Pros & Cons Of Sustainable Construction & Housing

In this guide, we list some of the potential pros and cons of sustainable construction, building and housing.

This guide compliments our separate guide on what sustainable construction, building and housing are, along with examples of materials, solutions, and more.

 

Summary – Pros & Cons Of Sustainable Construction, Building, & Housing

A summarised list of potential pros and cons might include:

 

Pros

Can Have A Range Of Environmental Benefits

Can Contribute To The Sustainable Management Of Resources

Can Have Social, & Human Health & Safety Benefits

Can Deliver Cost Savings In Some Instances, & Sometimes Cost Credits As well

Some Data Suggests ‘Green Construction’ Is Growing Rapidly

‘Green Building’ May Contribute A Significant Amount To US Incomes

Some ‘Green Buildings’ May Be A Better Investment For Investors

Some Buildings With ‘Green Features’ May Increase Worker Productivity In Some Instances

Standards, Codes, Rating Systems, & Other Information & Tools Exist To Educate & Provide Guidance On Sustainable Construction & Buildings

 

Cons

There Can Be Disagreement On What Sustainable Construction Should Include, & Also It’s Goals

Different Sustainable Construction Solutions Can’t Be Implemented Everywhere – They Can Be Location Specific

Some Sustainable Building Features May Be Sustainable In One Way, But Not In Another

Not All ‘Green Materials’ Are More Eco Friendly, Or Better For Human Health

Some Sustainable Building Features & Systems Can Be More Expensive Upfront

Initial Costs For Sustainable Building Can Take Time To Recoup & Show Benefits, & May Sometimes Not Be Feasible

The Perception Of The Reliability Or Cost Of Eco Construction & Housing May Put Doubt In Some Buyers

Some Suggest That Sustainable Design & Construction May Mean Making Tradeoffs In Performance, Quality, Effectiveness, & Other Construction Or Occupancy Goals

The Green Building Market May Still Currently Only Make Up A Small % Of The Overall Construction Market

Sustainable Construction In General Can Be Difficult To Accurately Evaluate & Also Consolidate A Single Set Of Guidelines For

Consumer & Supply/Production Side Awareness, Education & Knowledge Of Sustainable Building & Housing May Need Improvement

Using Lifecycle Assessments Specifically To Evaluate Sustainable Construction May Have It’s Challenges

It May Be Difficult To Apply Sustainable Design & Features To All Building Projects & Activities Compared To Some Other Industries & Activities

Some Argue That Some Sustainable Housing & Building Strategies/Principles May Compromise Quality Of Life

 

*A Note

Obviously the variables involved in different construction projects and houses can vary, and so can the variables and factors involved with any design, practices, materials, devices, building systems, and other sustainable construction features used.

This guide contains generalised pros and cons only.

Each building project requires it’s own individual assessment/evaluation.

 

Potential Pros Of Sustainable Construction, Building & Housing

Can Have A Range Of Environmental Benefits

There can be environmental benefits across various environmental indicates.

Using cleaner energy sources at the material production stage can minimise emissions.

Some building materials may also be less energy intensive to produce, and may therefore have a lower carbon footprint.

Some building practices may also minimise waste, and as a result, minimise waste pollution as well.

These are only two of many potential examples though.

 

Can Contribute To The Sustainable Management Of Resources

There’s various ways resources can be managed more sustainably, such as:

– Designing buildings and structures to use renewable materials, and sustainably sourced materials where possible 

– Using building materials that are more energy or water efficient at the production stage

– Using building practices that minimise building waste, or, finding ways to recycle or re-use waste and excess material. Finding other alternate uses is another option

– Using energy efficient and water efficient building systems, devices, and appliances at the occupancy stage

 

Wikipedia.org indicates (paraphrased) that the construction industry uses a significant % of all resources that humans consume, and also uses a significant amount of energy for production and transport of building materials, so, arguments to improve resource and energy efficiency might have rationale and data to support them

 

Can Have Social, & Human Health & Safety Benefits

Such as improving improving construction and building/housing related health, safety and well being standards for humans.

