The relationship between climate change and the construction industry is quite interesting. Both impact each other, and both also have the potential to be affected significantly by the other.
Climate change has impacted the construction industry due to its effect on weather conditions. For instance, higher global temperatures have lengthened building seasons. They’ve also increased the demand for air conditioning systems. At the same time, extreme weather disasters, like floods and hurricanes, disrupt construction sites and the availability of materials.
Meanwhile, the construction industry is responsible for 40% of the global GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions. From burning fossil fuels to deforestation, the construction industry has affected the climate in many ways.
So how can the construction industry manage the impact of climate change? What’s the fix for these construction problems? This article will cover what you need to know.
How does climate change impact the construction industry?
Climate change affects the construction industry in several ways. Here are some of them.
Extreme weather events
The World Meteorological Organization’s data shows that weather-related disasters have increased over the past five decades. Even worse, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports that scientific studies show these events will only become more frequent in the future.
Extreme weather events, including hurricanes, storms, and floods, can damage existing buildings and stall ongoing constructions. They can also disrupt the supply chain, causing delays in material supply and labor availability.
Heatwaves also result in more labor injuries. The New York Times reports that work injuries due to heat are largely undercounted.
It’s not only the workers outdoors who are affected by these. Indoor job sites are just as vulnerable to the effects of heatwaves.
Besides affecting labor’s health, these events also result in more workers’ compensation cases. In fact, these claims were partly to blame for the insurance losses of up to $48.5 billion in Q3 of 2021.
Changing building codes and regulations
With the changes in climate, governments are also taking active steps to tackle increasing temperatures. They are introducing new building codes and regulations that may be costlier to incorporate into construction designs.
For example, many countries require construction sites to use energy-efficient technologies and materials. The Paris Agreement is a prominent example of this, as it requires companies to lower their carbon emissions and achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.
To achieve this, construction companies may have to:
- Use recyclable materials
- Implement climate-smart technologies
- Install and use renewable energy systems, such as solar photovoltaic and wind turbines
- Employ green infrastructure practices
These practices cost more than traditional construction methods. So they can increase the overall cost of construction projects.
Rising sea levels
The global glaciers are now losing 267 gigatonnes of ice every year, which is responsible for 1/5th of the annual sea level rise. As ice caps and glaciers melt, coastal cities and infrastructure become more susceptible to flooding.
The new constructions in the area would have to follow specific guidelines. They will also have to account for erosion and flooding. All these measures require construction companies to hire more professionals and use expensive products.
These measures also delay the construction process since there are now more steps the workers need to complete.
How can the construction industry manage the impact of climate change?
The construction industry needs to make changes across the board to deal with climate change. Here are some strategies to deal with different conditions.
Extreme weather events
Dealing with extreme weather events requires an integrated energy-efficiency strategy. It should include the following:
- Building structures that are resilient against power outages
- Using energy-efficient electrical, heating, and cooling systems
- Integrating microgrids and energy storage systems
- Investing in green roofs and building insulation
- Integrating drainage systems to reduce flooding risks
- Installing solar panels and other renewable energy-generation sources
- Use resistant and robust materials to keep buildings safe against weather elements
As for the design strategies, the construction industry should focus on designing heating, ventilation, and cooling systems that reduce precipitation damage.
Deloitte also recommends using durable materials that can bear the changing weather conditions. In many subsectors, the industry may have to overhaul its insulation and heating/cooling concepts.
According to the World Bank, 1.47 billion people across the world face flood risk. It’s imperative to create buildings that can withstand flood damage. The construction industry should choose building locations according to the city’s risk assessment plans.
Starting new developments in flood-prone areas should be avoided at all costs. New buildings should have stormwater management systems, such as:
- Downstream flood control
- Infiltration trenches
- Retention ponds
- Base structure elevation standards
- Flood-proof materials
Future buildings will need all the cooling features they can get. Therefore, the construction industry should:
- Use green roofs to keep buildings cool
- Use reflective surfaces to reflect heat away
- Install smart windows to prevent direct sunlight entry
- Increase vegetation around buildings to decrease the surface temperature of pathways and walls
- Use white roofs to lower heat absorption
- Use passive design measures, such as air permeability, shading, and insulation, to maintain a cool indoor temperature
Worker safety is often neglected when construction companies devise strategies to deal with climate change. In the future, construction companies must provide necessary safety equipment to their workers.
They should also follow the safety guidelines set by the local and international authorities. Besides, construction sites must take additional measures, such as installing ventilation systems and fans in indoor construction to keep workers cool.
Regular breaks are also a must to keep dehydration and heat exhaustion at bay.
Like every other aspect of our lives, climate change is also affecting the homes we live in and the buildings around us. The construction industry must keep up with changing times and evolve to keep up with these challenges.
With temperatures rising beyond alarming points, heatwaves, floods, and other disasters are forecasted to become commonplace. The construction industry can manage these challenges by resorting to green initiatives.
Moreover, the industry should prioritize worker safety, use durable materials, follow environmental guidelines, and construct homes with wider porches and green roofs to keep internal temperatures cooler.