After more than 100,000 years of humans building our own shelter from locally available natural materials, in just a few decades the associated supply chain has become divorced from human, community and ecological well-being.
The Eco Healthy Homes Project was generated out of concern about the harm, pollution, and waste related to building products and home construction. The hidden health, social and environmental harm related to manufacturing, transport, installation, disposal and demolition, burden workers and society.
Approximately 40% of landfill waste is construction and demolition waste. These building products contain a cocktail of toxic waste, carcinogens, mutagens, endocrine disruptors, developmental toxicants, neurotoxins, respiratory irritants, and immune system sensitizers. Hidden health and environmental costs from their manufacture, transport, installation, and premature disposal, burden workers, homeowners and society.
Today’s ‘affordable’ housing has the most costs of all. And it burdens those least able to cope—with direct impacts including health issues from off-gassing building materials, high repair bills, rising energy bills, and vulnerability to service interruptions, water shortages and extreme weather. The invisibility of these costs in conventional construction creates a false perception of affordability. Competition and systemic forces perpetuate a minimum standard. Deep green home building is better for all of us in the long term, but complexity, multiple barriers, and higher costs keep it out of reach for most. Even todays most inspired green builder is likely to find some of the obstacles to true deep green, insurmountable.
This pdf download called the HH Construction Impacts Chart 3 summarizes some of the concerns we uncovered in our industry review. This information and further review results will become part of the infographic audiovisual materials in our communications campaign. Additional issues about building envelope problems and vulnerability to catastrophic losses follow.
Building envelope failures
Today’s modern air tight building envelopes are often constructed with moisture intolerant and vapour impermeable materials in a way that can trap moisture inside, leading to mold. This can present a health risk, building envelope failure, and/or a loss of structural integrity. BCIT’s School of Construction and the Environment states, “Building failures remain significant despite recent advances in building technology and adopting performance-based building codes.” (ref)
Oak Ridge National Laboratory is the largest US Department of Energy science and energy laboratory. They state the following about mold problems:
“Moisture causes billions of dollars of reported damage to building envelopes in North America each year.” Moisture – related damage not only reduces the service life of buildings , but also influences the indoor air quality, the health and safety of the inhabitants, and the energy efficiency of walls, roofs, and foundations. If all of these additional influences are included in the estimate of actual damage, several tens of billions of dollars in losses may be attributed to moisture-related damage in buildings every year.
Moisture is present in the air both inside and outside the building envelope and may be in the form of solid ice, liquid, or vapor. Moisture is driven through the building envelope by natural forces such as temperature, the partial vapor pressures (sometimes expressed in terms of relative humidity) on the inside and outside of the building, and the amount of liquid pressure (suction forces) caused by rain water, water leaks, or surface condensation.
…If moisture accumulates above a critical material-dependent threshold, the building components begin to rot, corrode, or otherwise degrade in structural or functional integrity…” (ref) The Eco Healthy Homes case study is prioritizing self drying, moisture tolerant building envelope solutions that are throughly investigated with computer modelling prior to construction so we can prevent future rot or mold problems.
“Disaster losses have doubled every five to ten years since the 1950s, and in 2005 they approached $100 billion worldwide.” (Canadian Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction)
Resilient Design works to develop resilience at the household, neighbourhood and community level. Resilience is the capacity to adapt to changing conditions and to maintain or regain functionality and vitality in the face of stress or disturbance. It is the capacity to bounce back after a disturbance or interruption.
City planners estimate that every dollar invested in enhanced resilience or disaster preparedness saves $4-5 in avoided repairs. Resilient design offers peace of mind and potentials savings as well. Through resilience we can maintain livable conditions in the event of natural disasters, loss of power, or other interruptions in normally available services or fuels. Relative to climate change, resilience involves adaptation to the wide range of regional and localized impacts that are expected with a warming planet: more intense storms, greater precipitation, coastal and valley flooding, longer and more severe droughts in some areas, wildfires, melting permafrost, warmer temperatures, and power outages.
Buildings are too seldom designed to prevent financial losses, health consequences or loss of life from the unexpected. Common approaches and building code fail to consider the potential of extreme weather events, service outages, moisture intrusion into the building envelope, infestation of pests (rodents, insects), structural shifts due to earthquakes, and more.
*Learn more about the importance of resilient design. and here.
“A study currently underway for the United Nations found that the economic cost of environmental damage by these top 3,000 companies is $2.2 trillion dollars, (or more than one-third of their profits if they were held financially accountable). Calculations include greenhouse gas emissions, other pollution, and water degradation but they are not exhaustive.(ref)
Encouraging the home building industry to turn towards locally reliant small businesses and practices that support life can transform the economic and manufacturing impacts of thousands of pounds of materials per house.
Barriers to deep green building
Deep green solutions are complex and expensive to implement in today’s building industry. For more, see Barriers to deep green.