% reduction typically earns two. Depending on the building, substantial reductions can often be achieved simply by installing water-saving faucets, showerheads, and other appliances.
Efficient use is usually only the starting line. “Gray” water recycling and more efficient irrigation are also common water sustainability tactics. Most American buildings use drinking-quality water for things like flushing the toilets and watering the lawns. The gray water movement seeks to change this by implementing sophisticated water transfers. Water run-off from dishwashing, bathing, or laundry can be filtered and reused for certain purposes.
“An average four person household sends well over 38,000 gallons of reusable water down the drain each year from bathrooms and laundries,” Illinois State University says on its LEED Analysis homepage. “The intent of gray water is to save clean water for human consumption by fulfilling the need for water in residential and industrial areas.”
Maximizing rainwater is also a LEED strategy, particularly in damper climates. Architects design buildings with angles and gutters that will take advantage of natural rainfall and dew moisture. Melting snow can also be collected, often with little more than a collection mechanism and a properly-sloped roof.
Though building strategies and savvy architecture alone are unlikely to solve the looming water crisis, they can go a long way when it comes to holding it off. Construction managers who are serious about water sustainability often find that they wield more power than they realize. Building eco-conscious elements into homes, offices, and factories may be time consuming and expensive at the outset, but as customers and communities are becoming more concerned about the environment, green construction is gaining traction.