Whether constructing residential, commercial, industrial, institutional, or other structures, numerous factors need to be considered. These include the impact to the immediate area, scheduling, safety, budgeting, material, and environmental aspects. At the core of all of this planning is a very basic concern: what materials should be selected? And how can they be used to maximize efficiency and reliability while minimizing the impact to the environment?

Energy Efficiency

Today, special attention is being paid to constructing highly energy efficient buildings. Energy efficient structures provide a host of advantages, including using less energy, using fewer natural resources, producing less environmental impact, and not costing as much to operate.

Energy efficiency needs to be conceived into the design of the building from the beginning, including an evaluation of all materials to ensure they are environmentally sound and have cutting edge energy-efficient technology.

Some of the innovative materials used in sustainable buildings include renewable energy systems, including solar electric panels, solar water pre-heaters, and active solar space heating systems. These help offset a building’s electrical usage, saving energy and resources. They also help incorporate a strategy of passive solar design, where building materials and components are able to store, collect, and distribute solar energy from power stored in exterior walls and windows.

Other materials that help with energy efficiency include efficiently and precisely constructed windows and ductwork that minimize the heat loss of a building through air leaks. Windows and skylights can be glazed and shaded to avoid unwanted heat gain. Light-colored materials and paint that are used for roofs and building envelopes can also aid in energy efficiency.

Health and Safety

Appropriate precautions need to be made while working with potentially hazardous materials. When the appropriate safety measures are taken, the workplace environment of a construction site can remain safe and productive while using the most cost effective materials.

Care must be taken when dealing with materials treated with solvents. Depending on the amount, type, and frequency of exposure, solvents can cause adverse health effects. Building materials that contain solvents include coatings, thinners, and timber treated with Light Organic Solvent Preservative (LOSP).

Solvents can enter the body through inhalation, swallowing, or absorption through the skin. There are a number of general safety precautions that can be taken when dealing with these solvents. All containers with solvents or solvent-treated material in them should be clearly identified, labeled, and well-sealed for storage.

In case of a fire or a major spillage, evacuations routes and procedures should be established. Anyone who is in contact with solvents should wear protective clothing and use a respirator for added protection.

Most construction sites make use of materials like concrete, asphalt, and bitumen. These materials can be damaging if they get into waterways in the form of run-off. Concrete, asphalt, and bitumen run-off can be carried by heavy rain or another source of water and clog drains, waterways, and sewer systems.

This can be addressed on-site by diverting any run-off to grass or soil that is within the construction location. It can also be stopped by containing these materials in appropriate storage tanks. Additionally, sediment runoff is controlled by vegetation, fences, straw bales, and sediment ponds.


There are a number of factors which contribute to the environmental performance of a building, and many of these are directly related to the materials chosen for construction. Consideration should be taken for material’s structural capacity.

When a building is constructed, it should be used with materials that have the ability to support the building’s loads over its whole lifetime. Sustainable solutions are often provided by choosing highly durable materials, which reduces replacement requirements.

A building’s performance is also affected by choosing easily maintained materials. Durable and weather tight materials sometimes have higher up-front costs, but can save money in the long run when compared with materials that are cheaper and have to be replaced more often.

Other aspects of materials that affect performance include moisture resistance and material deterioration. Moisture can cause corrosion or the growth of fungi and mold, which can be prevented with adequate moisture resistance, including appropriate insulation and thermal mass in a building; it will also reduce energy demand and contribute to excellent thermal performance.

Finally, selecting the right materials can ensure that a building is adequately protected from fire. This is done by using material that has low ignitability, fire loading, and surface spread of flame.

Buildings Need Healthy Sustainable Choices

By choosing materials that adequately address the needs for high performance, energy efficiency, and health & safety, buildings can be smart and environmentally friendly from the very earliest stages of planning.

While buildings are still complex, choosing the best materials can be simplified by looking for the most sustainable results. Buildings can be constructed with resilient, durable materials that not only make them last far into the future, but help sustain the environment that surrounds them.