Chapter 6 - Buildings



Chapter 6 – Buildings


We have looked at how engineers currently provide the essentials for life to society; specifically water and food, and the implications for sustainability in each. The final necessity of humankind is the infrastructure to be protected from the elements, a roof over our heads. The construction industry is one of the biggest consumers of energy and natural resources, as well as one of the biggest polluters. The trend in buildings has been away from long life design characterised in the UK by brick built Victorian building still sturdy after 100 years to quick and cheap concrete steel and glass designs, which not only have a high embodied energy, but decay relatively quickly.

Some facts about the construction industry:

  • A large proportion of the global GNP is spent on buildings
  • Construction and operation of buildings consumes over a third of the worlds energy and 40% of the worlds mined resources [see reference 1]

In the UK Buildings are also responsible for:

    • almost half of UK carbon emissions,

    • half of water consumption,

    • about one third of landfill waste and 13% of all raw materials used in UK economy [see reference 2]

    • Buildings account for some 52% of total energy use in the UK [see reference3],[see reference 4].

In the USA buildings contribute to:

30% of raw materials use

30% of waste output (136 million tons/year)

12% of potable water consumption [see reference 5]

There is considerable scope for affecting these national statistics by a combination of careful design, procurement, alteration, refurbishment, replacement, use, commissioning and maintenance of new and existing buildings used for whatever purpose. see reference [6]

This chapter will examine the impact of the construction industry on the environment; the land, energy, water and material resources it requires and the problems arising from their use. We will then examine sustainable building practices, what we can do to reduce the footprint of buildings, manage waste during their construction, how to design for less energy use over their lifetime, and the options of reducing the energy consumption of existing buildings, known as “retro-fitting”. Finally we will look at current legislation in place in the UK related to sustainable construction practices, before examining some case studies of sustainable building projects.