Reducing the Carbon Footprint of New Home Construction

With Net-Zero being adopted as a stretch target for many UK construction firms by 2030, the industry is getting serious about reducing carbon emissions. This will take considerable investment by business, and isn’t a task that can be undertaken lightly. 

The Net-Zero model does not allow firms to neutralise their activity solely through the purchase of carbon offset certificates. Instead, they must look at their own activities and seek to minimise the carbon footprint of every element, before carbon offsetting can be used to cover the residual after such efforts. This acknowledges that companies will never be able to reduce their emissions to zero – all companies will use energy to provide their services, after all. 

Here is a summary of some of the trends and developments that are enbling the reduction of carbon emissions in connection to the construction of residential properties.

Sustainable materials

A great example is Gabion walls/baskets. You will have seen these utilised in a variety of developments. Gabian baskets are cuboid or cube-shaped wire cages which are filled with rocks, pebbles, sand or other natural hard material. The rocky filling provides the mass and load-bearing capacity of the unit, whereas the wire holds the wall together. They’re ideal for garden walls, to stablise steep banks or to provide flood protection. 

Sustainable Gabion wall
Example of a Gabion wall

Gabion walls are extremely simple to construct, as they only require a small piece of machinery to fill the cage at speed. They lend themselves perfectly to using recycled material. If a residential property development is being built on a brownfield site, it’s wise to hold back some of the concrete & brick rubble that would normally be cleared while preparing the groundworks. This is free material and as it is recycled, it has no carbon footprint beyond the energy costs of breaking it up into appropriately sized pieces and placing it into crates.

Other sustainable materials include sustainably-sourced lumber. In the UK, we tend to eschew lumber as a construction material, in favour of bricks and mortar. However, it’s probably time to look North to Scandinavia to witness the dominance of wood in the construction of their new homes. 

It’s not just the materials for the house structure that can attract a carbon footprint, but also the roof insulation. Ecological wood wool, hemp and sheep wool can all be used to insulate a roof using entirely sustainable materials. 

Modern Methods of Construction (MMC)

The term MMC has existed for a few decades, but it’s a buzzword that all significant residential construction developments in the contemporary era will include in their plan. 

The advantages of MMC are numerous. The driving force behind its inclusion in design diagrams today is the cost advantage. Mass manufacturing is a cheaper process to produce virtually anything, due to the economies of scale that can be achieved. Even low-volume or bespoke elements will be constructed more quickly in a factory environment than on a live construction site. Property investors are now beginning some projects with an assumption that a large part of a building’s above-ground mass will be pre-fab.

But the benefits don’t stop there. We’re including MMC in this article because of the lower carbon footprint of MMC elements. 

Firstly, the efficiency of production points to less energy-intensive materials and less labour being used to construct. Each of these inputs comes with its own carbon footprint, and is, therefore, a welcome saving. But also, MMC typically involves more innovative materials which can be low-carbon and better for the environment compared to traditional components such as cement and bricks. 

To accommodate MMC, your project execution plan (also known as a project management plan) should set aside the appropriate time to allow for delays. Unlike bricklaying, which can begin immediately after labour resource turns up on-site, a pre-fabricated element becomes a higher risk ‘all-or-nothing’ part of the critical path. Any delay in the delivery of the piece will necessarily delay its construction. 

We hope you have found this summary of methods to reduce the carbon footprint of construction useful. When investing in property, you’ll also want to be keenly aware of the ongoing energy usage of a property, and ensure that the home is appropriately insulated, uses smart heating systems and requires as little energy from the grid as possible.