Q&A Column

What environmental issues are being addressed by the local architectural community? Can some of these be specified?

In addition to environmental material disposal and recycling waste, many firms are looking at beyond the waste that a typical construction project creates to broader ways to have a positive impact on the environment in the design and construction of buildings.

Resource efficiency is the term now being used to describe the all-encompassing goals of energy efficiency, environmental protection, material efficiency, health and safety and affordability. The driving concept in the design of buildings that are most resource-efficient is source reduction. Source reduction means reduction in material use, toxicity of materials used, material waste and failure of building materials. For the designer/specifier to have the most impact at source reduction they must think far upstream from the wastes created at the typical construction site. They must think about the point when a material is selected, purchased or used which end up as waste.

Architects, engineers, contractors and suppliers in our community are looking at integrating source reduction into design and construction of buildings in our area. Source reduction makes for a better project of greater value to the client and the community. Specific ways source reduction increases the value of a project include:

    Reducing the cost of construction materials
    Reducing hauling and landfill tipping fees
    Improving energy efficiency
    Providing a responsible image of the project/client
    Creating a safer, less toxic building environment
    Reducing the negative impact to the environment from construction

Waste reduction, as discussed in last month's Specifics, is one area where those of us in the construction industry can have an impact, but there are other areas of design and specifying that can have even greater impact. Source reduction from the design and specifier standpoint can be divided into three areas:

  • resource efficiency

  • using less toxic materials

  • waste reduction

Resource efficiency achieved through using or building less, and by using materials that are better for our environment, including those that are sustainable, last longer, and require less maintenance.

The following are areas where the specifier can employ environmentally friendly materials:

  • Use less toxic, sustainable, long lasting materials

  • Specify materials that are less toxic in their production, installation, and use.

  • Substitute a longer lasting, hard surface floor finish. In addition to extending the life expectancy of the floor finish and reducing the future quantity of waste generated through replacement, there is a significant impact on reducing toxicity. Carpet adhesives are a major potential source of toxicity. In addition, carpet fibers, backing and pads are potential sources of toxicity.

  • Specify installation materials and methods that use less material. For example, when using 2x6 framing, take advantage of the greater structural capacity and space studs at 24" versus 16" on center.

Resource efficiency in the construction process can have a major impact on the environment. Designers and specifiers in our community are taking a leadership role in guiding, motivating the reduced material usage, toxicity and waste.

Answer submitted by Jerry Putnam, CSI, CCS, LHB Engineers & Architects