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Earth Overshoot Day x Home Building

Today marks the earliest Earth Overshoot Day in history – that is, at this point in July, we have used all the natural resources that Earth will produce for one year. We are currently using natural resources 1.75 times faster than our planet’s ecosystems can regenerate.

When we rapidly extinguish natural resources (such as lumber, fresh water, fisheries etc) and generate waste (such as CO2 in our atmosphere), we contribute to detrimental biodiversity loss and climate change. Climate change is the greatest challenge of our time and will impact all of us, especially future generations who are left to deal with the consequences of our choices.

If everyone lived like the United States, we'd need 5 Earths to sustain us
If everyone lived like the United States, we'd need 5 Earths to sustain us

Building is a very resource-intensive industry and makes up a significant portion of our country’s energy, water, and material use and waste generation. We choose to look at this challenge as an opportunity; because it has such an impact, the improvements that we make can significantly reduce our environmental footprint. The exciting part is that many less impactful construction techniques are simple and have little to no additional upfront cost. Building ‘green’ is not just for hardcore environmentalists – it’s for the average person looking to reduce their natural resource consumption which protects the planet and can save money.

Some simple, cost-effective construction swaps to reduce natural resources:

Materials

  • If you are doing a gut-remodel or demoing, consider deconstruction instead of demolition. An appraiser will come through and decide what is salvagable which will be donated to Habitat for Humanity, and can be written off as a tax-deductible donation
  • Purchase refurbished materials from places like Refind Kitchens
  •  Recycle throughout construction – tell site crews from the get-go that you are making an effort to recycle and designate spaces where they can easily throw recyclable material such as wood and cardboard. Create a plan at the beginning of construction that outlines where you’ll be taking various leftover materials
  • Environmentally preferable materials – incorporate materials that are recycled or rapidly renewable, such as bamboo, recycled glass, components like insulation / concrete / decking / siding with recycled material

Energy

  • Make sure insulation is installed properly! Any gaps allow heat transfer, meaning you will have to heat or cool your home more often. Insulation should touch all 4 sides of interior walls. Learn more about insulation options here
  • Advanced framing techniques – certain framing techniques can allow for more seamless insulation or less unnecessary lumber which can save energy and reduce materials, both saving money
  • Design large overhangs that keep the sun out in the summer when it’s high in the sky, and allows sunlight in in the winter when the sun is low
  • LED lighting, Energy Star Appliances

Water

  • Low flow faucets, toilets, and showerheads are commonplace and the same cost as traditional plumbing fixtures. This also goes for clothes washers. WaterSense labeled plumbing fixtures have a high standard for water efficiency
  • High efficiency irrigation. Have irrigation equipped with a rain sensor so it doesn’t water while it rains
  • A simple rainwater collection system can be designed for not much more cost than the barrels. Even in a drought-prone area like San Diego, plenty of water collects on the roof from morning dew. Also, there are often rebate programs for rain barrels like this one for San Diego

There are plenty of simple construction swaps that can reduce our natural resource consumption that don’t sacrifice quality and don’t break the bank. If you are updating your home or building a new one, integrating small changes like this is a start to reducing the impact of building.

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