Eco-friendly building: Four components of sustainable construction

Green homes: Four components of eco-friendly building 

Green building is on trend. These days, conserving environmental resources and living sustainably are more important than ever before. Read on for some sustainable building options.

Green living – good for the environment and the owner

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. However, what's inside is just as important as what's on the outside: Thermal insulation from renewable raw materials and an eco-friendly energy system 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. But if you choose to renovate there are also ways to incorporate one or more sustainable methods into your plans.

1. Eco-friendly construction with a sustainable green roof

Covering roofs and facades with plants is particularly useful in urban areas. The green space offers 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. It pays off in the end, however. The time and money spent result in tangible benefits for the climate and for owners. By the way, if you would like to learn more, or find a list of providers, please visit Schweizerische Fachvereinigung zur Gebäudebegrünung (not available in English).

Benefits of roof greenery

Thermal insulation and cooling

Roof greenery provides insulation in the winter and protects against heat in the summer: nature's air conditioning! This saves energy.

Water retention

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

Protection of roof sealing

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 particulate matter. 

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 serve as a garden, such as for urban farming.

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 are also recyclable, and many are even compostable. Another key factor to consider in eco-friendly building: Check for locally available materials so that they don't have far to travel. In the Alpine region, wood is the first choice for eco-friendly construction projects, but loam and natural stone are also sustainable and beautiful options.

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. Apart from 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 point 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 complete information about building with wood, consult the website of the Holzbau Schweiz industry association (sources not available in English).

Loam is another common building material. The 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 (not available in English).

Natural stone
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. To learn more about building with natural stone, Natursteinverband Schweiz (not available in English) is a good source.

Sustainable building with wood and natural stone

Modern wood and natural stone house 

Beauty meets sustainability: This house made of wood and natural stone fulfils design criteria and environmental requirements. 

3. Eco-friendly building with sustainable insulation materials

Full building insulation protects against extreme heat in the summer while providing interior warmth in the 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.

Not so with eco-friendly alternatives 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 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 also wins points for functionality, because wood and cellulose fibers can retain more warmth than mineral wool can. This makes them a great choice for attics.

Sustainable building with environmentally friendly insulation materials

Hemp is an environmentally friendly and efficient method of wall insulation. 

Close-up of rough bast fibers from hemp stalks.

4. Eco-friendly building with renewable energy sources

Renewable energies such as water, wind, and solar energy are inexhaustible. Using them protects the environment and helps reduce carbon emissions that affect our climate. Solar energy is particularly attractive 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 panel to collect heating energy, and install a photovoltaic system to generate power.

You may be pleased to know that a green roof and the use of solar energy are not mutually exclusive. Photovoltaic systems and solar panels can be combined with green roofs. This works best on a flat roof and provides a number of synergies:

  • The system can be windproofed by anchoring it to the roof greenery. There is no need to drill into the roof itself. 
  • Green roofs enhance the performance of a photovoltaic system by up to 20% in the summer. And because they have a lower surface temperature than a plain roof, the system stays cooler too. Why is this important? Because the system's efficiency drops by 0.5% for every degree above 25 degrees Celsius.
  • This method also provides lots of space for wildlife: It is damp and dark beneath the panels, and sunny and dry between them.

If a green roof is retrofitted with a solar panel, you must ensure that it can handle 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 building

Sustainable construction is a very large 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.

Don't forget to check the sustainability of every single product used in construction, either. 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 (not available in English), which focuses on the topics of health and building ecology.

Sustainable building: The possibilities are endless

These four sustainable components will get you well on your way to eco-friendly building or renovations. However, this list is not exhaustive: 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 put a natural swimming pond in the garden instead of a typical pool. The sky's the limit for your green living dream.

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

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