Eco-friendly construction: Four measures for sustainable buildings

Green homes: Four measures for environmentally friendly construction

Green building is on trend. And with good reason: Conserving environmental resources and living sustainably help to safeguard the future and reduce costs. Read on for details of some sustainable construction options.

Green living – good for you and the environment

Using eco-friendly building measures is a win-win for you and the environment. Owners benefit from a healthy living environment, lower energy costs, and a home built to last. When they hear the term "green building," many people think of green roofs or facades and the use of natural construction materials – wooden houses with sod roofs spring to mind. But what's inside is just as important as what's on the outside: Thermal insulation using renewable raw materials and an eco-friendly energy system also help to conserve resources.

Eco-friendly standards are easier to meet when building a new home because they are part of the concept right from the start. You can also integrate one or more sustainable components during renovation work.

1. Eco-friendly construction with a sustainable green roof

Covering roofs and facades with plants is particularly useful in urban areas. The green space provides valuable biotopes and helps balance air and humidity fluctuations. It is true that green roofs and green facades are more expensive to purchase than conventional materials. The moss, grass, and plants must also be maintained. But it is worth it: As well as helping the environment, this approach offers clear benefits for homeowners. If you would like some advice or referrals to providers, you can contact the Schweizerische Fachvereinigung Gebäudebegrünung.

Benefits of roof greenery

Thermal insulation and cooling

Rooftop greenery provides insulation in the winter and protects against heat in the summer, working like a natural air conditioning system. This saves energy.

Water retention

Rain water is retained and most of it evaporates, which is a natural way of cooling the air.

Protection of roof sealing

The roof sealing is protected from extreme temperatures, wind, and hail. Maintenance and renovation work will not be necessary until much later.

Improved climate in the neighborhood

The greenery filters and binds air pollutants such as fine particles.

Nature conservation and biodiversity

A green roof offers space for both flora and fauna.

Additional room for living and leisure areas

A flat green roof can be used as a roof garden, for instance for urban farming or gardening.

2. Eco-friendly building with natural materials

Every construction project requires large amounts of raw materials and energy for manufacturing, using, and disposing of the materials. This is harmful to the environment. Concrete, a popular option, is particularly bad for the climate. Eco-friendly building materials, however, require little energy to manufacture, which means they generate lower  carbon emissions. They can also be recycled and many can even be composted. Another important factor for eco-friendly building is considering which materials are available locally, so they don't have to be transported over considerable distances. In the Alpine region, wood is the first choice for eco-friendly construction projects, but loam and natural stone are also sustainable and interesting options.

Wood – a renewable resource

Wood is tried and true, and is the most important eco-friendly building material. Because wood is very sturdy, it is ideal for roofs and exterior walls. Compared with other load-bearing construction materials such as reinforced concrete and bricks, wood also has excellent insulation properties. Even a relatively thin wall made of wood can provide good insulation. Building with wood is also good for your health, as it regulates humidity and is non-toxic. In addition to walls and roofs, wood can be used indoors for ceilings, floors, stairs, and furniture.

And the life cycle is completed by disposing of the material in a climate-neutral way. When burned or composted, wood does not release any more CO2 than it absorbed during growth. Another check in the sustainability column! Certification systems can help you choose the right wood. In Switzerland, look for the wood labels Schweizer Holz, PEFC and FSC. For more detailed information about building with wood, consult the website of the Swiss wood building industry association Holzbau Schweiz.

Natural stone both inside and outside the home

Natural stone differs from region to region, and ranges from soft sandstone to hard granite. It can be used outdoors, for instance, for natural stone masonry or facade cladding, or indoors for stairs, flooring, and windowsills. If you want to learn more about building using natural stone, Natursteinverband Schweiz is a good source.

Sustainable building with wood and natural stone

Modern wood and natural stone house

Both stunning and sustainable: This house made of wood and natural stone fulfills both design criteria and ecological requirements.

