Net-Zero Construction Coming Soon

Sustainability has been a focus area of the construction field for a while, but more recently legislative efforts have added a stronger sense of urgency. For example, Washington, D.C. is setting its sights on net-zero construction. The City Council recently passed legislation requiring all new buildings and substantial renovations in Washington to be net-zero construction by 2026 and banned most natural gas use in new buildings.

What Materials We Use

Reducing the carbon emissions required to create materials needed in infrastructure can accelerate our path to net-zero construction.

Scientists are already researching cleaner materials to reduce or replace the limestone found in cement. Scientists at Stanford University created cement that replaces limestone with volcanic rock while scientists in Germany and Brazil found a way to replace 50–60% of the limestone in cement with Belterra clay.

Another way to increase sustainability in construction projects is to reuse materials. Reusing materials is both cost-effective and more sustainable, whether construction professionals are rehabbing or building from scratch. Rehabbing an old building eliminates or decreases the need for demolition while also potentially using fewer materials. If the building is not in good condition, or there is no building to start with, construction professionals can use materials from other projects when possible.

A variety of materials in existing buildings or civil-engineering structures can be reused in projects, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency. For example, wood recycled from a demolition can be used in the framing of the structure, or old flooring can be used in the new design. Reusing wood in any form not only keeps it out of landfills but also prevents future deforestation to produce new lumber.

Reusing wood, or other materials, in construction can eliminate or reduce the need for new materials to be created, reducing carbon emissions.

Designed to be Sustainable

This is essential because the U.S. residential and commercial sectors combined made up 39% of total U.S. energy consumption in 2021. Choosing new technology that is more sustainable could allow the building to fight climate change without any effort from the owner.

There is more to sustainable buildings than just energy efficient windows and programmable thermostats, although those do make a difference. Net-zero energy components that construction professionals can work into buildings to ensure sustainability for the long run include: LED lighting, tankless water heaters and water-conserving plumbing fixtures.

Elements chosen during the design phase can also create a more sustainable building. Low ceilings, for example, are more energy efficient than high ceilings. Heat rises so it will take more energy for an HVAC system to heat a building with high ceilings rather than one with low ceilings. The right insulation can also keep energy waste under control.

We also need to take into account how we can prepare buildings to use fewer natural resources. Building structures surrounded by trees will ensure the air conditioning won’t have to work as hard in the summer, and planting trees helps absorb carbon emissions.

Net-zero construction is feasible as professionals continue to keep sustainability in mind.

We’re getting closer to our goals in the fight against climate change, and integrating more sustainable components into the construction field will move us even closer. By revamping our materials, reusing existing materials and creating buildings with sustainability in mind, we can get closer to our goals to reverse climate change. The new regulations passed by lawmakers will ensure we continue to implement sustainability into our infrastructure.

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Michael Milligan

Michael Milligan

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Executive Director & CEO of ABET, the global accreditor of college and university programs in the STEM disciplines.