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Earth Day 2023 - What can I do to reduce my carbon footprint and help protect the environment?

The construction industry plays a significant role in shaping our built environment, but it also has a significant impact on the environment. From the extraction of raw materials to the energy consumed during construction, to the waste generated at the end of a building's life cycle, construction has the potential to contribute to environmental degradation. However, the industry is increasingly recognising the importance of sustainability in construction, and taking steps to minimise its environmental impact. Sustainable construction practices involve using resources in a responsible and efficient manner, reducing waste, and minimising negative environmental impacts. The goal is to create buildings that are not only functional, but also environmentally responsible and economically viable over the long term. In this era of climate change and dwindling natural resources, sustainable construction practices are becoming increasingly important for both the industry and society as a whole. In this blog, we will explore the key principles of sustainability in construction and the benefits of implementing them in the building industry.

Here are some products and systems that you can incorporate into your new build or extension project if you are interested in helping to protect the environment and reducing your carbon footprint.

#1 - Brick Bird Boxes

Image by Wienerberger

Brick bird boxes are a type of nesting box for birds that are built using bricks instead of wood. They are designed to provide a safe and secure nesting place for birds, particularly those that prefer to nest in cavities such as house sparrows, blue tits, and great tits.

Unlike wooden bird boxes, brick bird boxes are more durable and provide better insulation for the birds during extreme weather conditions. They are also more resistant to predators such as squirrels and woodpeckers that can damage wooden nesting boxes.

Brick bird boxes are typically built using a combination of bricks and mortar, with a small entrance hole for the birds to enter and exit. They can be built into a wall or mounted on a wall using brackets, and can be painted or decorated to blend in with the surrounding environment.

One of the benefits of using brick bird boxes is that they can help to increase the nesting opportunities for birds in urban areas, where natural nesting sites are often scarce. By providing a safe and secure nesting place for birds, brick bird boxes can help to support the local bird population and promote biodiversity in urban environments.

Overall, brick bird boxes are a great alternative to traditional wooden bird boxes and can provide a more durable and secure nesting place for birds. They are a simple and effective way to promote bird conservation and encourage the local bird population to thrive.

Check out Wienerberger for more information.

#2 - Bee Bricks

Image by Wienerberger

Bee bricks are specially designed bricks that are used to provide a habitat for solitary bees. They are typically made of clay or concrete and have small holes or cavities that mimic the natural nesting sites of solitary bees.

Solitary bees are different from honeybees in that they do not live in colonies or produce honey. Instead, they lay their eggs in small tunnels or holes in wood, soil, or other materials. These bees are important pollinators and play a vital role in maintaining biodiversity and supporting plant growth.

Bee bricks provide an alternative nesting site for solitary bees in urban areas, where natural nesting sites may be scarce. They can be installed in walls, fences, or other structures and can be left to blend in with their surroundings or painted to match the surrounding environment.

In addition to providing a habitat for solitary bees, bee bricks can also be used as a decorative element in gardens and other outdoor spaces. They come in a range of sizes and designs, and can be used to create interesting patterns or features on walls or other surfaces.

Overall, bee bricks are an important tool for promoting bee conservation and supporting the local ecosystem. By providing a safe and secure nesting site for solitary bees, we can help to ensure that these important pollinators continue to thrive and play their role in maintaining biodiversity and supporting plant growth.

Check out Wienerberger for more information.

#3 - Bug Bricks

Image by Wienerberger

Bug bricks, also known as insect hotels or bug houses, are structures that are designed to provide a habitat for a range of insects, including beetles, ladybugs, lacewings, and other beneficial insects. They are typically made of natural materials such as wood, bamboo, or clay and have small cavities or spaces where insects can shelter and lay their eggs.

Bug bricks come in a variety of shapes and sizes, ranging from simple structures with a few cavities to more elaborate designs that incorporate different materials and features. They can be mounted on walls, placed in gardens or other outdoor spaces, and used as a decorative element.

In addition to providing a habitat for beneficial insects, bug bricks can also help to control pests and reduce the need for harmful pesticides. Many beneficial insects, such as ladybugs and lacewings, are natural predators of common garden pests such as aphids and caterpillars.

Bug bricks are also an educational tool, as they provide an opportunity to observe and learn about the different types of insects that inhabit our outdoor spaces. They can be used in schools or community gardens to teach children about the importance of biodiversity and the role that insects play in supporting the local ecosystem.