Loam – a healthy construction material

Loam is another common construction material. This mixture of clay, silt, and sand is obtained in an eco-friendly manner and is used to manufacture roof tiles, bricks, brickwork mortar, and clay plaster. Because loam stores heat and humidity and emits it back into the room, it regulates humidity and temperature. This ensures a healthy indoor climate. Loam is also fully recyclable. For more information on building with loam, visit the website of IG Lehm Fachverband Schweiz.

Straw as an eco-friendly construction material

This regional material made from dried stalks has a high thermal insulation capacity, making it particularly suitable as a natural insulation material. In addition, it grows quickly and as a by-product of grain cultivation is both eco-friendly and inexpensive. Straw is used in fiberboard or is pressed into bales. Processed straw can be particularly dense, which protects it from pests.

3. Eco-friendly building with sustainable insulation materials

Full building insulation offers protection against extreme temperatures in the summer and prevents heat from being lost from the interior during winter. Proper insulation means lower energy costs. However, installing conventional insulation materials such as mineral wool can lead to health problems, including skin and respiratory irritation. There are also special rules for disposing of insulation.

This is not the case for eco-friendly alternatives made from renewable materials. These include, but are not limited to, wood fiber, sheep's wool, flax, hemp, cellulose, and cork. These natural materials emit lower levels of pollutants throughout their life cycle, from manufacture, processing, installation, and use through to disposal. With full insulation performance, they can also absorb and release humidity. This reduces the risk of moisture damage and mold. Eco-friendly insulation materials also win points for functionality: Wood and cellulose fibers have a higher heat storage capacity than mineral wool, making them particularly suitable for attic spaces. Some natural substances such as cattails are also naturally resistant to mold as they contain tannins.

Sustainable building with environmentally friendly insulation materials

Hemp is an environmentally friendly and efficient material for wall insulation.

Close-up of rough bast fibers from hemp stalks.

4. Eco-friendly building with renewable energy sources

Renewable energy sources such as water, wind, and solar energy are practically inexhaustible. Using them protects the environment and helps reduce carbon emissions that affect our climate. Solar energy is a particularly attractive option for homeowners. If you are looking to build or renovate in an eco-friendly manner, you can use part of the roof for a thermal solar installation to collect heat energy, and install a photovoltaic system to generate power.

But don't worry, you don't have to choose between rooftop greenery and solar energy. Photovoltaic systems and solar installations can be combined with rooftop greenery. This works best on a flat roof and provides a number of synergies:

  • The installation can be windproofed by anchoring it to the rooftop greenery; there is no need to fix into the roof itself.
  • Green roofs increase the performance capability of a photovoltaic system by up to 20% in summer. The surface heat of a green roof is lower than that of a "naked" roof, meaning the installation remains cooler too. Why is this important? Because the efficiency of the installation drops by 0.5% for every degree increment above 25 degrees Celsius.

If a green roof is retrofitted with a solar installation, you must ensure that it can support the load. Tall plants that cast shade on the panels should also be cut back regularly. Otherwise, the system will lose efficiency.

Sustainable construction with renewable energy sources

Fossil-free heating with solar panels protects the climate

Solar panels should be installed on the south side of the house.

Find assistance for eco-friendly construction

Sustainable construction is a considerable investment. However, in the long term it offers great savings potential, thanks to the low heating and energy costs. Because sustainable construction also benefits the environment, it is partly subsidized by the federal and cantonal governments. It's worth getting the information in advance and reviewing the potential subsidies.

And don't forget to check the sustainability of every single product used in construction. Because this is nearly impossible for laypersons, we recommend discussing your construction or renovation plans with an architect or consulting an established construction standard. The Swiss quality label Minergie offers the ECO option, which focuses on the topics of health and building ecology.

Sustainable construction: More is always possible

These four sustainable components will get you well on your way to eco-friendly building or renovations. There are always more options though: For water and plumbing, for instance, you can install a graywater system that reuses wastewater from the bathtub, shower, and washing machine to flush the toilet. You can add a heat pump to your photovoltaic system for energy-efficient and climate-friendly heating. Or you could put a natural swimming pond in the garden instead of a typical pool. There's almost no limit to achieving your green living dream.

Do you want to build or renovate with eco-friendly methods and need a financing partner?

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