At the construction stage, safer construction practices can protect workers’ health and safety, and regulating or reducing the use of potentially hazardous or toxic building materials and substances can do the same thing e.g. phasing out the use of materials containing asbestos.

At the occupancy stage, the use of low VOC glues, paints and finishes can increase indoor air quality for those who occupy the building.

In some instances, sustainably designed benefits may lead to greater satisfaction for occupants too.

 

‘[One report of 12 sustainably designed buildings indicated that] occupants were overall more satisfied with [those buildings] than those in typical commercial buildings’ (wikipedia.org)

 

Can Deliver Cost Savings In Some Instances, & Sometimes Cost Credits Aswell

Some examples of economic/financial benefits for building owners or occupants can include:

– Building materials and designs that are energy efficient, or help regulate temperature inside a building, and therefore save costs on running heating and cooling systems

– Renewable energy setups, like solar panels, that, over the course of a multi-year period or over the long term, deliver a cost savings on energy bills, and may also deliver a credit to the house occupants on their energy bill by feeding energy back into the grid

When talking about solar panels in particular, the efficiency of the solar panels (influence by factors like orientation, latitude, and climate, can impact the payback period of the setup/initial investment cost. So, there can be variables on the payback on different sustainable building features and systems.

– In some States or regions, tax credits, tax concessions, or grants/programs are available for some types of sustainable construction, such as solar installation programs

– Some studies indicate that in general, the financial payback for green buildings exceed upfront costs over the long term

It’s also worth noting that sustainable building costs may decrease over time as demand leads to improvements in technology and also economies of scale.

 

From wikipedia.org ‘The increasing drive to adopt a better way of construction, stricter industrial standards and the improvement of technologies have lowered the cost of applying the concept [of sustainable construction] … The current cost of sustainable construction may be 0.4% lower than the normal cost of construction’.

 

Also from wikipedia.org ‘[One 2009 report] found 12 sustainably-designed buildings that cost less to operate and have excellent energy performance …’

 

Also according to wikipedia.org: ‘Most green buildings cost a premium of <2%, but yield 10 times as much over the entire life of the building. In regards to the financial benefits of green building, “Over 20 years, the financial payback typically exceeds the additional cost of greening by a factor of 4-6 times’

 

The ‘Ecohouse’ resource from wikipedia.org also contains some further examples of builders being able to reduce some costs of eco friendly building

 

Some Data Suggests ‘Green Construction’ Is Growing Rapidly

One study 2015 indicates that ‘… green construction’s growth rate is rapidly outpacing that of conventional construction and will continue to rise’ (wikipedia.org)

 

Also from wikipedia.org: ‘The global green building market grew in 2013 to $260 billion, including an estimated 20 percent of all new U.S. commercial real estate construction’

 

[The value of the US green building market was $59 billion in 2019, and is expected to to climb an estimated $40 billion dollars to $100 billion dollars by 2023] (mcclone.com)

 

‘Green Building’ May Contribute A Significant Amount To US Incomes

One 2015 study indicates that green building contributes billions in income to Americans.

 

‘… [the] green building industry contributes more than $134.3 billion in labor income to working Americans’ (wikipedia.org)

 

Some ‘Green Buildings’ May Be A Better Investment For Investors

This may particularly be the case for some long term commercial and possibly industrial real estate investors looking to make money on rental yield and capital gains when they eventually sell.

 

Studies have shown over a 20-year life period, some green buildings have yielded $53 to $71 per square foot back on investment.

Confirming the rentability of green building investments, further studies of the commercial real estate market have found that LEED and Energy Star certified buildings achieve significantly higher rents, sale prices and occupancy rates as well as lower capitalization rates potentially reflecting lower investment risk’

– wikipedia.org

 

Some Buildings With ‘Green Features’ May Increase Worker Productivity In Some Instances

‘Numerous studies have shown the measurable benefit of green building initiatives on worker productivity’ (wikipedia.org)

 

Standards, Codes, Rating Systems, & Other Information & Tools Exist To Educate & Provide Guidance On Sustainable Construction & Buildings

In different countries, and also internationally, standards, codes, star rating systems, protocols, frameworks, certification schemes/programs and other sources of information have put together to help provide education and guidance on ‘green building’.