Bug bricks are a simple and effective way to support insect conservation and promote biodiversity in our outdoor spaces. By providing a habitat for beneficial insects, we can help to maintain a healthy and thriving ecosystem and reduce our reliance on harmful pesticides.

Check out Wienerberger for more information.

#4 - Hemp Insulation

Image by indinature

IndiTherm® can be friction fit between structural framing or against masonry - with excellent rigidity to resist slumping.

Healthy and soft to touch for installers. Very large carbon savings - net negative embodied carbon. Building occupants will benefit from the exceptional thermal and moisture buffering properties of this sustainable material. It has the added property of low-density heat storage, which means indoor temperatures stay warm in winter and cool in summer.

IndiBoard® is a semi-rigid, multi-purpose thermal and acoustic insulation board made from UK crops. This medium density board is highly vapour ‘breathable’, transporting excess water vapour outward – keeping structures dry and healthy.

For use as an external cladding board for timber frame or solid masonry and cavity wall retrofit projects or as an internal acoustic board. Fixing of the boards is simple: thermally broken fasteners are installed through the insulation boards to the supporting structure. The board can either be rendered onto or lie behind battens and an air gap for any type of cladding – timber, metal, ceramic or brick.

Occupants will benefit from a complete thermal envelope to reduce thermal bridging through framework and a healthy, moisture-regulating fabric.

Natural insulation products do not benefit from the improved thermal conductivity values of the more modern PIR or PUR insulation boards from the likes of Kingspan or Celotex so you may need to install a larger board thickness to achieve a similar result. It should however stack up relatively well against some of the standard EPS external wall insulation systems.

Check out indinature for more information.

#5 - Hempcrete

Image by UK Hempcrete

Hempcrete is a relatively new building material that is made from a mixture of hemp hurds (the woody inner core of the hemp plant), lime, and water. It is gaining popularity as a sustainable alternative to traditional concrete, and for good reason. Here are some of the ways in which hempcrete is better for the environment:

1. Carbon-negative: Hempcrete has the unique property of being carbon-negative, meaning that it absorbs more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere than it emits during production. This is because hemp plants absorb large amounts of carbon dioxide as they grow, and this carbon is stored in the hemp hurds used to make hempcrete.

2. Sustainable and renewable: Hemp is a highly sustainable locally grown crop that can be grown without the use of pesticides or herbicides. It also grows much faster than traditional hardwood trees used for building materials, making it a more renewable resource.

3. Energy-efficient: Hempcrete is an excellent insulator, which means that buildings constructed with hempcrete require less energy to heat and cool. This can help to reduce energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions over the lifetime of a building.

4. Non-toxic: Hempcrete is made from natural materials that do not contain any harmful chemicals or volatile organic compounds (VOCs). This makes it a healthier and safer building material for both the environment and the people who live and work in buildings constructed with it.

5. Durable and long-lasting: Hempcrete is a durable material that can last for decades with proper care and maintenance. This means that buildings constructed with hempcrete will require less maintenance and repair over time, reducing the environmental impact of construction and disposal.

Hempcrete offers a range of environmental benefits that make it an attractive alternative to traditional concrete. By choosing hempcrete, builders can help to reduce carbon emissions, promote sustainable forestry practices, and create healthier and more energy-efficient buildings.

Check out UK Hempcrete for more information.

#6 - Rainwater Harvesting

Image by Graf UK

Rainwater harvesting is the process of collecting and storing rainwater for later use. It is an important practice that can help to conserve water resources and protect the environment in a number of ways. Here are some of the ways in which rainwater harvesting is good for the planet:

1. Reduces demand on freshwater resources: By collecting and using rainwater, we can reduce our dependence on freshwater resources such as rivers and aquifers. This helps to conserve these resources for other uses, such as agriculture and industry.

2. Reduces stormwater runoff: When rain falls on hard surfaces such as roofs and pavement, it creates stormwater runoff that can cause erosion, flooding, and water pollution. By capturing rainwater and using it for irrigation or other non-potable uses, we can reduce the amount of stormwater runoff that enters our waterways.

3. Reduces energy use: Treating and distributing water requires a significant amount of energy, which contributes to greenhouse gas emissions and climate change. By using rainwater for non-potable uses such as irrigation or flushing toilets, we can reduce the energy required to treat and distribute water.

4. Promotes biodiversity: When rainwater is captured and used on-site, it can support the growth of vegetation and promote biodiversity. This is because rainwater is free of the salts and other minerals found in tap water, which can be harmful to some plants and animals.

