What are the Environmental impacts of new-build housing?
Construction of new buildings has a significant impact on our environment. Obvious impacts include the use of land, materials and energy; leading to increased greenhouse gas emissions and production of other waste products. In Victoria, new-builds are now required to perform to a 6 star standard.
On the Victorian Building Authority’s Website they mention
‘The 6 Star Standard applies to the thermal performance of a home, renovation or addition and includes the installation of either a solar hot water system or a rainwater tank for toilet flushing. A 6 Star energy efficiency rating applies to your home’s building envelope; its roof, walls, floor and windows. 6 Star requirements also include efficiency standards for lighting but not plug in appliances.’
I personally don’t feel like this goes far enough; the scale goes up to 10, so six seems pretty poor! Given the large numbers of new builds underway, surely we could start some really great building practices for energy efficiency. Why can’t the minimum standard be solar hot water AND a rainwater tank, why can’t double or triple glazing be standard?
A rather small ‘passing comment’ on consumer.vic.gov.au states:
You can go beyond the minimum standard of energy rating and include more features, materials and systems to help our environment. Some of these can save you money in the long term.’
Seriously, should we not be making more of a point about this???
From the UK website ecology.co.uk, I found this informative Eco new-build fact sheet which makes some really great points and advice on building new-builds in an eco-manner. My favourite piece of advice on here was:
‘Remember that the Building Regulations are a legal minimum and do not represent best practice, so aim to exceed their parameters.’
Another issue which I think is quite prevalent here in Australia, is that of developers ripping down old properties and building new houses/units in their place. Obviously this is great for the developers bank-balance, but what about the environmental factor? Is the environment better off if we reuse/ refurbish existing homes?
In this report ‘The Greenest Building: Quantifying the Value of Building Reuse’ produced by the Preservation Green Lab of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, a conclusion is given which states that:
‘when comparing buildings of equivalent size and function, building reuse almost always offers environmental savings over demolition and new construction.’
Building reuse offers many advantages, for both economics and quality-of -life, it is also shown to create more and better-paid jobs than a new construction. Economy-wise, rehabilitation projects keeps money local, and communities retaining their distinctive character and heritage are also more appealing to residents, businesses and tourists.
On a basic level, I think most people can understand how pulling an old building down, disposing of the rubble/rubbish, clearing the site, acquiring new materials and then building is going to have a pretty big impact on the environment.
But many may consider that if the new building is built to high energy-efficiency standards, then its impact on the environment would level that impact out?
In this interesting news story on Citylab.com, Emily Badger discusses ‘Why the Most Environmental Building is the Building We’ve Already Built’:
‘Retrofit an existing building to make it 30 percent more efficient, the study found, and it will essentially always remain a better bet for the environment than a new building built tomorrow with the same efficiencies. Take that new, more efficient building, though, and compare its life cycle to an average existing structure with no retrofitting, and it could still take up to 80 years for the new one to make up for the environmental impact of its initial construction.’
Patrice Frey, the director of sustainability for the National Trust for Historic Preservation says:
‘What we’re advocating for is a shift in thinking, where at a minimum, we’re considering the environmental impacts associated with demolishing places before we tear them down and build something new.’
- yourhome.gov.au – Australia’s Guide to Environmentally Sustainable Homes