Some of this information has been taken into consideration and used by governments and councils in some areas.

 

From wikipedia.org ‘As a result of the increased interest in green building concepts and practices, a number of organizations have developed standards, codes and rating systems for use by government regulators, building professionals and consumers’.

 

Potential Cons Of Sustainable Construction, Building & Housing

Cons

There Can Be Disagreement On What Sustainable Construction Should Include, & Also It’s Goals

Similar to sustainable farming, different groups may disagree on what sustainable construction should involve, and also what it’s sustainability goals should be

Some may prioritise reducing carbon emissions above all else and also want to restrict building activity in some ways

Others may look to meet a wider range of sustainability criteria, and may not look to limit or restrict building activity as long as it meets certain criteria

 

Different Sustainable Construction Solutions Can’t Be Implemented Everywhere – They Can Be Location Specific

For example, some cities don’t have established or reliable sustainable energy suppliers, and, some locations don’t have the resources or climate for certain types of renewable energy

 

Some Sustainable Building Features May Be Sustainable In One Way, But Not In Another

For example, uPVC windows might have higher thermal efficiency and insulation ratings than some other types of windows, and this may help with energy efficiency, temperature regulation, and reducing heating and cooling requirements

But, they are still made of plastic

Some argue that this detracts from it’s overall sustainability rating

Having said that, construction plastics that aren’t single use and have a long lifespan, may be better from a sustainability standpoint than single use, short lifespan plastics like some plastic packaging

Some construction plastics like PVC pipes or plastic based window frames might have longer lifespans of decades, and therefore not become waste at such a high rate as other plastics used in some other industries on a per year basis

 

Not All ‘Green Materials’ Are More Eco Friendly, Or Better For Human Health

From wikipedia.org:

‘… a common fallacy is that “green” materials are always better for the health of occupants or the environment. Many harmful substances (including formaldehyde, arsenic, and asbestos) are naturally occurring and are not without their histories of use with the best of intentions.

[Additionally … one study] has shown that there are some green materials that have substantial emissions whereas some more “traditional” materials actually were lower emitters’

 

Some Sustainable Building Features & Systems Can Be More Expensive Upfront

The overall building project, or specific sustainable building features and systems, can be more expensive than the alternative in traditional construction.

 

From wikipedia.org: ‘The most criticized issue about constructing environmentally friendly buildings is the price. Photovoltaics, new appliances, and modern technologies tend to cost more money … Most green buildings cost a premium of <2%’

 

Initial Costs For Sustainable Building Can Take Time To Recoup & Show Benefits, & May Sometimes Not Be Feasible

Upfront costs of some sustainable energy building systems can take time to recoup – getting cashflow positive for a solar setup for example can take years.

Sometimes, the maintenance costs and efficiency of a renewable energy setup, may mean it will never be feasible in the long term

 

From wikipedia.org: ‘[In considering costs, small wind systems are generally more expensive than larger wind turbines relative to the amount of energy they produce and wind conditions, along with maintenance costs can play a deciding factor in whether they are worth it – low wind conditions and high maintenance costs may make them not worth it]’

 

The Perception Of The Reliability Or Cost Of Eco Construction & Housing May Put Doubt In Some Buyers

Some consumers may have reservations or doubts about the reliability or performance of some types of sustainable building technology or systems, or the cost of them, because of perceptions they’ve developed through media or information they’ve consumed.

 

Some Suggest That Sustainable Design & Construction May Mean Making Tradeoffs In Performance, Quality, Effectiveness, & Other Construction Or Occupancy Goals

There are other practical, functional and performance based goals and requirements for any building other than environmental, resource efficiency, or human health and safety based goals.

A few examples might be that the building should be durable and long lasting, reliable, and also that it should be effective in basic functions like keeping the building weatherproof.

Another example might be maintenance costs and requirements – the maintenance might be time intensive, and costly – not justifying the initial investment or purchase in the first place.

Some groups suggest that sometimes sustainable design or construction may contribute to a building that may not meet certain performance criteria/requirements.