5. Reduces water bills: By using rainwater for non-potable uses such as irrigation or flushing toilets, we can reduce our water bills and save money over time. This can be especially beneficial in areas with high water rates or limited water resources.

Overall, rainwater harvesting is a simple and effective way to conserve water resources, reduce energy use, and protect the environment. By capturing rainwater and using it on-site, we can help to create a more sustainable and resilient water system for ourselves and future generations.

Checkout Graf for more information

#7 - Greywater Recycling

Image by Graf UK

Greywater recycling is the process of collecting and treating water from sources such as sinks, showers, and washing machines, and then reusing it for non-potable purposes such as irrigation or toilet flushing. The term "greywater" refers to wastewater that is relatively clean and free of human waste, as opposed to "blackwater" which contains human waste and other contaminants.

The process of greywater recycling typically involves collecting water from designated sources in a building, filtering and treating the water to remove contaminants, and then storing it for later use. The treated water can be used for a variety of non-potable purposes, including:

1. Irrigation: Greywater can be used for landscape irrigation, which can help to conserve freshwater resources and reduce the environmental impact of traditional irrigation methods.

2. Toilet flushing: Greywater can be used to flush toilets, which can significantly reduce the amount of freshwater needed for this purpose.

3. Laundry: Greywater can be used for washing clothes, which can help to reduce water and energy use.

4. Cleaning: Greywater can be used for cleaning floors, cars, and other surfaces, which can help to conserve freshwater resources.

Greywater recycling offers a number of environmental benefits. By using recycled water for non-potable purposes, we can reduce our demand for freshwater resources and reduce the amount of wastewater that is discharged into the environment. This can help to conserve water resources, reduce energy use, and protect water quality in our rivers, lakes, and oceans.

However, it is important to note that greywater recycling should be done with caution, as untreated greywater can contain harmful pathogens and chemicals that can pose health risks to humans and the environment. Proper treatment and filtration are essential to ensure that recycled greywater is safe for use.

Checkout Graf for more information

#8 - Reed Beds

Image By Kingspan

Reed beds are beneficial for the environment in many ways. A reed bed is a man-made or natural wetland area that contains plants such as reeds, rushes, and other wetland vegetation. Here are some of the ways in which reed beds are good for the environment:

1. Water purification: Reed beds are excellent natural water purifiers. The plants in a reed bed absorb nutrients and pollutants from the water, helping to filter out harmful substances and improve water quality. This makes reed beds an effective way to treat wastewater from sources such as sewage treatment plants, farms, and industrial facilities.

2. Biodiversity: Reed beds provide habitat for a wide range of plant and animal species, including birds, insects, and amphibians. They are especially important for water birds such as ducks, geese, and swans, which use reed beds for nesting and feeding.

3. Flood control: Reed beds can help to reduce the impact of flooding by absorbing and storing excess water. This can help to prevent damage to homes and infrastructure and reduce the risk of soil erosion. This could be a way to satisfy your local Council's SuDS requirements for stormwater attenuation.

4. Carbon sequestration: Reed beds store large amounts of carbon in their vegetation and in the soil, making them an important tool for climate change mitigation.

5. Aesthetic value: Reed beds can be visually appealing and enhance the natural beauty of a landscape. They are often used in parks, nature reserves, and other public spaces as a way to provide natural habitats and recreational opportunities.

Overall, reed beds are an important and valuable ecosystem that provides many environmental benefits. They play a critical role in improving water quality, supporting biodiversity, mitigating the impacts of climate change, and providing aesthetic and recreational benefits to humans.

Check out Kingspan Klargester for more information

#9 - Shower Wastewater Heat Recovery

Image By Zypho

Shower wastewater heat recovery is a process that captures the heat from the wastewater generated during a shower and recycles it to preheat the cold water entering the shower. The process involves the installation of a heat exchanger that extracts the heat from the wastewater as it flows out of the shower and transfers it to the cold water supply before it enters the shower.

The benefits of shower wastewater heat recovery are significant. By capturing and reusing the heat that would otherwise be lost down the drain, this technology can reduce the energy needed to heat water for a shower by up to 60%. This can result in significant cost savings on energy bills and reduce greenhouse gas emissions associated with energy production.

In addition to energy savings, shower wastewater heat recovery can also provide other benefits, such as:

1. Increased comfort: By preheating the water before it enters the shower, the technology can provide a more comfortable shower experience by reducing the amount of time it takes for the water to heat up.

2. Reduced water usage: Because the preheated water is already at a warmer temperature, it can reduce the amount of water needed for a shower, further reducing water bills and water consumption.

