How to conserve the environment through construction

Constructing buildings that mimic nature is a good way to conserve the environment. 

What you need to know:

Understanding that a building becomes part of the ecosystem from the moment construction begins should inspire the architects to create buildings that mimic and enhance nature. This includes the construction methods, materials and how they will cater for things such as waste management

Habitat 854, a project under construction by Aesthetic Developers in Kulambiro, is one example of how one can work with the environment instead of trying to shape it to fit their plans.  The first thing you will notice is how hilly the topography is and how cleverly the engineers have worked with it without changing the environment.

The project’s first block is on Kulambiro Ring Road, facing the upper side of the hill while the second one faces the Kampala Northern bypass. In between the two blocks is an expanse of green that forms the compound. In a period where property developers prefer concrete to live compounds and would rather turn every extra inch into a room, the project is a move in the right direction. 

“We designed this building according to the topography of the land. To prevent further soil erosion, we built a strong retaining wall,” says Hussain Bamboat, the project manager at Habitat 854.

Bamboat notes that understanding the kind of soil one is working with is crucial as it determines the size of the building one should construct and how deep they can dig without causing damage.

Joseph Oryang, a civil engineer at Century Investors Limited, says that conserving the environment through construction starts straight from the blueprint. 

Understanding that a building becomes part of the ecosystem from the moment construction begins should inspire the architects to create buildings that mimic and enhance nature. This includes the construction methods chosen for the project, materials used and how they will cater for things such as waste management, energy use and gas emissions.  

An important aspect of conservation in construction is waste disposal. Oryang points out that all construction sites use water and project managers should be vigilant about how this water is removed.

“When mixing concrete and sand and cement or washing construction equipment such as spades, concrete mixers and paint brushes after work, some of the water is in most cases carelessly released away from the site through open drains. This water contains site chemicals such as cement and paint which, ends up in communal wells and rivers,” he says.

These chemicals are not only hazardous to the environment such as plants but it also poses a health threat to the people who consume it.

 “To contain this runoff from flowing into the surrounding water bodies or ending up in the local sewer system, a silt fence can be built around the site to enable proper treatment of water before releasing it,” Oryang adds. 

Construction waste also exists in the form of unused materials. For instance, damaged bricks made from clay or cement blocks that have been deemed unsuitable for use often end up getting dumped carelessly. This is a danger to the environment since they take a long time to decompose.

The plastics cut from water or drainage pipes and electric wires, cement packaging bags and all other materials, if not managed, just like polythene bags, will be buried in the ground and interfere with soil profiles.

The effects of unmanaged wastes may not be realised immediately, but over the years.  An effective way to manage such waste is use of prefabricated materials, this will eliminate the refuse accumulated from cutting materials for construction.

Protecting the neighbourhood

When putting up a project in an already built-up area, you have to protect the neighbourhood from dust produced from your site. This involves using large shade nets, normally green and black in colour and surround the site that allow in natural light, but also help to trap dust and flying debris.

Similarly, there is need to protect your neighbours from the noise produced by the various machines used on the site. Experts recommend the use of noise reduction blankets or temporary acoustic barriers around your site to contain a large proportion of the racket trying to escape.

These sound blocking panels should cover the fencing around the perimeter, leaving no gaps between each panel.  Similarly, you can go for the newer versions of the equipment used on the site. With manufacturers understanding the value of noise minimisation onsite nowadays, many have invested in innovation to put on the market products that are quieter than their predecessors. Before buying equipment ask about a device’s noise levels and opt for the quietest one.

Green compounds and technology

Over the years, paved compounds have taken over natural green compounds especially in urban suburbs where land is increasingly becoming scarce. Tumusiime urges that now is the time to reconsider green compounds in the small available spaces.

“When designing the compound, the green area must be bigger than the paved area. The paved area allows surface run off of water, which explains why there are floods whereas the green area allows water absorption into the ground, on top of compound beauty. Alternatively, one of the available technologies is the use of hollow or paving blocks. These allow you to grow grass in them but also slash it when it grows so that you allow nature to co-exist with technology,” Tumusiime says.  

Proper planning

According to Green Journal, an online portal, during the pre-construction phase, proper planning and design is essential. For example, the use of access mats as temporary roadways ensures that trucks and other large machinery do not exert too much pressure on delicate soils. They also help prevent equipment from driving through wetlands and swampy areas.

“Drainage systems that recycle and reuse water should be designed in the preliminary phases of construction in order to prevent waste and protect local water sources from contamination. This is also the time to create plans to address erosion and sediment control and prevent storm water runoff to nearby rivers and lakes,” the portal says.

Being mindful during construction

Green Journal adds that as the work gets underway, it is critical to be mindful of how activities may affect the surrounding areas. Installing gates and fencing can contain traffic to only those areas where it is absolutely necessary. This lessens the impact heavy equipment can have on the area.

“In addition, remembering to shut down machinery during breaks conserves energy and reduces the amount of harmful emissions pumped into the air. It also is vital to establish the proper protocols for containing, removing and disposing of waste on the construction site. This is especially important for hazardous building materials,” the portal advises.

The cleanup process

When all the work is completed, the portal advises that focus should be on returning the site as closely as possible to its original condition. In addition to cleaning up debris and disassembling any access mats, it may be necessary to restore the grading to its pre-construction level.

If necessary, top soil should be replaced and seeded with native vegetation. Having a strong waste disposal plan in place at the beginning of the project will ensure that nothing will be left behind that should not be.

Accelerate your project

Nature World News, also an online portal explains that accelerating your construction project performance is one of the best ways to keep the environmental impacts to a minimum. So, set smart goals that are easy to achieve and measurable as well.

“Spend enough resources to speed up the work and get the employees to complete assigned tasks in a timely fashion. This will not only help you minimize the traffic disturbance in the surrounding areas but will also reduce the emission of harmful gasses in a result of fuel burning. Speeding up your construction tasks will also reduce noise pollution and improve the safety zones,” the portal says. 

Cutting trees 

Kenneth Tumusiime, an environmentalist advises that nature has to precede construction, bearing in mind that some of the natural disasters such as prolonged dry spells are linked to the continuous environmental degradation.

“Your site design should as much as possible avoid cutting the already existing trees. If it is unavoidable, for every tree you cut, plant two to compensate for the one you cut. Sooner or later, you will need these trees for a shade or a wind breaker,”

Tumusiime explains.  Similarly, when building one can choose to use materials from renewable products such as wood and green materials.Nelson Lakor, a civil engineer opines that instead of cutting trees to support construction, for instance when casting slabs and putting columns and ring beams in shape, it is safer to use recyclable equipment such as conjoined metals to serve the same purpose as wooden poles.