Green Construction

A Guest blog by Krista Peterson

Green construction is a new form of construction that is safer for people and the environment and is cheaper over the long term than old construction. Its use follows an era in which residential and commercial buildings were constructed both cheaply and quickly to please owners. Instead of focusing on quality, the goal was most certainly quantity. The materials used in the building of these shoddy and quickly-constructed structures were typically very unfriendly to the environment and contained hazardous products including fibrous asbestos1.

Fibrous asbestos is the only known cause of the disease mesothelioma, which is a rare form of cancer that affects the linings of the heart, chest and abdomen. When asbestos fibers become airborne they can be inhaled or consumed – via eating or drinking – and they will eventually cause a variety of harmful and fatal health problems. Mesothelioma symptoms often resemble the common cold and other basic chest and lung ailments, which makes the victims life expectancy substantially shorter because of the common misdiagnosis.
Asbestos was used in more than 3,000 products during the 20th century, as it was inexpensive and present in large quantities. Perhaps the most common use of asbestos was for insulation. Fortunately, construction workers can now use safer choices to insulate a building. These include:
1. Cotton Fibers – A highly popular material used in the construction of “green” buildings, insulation made of cotton fiber is made using denim and other forms of batted recycled material. As with cellulose, cotton fiber is treated using mild chemicals to make the material fireproof. However, the fiber is completely nontoxic and does not produce any gases.
2. Cellulose – Formed from 85% recycled material, cellulose is a fancy way of defining old shredded newspaper. This material has quickly become one of the most popular forms of eco-friendly insulation throughout the world. The cellulose is treated using safe chemicals to increase its resistance to heat and to prevent growth of mold. It is completely nontoxic and has been shown to decrease utility bills by as much as 20% annually.
3. SPF or Spray Polyurethane Foam – This type of insulation is ideal for those who suffer from allergies as it is sprayed within the areas that need to be insulated. The foam fits very snugly and does not allow mold to grow. These are several different types of foams that are sold but it is agreed that water-based icynene is the best. It contains no polybrominated diphenyl ether that is toxic. This type of foam also lacks hydrochlorofluorocarbons that are greenhouse gases and can catalyze the destruction of stratospheric ozone. On average, the use of SPFs can decrease utility bills by around 35%.

Other substances that were toxic were also used in building construction, which would affect both the health of those who were working to construct the site and those who worked in or resided in the building. Fortunately, the dawn of the 21st century brought many different options when it came to replacing these old products that were used and proven hazardous to human health. These replacements greatly improved the indoor air quality and the general environment for working and living conditions. Additionally, buildings that were well-constructed and were built to be environmentally friendly typically needed less energy to function and consumed less water. This saved environmental resources, and pleased tenants and landlords as the costs of water and electricity were decreased. Thus, green construction is smart construction because it is healthier, eco-friendly, and in the long term more cost-effective than conventional construction.

1. Asbestos is a family of six minerals. The fibrous amphibole forms (amosite, crocidolite, anthophyllite, tremolite, and actinolite) are known to be carcinogenic. However, the cancer risk presented by the most commonly used form of asbestos, chrysotile, is low or nonexistent; see Ross (1984) Definitions for Asbestos and Other Health-related Silicates, American Society for Testing Materials Special Publication 834, pp. 51-104.


About johncayers

John C. Ayers is a Professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Vanderbilt University. As a geochemist he specializes in sustainability and also the chemistry of natural waters. He has been PI on 5 and co-Pi on 2 grants from the National Science Foundation, and has a publication h-index of 14. He has been Associate editor of American Mineralogist and Geochemical Transactions of the American Chemical Society, and does GIS consulting for the ERS group. He is currently writing a book titled " Sustainability: The Problems of Peak Oil, Global Climate Change, and Environmental Degradation."
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