 

From wikipedia.org ‘With companies cutting paths to make shortcuts with sustainable architecture when building their structures it fuels to the irony that the “sustainable” architecture isn’t sustainable at all. Sustainability comes in reference to longevity and effectiveness.’

 

The Green Building Market May Still Currently Only Make Up A Small % Of The Overall Construction Market

This is when assessing the value of each to the economy.

 

mcclone.com indicated (paraphrased) the green building market was worth around $59 billion in 2019, but, statista.com indicated that ‘The market size of the U.S. construction sector [overall] was valued at around 1.36 trillion U.S. dollars as of the end of 2020 …’

 

Sustainable Construction In General Can Be Difficult To Accurately Evaluate & Also Consolidate A Single Set Of Guidelines For

There are many different standards, codes of practice, protocols, and other guidelines, both nationally and internationally, that may provide different guidance on sustainable building and housing.

Additionally, there are different tools and rating systems used to evaluate sustainable building and housing.

Without there being one set of consolidated guidelines, or consolidated evaluation tools, it can be confusing to understand exactly how sustainable building and housing should be implemented, and also understand in a simple way the data behind the guidelines.

Some evaluation methods and assumptions about sustainable building may be flawed, limited, or inaccurate.

 

From wikipedia.org ‘Despite the importance of materials to overall building sustainability, quantifying and evaluating the sustainability of building materials has proven difficult … There is little coherence in the measurement and assessment of materials sustainability attributes, resulting in a landscape today that is littered with hundreds of competing, inconsistent and often imprecise eco-labels, standards and certifications … [and] Various proposals have been made regarding rationalization of the standardization landscape for sustainable building materials’

 

Also from wikipedia.org ‘Calculation methodologies of zero-energy buildings may vary. Energy stemming from inputs such as building materials, on-site production, and transportation of resources is often not accounted for’

 

Consumer & Supply/Production Side Awareness, Education & Knowledge Of Sustainable Building & Housing May Need Improvement

Because the sustainable building industry is newer than traditional construction, and it’s also constantly developing, and there can be conflict or differences in the guidelines and information available on it, both consumers and supply/production side builders, developers, investors and councils and regulators may be able to significantly increase their awareness, education and knowledge levels about it.

 

From wikipedia.org: ‘[The discord in terms of the lack of coherence in the measurement and assessment of materials sustainability attributes …] has led both to confusion among consumers and commercial purchasers and to the incorporation of inconsistent sustainability criteria in larger building certification programs such as LEED’

 

Using Lifecycle Assessments Specifically To Evaluate Sustainable Construction May Have It’s Challenges

Full LCAs are seen as one of the best/most accurate ways to evaluate the sustainability impact of different building projects, however, they can be complex, time-consuming, and professionals may not have the resources to always do them.

In this instance, sustainable building design and materials may be implemented based more on assumption rather than what data in a more accurate life cycle assessment indicates

 

It May Be Difficult To Apply Sustainable Design & Features To All Building Projects & Activities Compared To Some Other Industries & Activities

The potential reason for this is that buildings can be complex, individualised, and involve hundreds and thousands of different variables for each project

Whilst sustainable principles can be applied to each project, it may be difficult to apply the exact same features and systems to all projects.

Other industries and activities that are less complex and have less variables to consider than building and housing may be able to apply sustainability in an easier way.

 

From wikipedia.org ‘… buildings are much more complex products, composed of a multitude of materials and components each constituting various design variables’

 

Some Argue That Some Sustainable Housing & Building Strategies/Principles May Compromise Quality Of Life

For example, one principle or strategy of more sustainable housing and building might involve smaller building and housing footprints, and, building living space up instead of out

Some argue that this approach would have a detrimental impact on quality of life and also limit individual choice and freedoms for people to choose how they want to live 

 

 

Sources

1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Green_home

2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ecohouse

3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sustainability_in_construction

4. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Green_building

5. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sustainable_architecture

6. https://www.mcclone.com/blog/green-building-and-its-impact-on-the-construction-industry

7. https://www.statista.com/topics/974/construction/

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