In addition to being ethically responsible, low-impact development is cost-effective
By Barry Stiles
Few accomplishments feel better than designing and building a home. With it comes a sense of possibility, progress, and the satisfaction of creating a physical legacy from the ground up.
But the stakes of home construction have risen dangerously high. In addition to age-old engineering challenges and bureaucratic planning hurdles, builders and homeowners now have an ethical responsibility to take an Earth-conscious approach to construction.
Once termed “500-year floods,” disasters like Hurricane Florence now occur multiple times per year. And these extreme weather events will only become more common over time.
Recent research reveals that predicted rainfalls in coastal areas are 50 percent greater than they would be without human-induced climate change. And in October, the U.N.’s International Panel on Climate Change released an urgent report warning of the dangers we face if global warming exceeds 1.5°C: threats that include compromised seas, forests, and habitats.
As policymakers and climate experts try to curb global warming, it’s up to us — developers and homebuilders — to adopt a new mindset. To save our planet, we have to start making critical, deliberate changes to how we develop our living and work spaces.
Why Every Homebuilder Should Prioritize Low-Impact Development
The way we build has long been unsustainable. Modern cities have literally been shaped by cement, which accounts for about seven percent of all carbon emissions. By rapidly developing land and overusing surfaces like concrete and asphalt, we have maxed out our relationship with nature. Stormwater is trapped; it overwhelms detention areas and floods communities and pollutes our water supplies.
Because we now have access to innovations that rival traditional methods, this is a status quo that’s as unnecessary as it is disastrous. Traditional energy source costs have surged in the past two years, while green energies have become more accessible. The cost of solar photovoltaic (PV) modules, for example, has dropped by 80 percent since 2009, a sign that green technology is more economically viable than traditional technology for the first time ever.
The resources needed to engage in more environmentally responsible homebuilding already exist. We just have to find ways to utilize them.
Minimal Impact, Maximum Viability
Low-impact development will require homeowners and builders to practice circular design. This approach considers the materials, labor, and legacy of a building as ongoing parts of the life cycle that regenerate and enrich themselves as they grow. These three measures should help out with that transition:
- Emit a greener light. Light pollution often goes unnoticed, but excessive light in urban areas actually disturbs surrounding ecosystems. It confuses animals migratory and feeding patterns and even disrupts sleep patterns, which can heighten the risk of cancer and depression.
As you adapt your building methods, follow the lead of dedicated “dark sky communities” such as Flagstaff, Arizona. You can join the mission by installing shielded and low-glare lights, or by putting a timer on your light hours.
- Upgrade your welcome mat with permeable paving. When so much of a flood’s damage comes from runoff after the fact, it’s important that homebuilders switch out their surfaces when possible.
Pervious paving surfaces, for example, are filled with gravel or grass and absorb and distribute stormwater rather than trap it. These materials imitate the way water would naturally act without the buildup of urban development.
Coordinate with a green-minded designer or engineer who will use sustainable materials. Start small by adding permeable paving to your driveway or parking lot, then add walkways and other outdoor areas to show others in your community what’s possible.
- Grow a green roof. Sustainable roofs were once an extravagant and futuristic accessory exclusively available to big corporations and architects. Now that they are actually cost-effective— both in the short-term construction and long-term maintenance — we should be using them wherever possible to combat the “heat island” effect in urban developments. They cool ambient temperature and absorb pollutants, making developed areas more enjoyable.
You can begin a green roof project by identifying your unique space’s complexities and opportunities. Do your research to find a green roof consultant who has experience with your kind of build and who espouses your values.
Small actions lead to big changes. Homebuilders can join the fight to extend our planet’s survival by taking simple, practical steps to build sustainably. Low-impact development is no longer a luxury; it’s good for business, and necessary for the planet.
Barry Stiles is the founder and CEO of TRUEGRID Pavers, the 100 percent permeable paving alternative to concrete and asphalt that instantly absorbs stormwater and detains water below the surface. As an engineer and as a dad, Barry is passionate about TRUEGRID’s mission to provide green paving solutions to build a safer and cleaner environment for our kids. To learn more, follow along on this blog