Building Green on The Highlands Plateau: Waste Not…

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When we hear the term “green building,” most of us think of energy efficiency and healthy indoor air quality.  While those are certainly central components of high-performance housing — especially given our nation’s current energy prices — they are not the only factors that ensure a truly sustainable approach to home building.

One of the lesser-known aspects of green building is resource management. Meticulous resource management has a tremendous impact on a sustainable environmental future.  Builders need to reduce the amount of natural resources required to build homes and second, to recycle the amount of waste ordinarily produced during construction which is hauled away to the landfill.

Here is some startling data. Approximately 40% of the raw materials consumed in the U.S. are used in construction.   Residential building, renovation, and demolition account for about 58 million tons of trash per year, representing 11% of the country’s overall waste stream.

What can builders do?  Wood, drywall, and cardboard (from packaging), by weight and volume,  make up 60-80% of job site waste.  Other common building materials, such as concrete and metals, are also found in significant amounts. 

Reduce. The most obvious way to manage construction waste is not to create it in the first place. To that end, builders can practice a variety of methods that limit the amount of wood, drywall, and other products that go into a new home without sacrificing its performance, durability, or comfort.

For the structural frame, some builders, like Koenig Homebuilders implement “advanced” framing techniques using engineered wood products or factory-built (and quality-controlled) roof, floor, and wall components to lessen the amount of wood needed for the project.  To reduce the amount of drywall, builders need to be very precise about how much material is needed and train crews and subcontractors to install it properly. 

Architects can also help, by designing houses on room-size measurements that match the dimensions of 4×8 or 4×12 drywall panels. In that manner, when a panel is cut, the remaining piece can likely be used elsewhere instead of thrown away.  Cardboard is a tougher problem, because it is a common packaging material for a wide variety of products, large and small. (Think of major appliances and cabinets!).  ALthough a builder does not have direct control of cardboard use, they can work with suppliers to reduce or eliminate the cardboard they use for packaging and encourage them to pick it up for recycling.

Reuse/Recycle. The market for materials that can be reused and/or recycled is growing rapidly along with the green movement.   For example, lumber can be chipped along with lot-clearing debris and turned into mulch; drywall can be used as a soil amendment; concrete can go into road bed material; and cardboard can go to recycling centers.  An increasing number of businesses with specialized equipment are available to perform these functions.

In addition, builders should also look for high quality products with recycled content.  By using these products, builders can take advantage of the latest science for the benefit of our homeowners while encouraging the growth of industries practicing sustainability. The goal: homes of the highest quality for owners and a brighter, safer, and more sustainable future for all of us and generations to follow.

Most builders on The Highlands Plateau strive to keep our communities clean and green.  In Highlands and Cashiers NC, we are blessed with some of the most beautiful scenery in the country.   Lush forests, sparkling lakes and rivers, spectacular mountain vistas draw visitors and from across the southeast.   

When you decide to build your perfect mountain retreat, we hope you will choose a builder that respects the environment.  

Contributed by Zac Koenig of Koenig Homebuilders and can be reached at 828-526-4953.   We have a complete list of preferred builders on our website.

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