3. Longer lifespan for plumbing: By reducing the temperature fluctuations in the plumbing, shower wastewater heat recovery can help extend the lifespan of pipes and plumbing fixtures.

Shower wastewater heat recovery is a simple yet effective technology that can provide significant energy and cost savings while also providing other benefits such as increased comfort and reduced water usage. As such, it is an environmentally friendly solution for homeowners and businesses looking to reduce their carbon footprint and save on energy costs.

Checkout Zypho for more information

#10 - Reclaimed , Recycled or Sustainable Wood

Using reclaimed, recycled or sustainable wood in your construction project has numerous benefits for both the environment and individuals. Here are some reasons why you should consider using these types of wood:

1. Environmental Benefits: Using reclaimed, recycled, or sustainable wood reduces the demand for freshly cut timber, which can help preserve forests and wildlife habitats. This helps to protect natural resources and prevent deforestation, which is a significant contributor to climate change.

2. Lower Carbon Footprint: Using reclaimed, recycled, or sustainable wood reduces the amount of energy required to manufacture new wood products, resulting in a lower carbon footprint. This helps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate climate change.

3. Reduced Waste: Using reclaimed or recycled wood reduces the amount of wood waste that ends up in landfills, where it can take up valuable space and release harmful chemicals as it decomposes.

4. Durability: Reclaimed wood is often older and more durable than newly harvested wood. It has already gone through the natural process of aging, which makes it less prone to warping, twisting, or cracking. This can result in a longer lifespan for your furniture or building materials.

5. Unique Character: Reclaimed wood can add unique character to your furniture or building materials. The wood has already been through years of use and exposure to the elements, which can give it a one-of-a-kind look and feel that cannot be replicated with new wood.

6. Cost-Effective: Reclaimed or recycled wood can often be obtained at a lower cost than newly harvested wood. This can make it a cost-effective option for those looking to build or furnish their home.

Using reclaimed, recycled, or sustainable wood is a responsible choice that can benefit both the environment and individuals. It can help reduce the demand for freshly harvested wood, lower your carbon footprint, reduce waste, provide durable and unique materials for your projects, and save you money.

Cork Flooring

Image by Jonathan Borba from Pexels

Another example of a sustainable material is Cork and this is especially useful as a new flooring finish. Cork flooring is considered a sustainable and environmentally friendly flooring option for several reasons:

1. Renewable resource: Cork is harvested from the bark of cork oak trees every 9-12 years without harming the tree, making it a renewable resource.

2. Carbon neutral: Cork oak trees absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere during their growth cycle, and the harvested cork acts as a carbon sink, storing the carbon for the life of the product.

3. Energy efficient production: The manufacturing process of cork flooring requires minimal energy, as most of the energy used comes from burning cork dust and scraps, making it an energy-efficient and low-impact process.

4. Biodegradable and recyclable: Cork is biodegradable, and the flooring can be recycled at the end of its life.

5. Healthy indoor air quality: Cork flooring is non-toxic, hypoallergenic, and resists mold and mildew growth, making it a healthier choice for indoor air quality.

Cork flooring is a sustainable and environmentally friendly choice for those looking to reduce their environmental impact while still enjoying a beautiful and durable flooring option.

However if you are planning on using a new wood, it is critical to ensure that it has been sourced from a sustainably managed forest or FSC forest(Forest Stewardship Council). The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is an international, non-governmental organisation dedicated to promoting responsible management of the world's forests. Since its foundation in 1994, FSC has grown to become the world's most respected and widespread forest certification system.

"We are the first generation to feel the impact of climate change and the last generation that can do something about it"

It is very easy to list out some of the very many ways we can save the planet and reduce our footprint on the world but it's another thing to implement meaningful change in our daily lives to make this a reality. As long as we try, then that's a start. If we all did that, then maybe, just maybe we might have a chance of protecting the planet for future generations to enjoy.

In my daily work-life, I always strive to encourage our clients to think about the impact of their construction project on the environment, that we work together as a design team to employ ways to create affordable energy efficient buildings and that we at least take an interest in how we might choose materials that have a reduced embodied carbon.

For today, me and my family are going to take a walk in the local park and collect rubbish and plastics to celebrate Earth Day 2023. What are you doing today?

We hope you have enjoyed reading this blog and hopefully it will inspire you to incorporate some of the items discussed in your new or existing home. Please don't hesitate to get in touch if you need help with your new build or extension project.

Happy Earth Day!

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