As the world seeks ways to be more environmentally friendly, many big industries have made changes to be sustainable. Construction has joined in on these efforts, paving the way for a more sustainable future.
Our industry has the unique opportunity to significantly impact climate change for the better since a large amount of energy and material is used in the construction process. The goal for construction is to become sustainable by reducing its impact on the environment through the construction of green buildings, utilizing sustainable materials, and employing energy efficiency. How are companies in the industry achieving these goals? Let’s take a look:
Green buildings are buildings that have been constructed with respect to environmental sustainability. They first came about in the 1970’s, eventually gaining more popularity in the 90’s when the first Green Building Council was formed.
The generally accepted definition for a green building is “the planning, design, construction, and operations of a building with several crucial considerations: energy use, water use, indoor environment quality, material selection, and finally how the building affects its site.” One of the most direct ways that construction is sustainable is through LEED, the most widely used green building rating system in the world. The effectiveness of a green building is coded by the LEED Green Building Rating System.
Before LEED was established in the mid to late 90’s, there were green building projects, however there was no way to know if they were being implemented effectively. Nowadays, LEED will give out plaques to buildings which have been constructed to be sustainable. There are more than 60,000 buildings that participate in LEED today, occupying up to 1.7 million square feet.
Individuals throughout the industry can also earn a certification from LEED, which is exactly what one of our team members has done. D&B Construction’s Operations Manager, Jessica Nelis, obtained her LEED AP, ID+C (focused on interior design and construction) certification around 2010. Jess says, “I became a LEED accredited professional because I knew it would be important and relevant moving forward.” Jess provides a unique perspective on environmental consciousness that we take seriously here at D&B Construction.
Not only are green buildings environmentally friendly, it has been discovered that green buildings promote healthier living. Research shows that people who live or work in a green building experience proven psychological benefits. For example, in a green office building cognitive function scores rose by 61 percent. It is also reported that employees were 44 percent better at making decisions towards achieving workplace goals. In addition, at the Akron Children’s Hospital, 56 percent of people were satisfied with the cheerfulness of the hospital after its own green building renovations. There were also decreased reports of Seasonal Affective Disorder.
According to a report conducted by Grand View Research, the green building materials market has been a vital part of the construction industry’s green footprint, like Jess thought, and is expected to be worth $364.6 billion by 2022 (compared to an estimated $238 billion in 2020).
It’s clear to see why demand for the use of green materials has been a recent trend in the construction industry. Because of this demand, innovative green materials have become very popular.
Sustainable construction is achieved through using sustainable materials such as bamboo, eco-friendly insulation, and even smart glass windows.
If you want to be more sustainable, you could consider bamboo flooring for your project. Bamboo is a great alternative because it looks like wood but has a harvesting cycle of only three years, 22 years shorter than that of a tree. If you choose to use bamboo, you are helping to slow the rate of deforestation by allowing time for trees to grow back.
If insulation adequately cuts down on the energy used for heating and cooling, it could be sustainable. However, this can be counteracted if batts, fillers, and sprays that are not sustainable are used on the insulation. What is the eco-friendly option gaining popularity lately? Hemp insulation. It has all the same properties of normal insulation, but it is a sustainable option. Because it can be compressed, hemp can even provide more superior insulation than your typical insulation.
Another recent movement in sustainable construction is the use of smart glass windows. They were invented in the early 2000’s but have only recently become a building trend. Smart glass changes its heating properties based on the temperature outside, affecting how the heat and air conditioning is run through the building. During the hot summer months, a smart glass window will become translucent to block heating wavelengths that would allow you to run the air conditioning less and vice versa.
There are several options available if you wish to replace your windows with smart glass windows. These options vary in pricing and components of their smart glass technology. First, there are dynamic smart windows, produced by View Smart Windows. This is the “luxury” option, costing $50 to $100 per square foot, in comparison to a normal window which costs $10 to $15 per square foot. This high-end option replaces your normal windows and is even equipped with Wi-Fi control through their downloadable app.
A more cost-effective option is Invisishade’s self-adhesive and smart glass windows. Invisishade offers a “plug-and-play” adhesive film kit which transforms your normal window into smart glass. A sample of their self-adhesive film kit would cost $99, or $249 for a pack of three. The final price of their product varies on size and scope of the project, however Invisishade would offer a discount on bulk .
Smart Glass Windows may seem as if they are an expensive solution for sustainability due to its pricing when compared to normal glass windows. However, manufacturers claim that you can save up to 20% on your monthly energy costs because of their tinting properties. Smart glass allows you to save money on your monthly bills while also making the property look more aesthetically pleasing by eliminating the need for blinds.
Be on the lookout for an emergence of living materials being used to complete green building projects in 2022. Living materials are biological compounds that grow and are ready to produce full-scale production. An example of a promising living material we have not seen much of yet is self-mending concrete. This concrete is full of bacteria that bind the materials around them into a new material form. This material can grow itself into the pores of concrete, essentially being able to rebuild the concrete on its own. The bacteria inside of this concrete can live for up to 200 years. Scientists say that in theory the bacteria would then be able to extend the concrete’s life for that long as well. Seeing as normal concrete lives for 50 to 70 years, this self-sustaining concrete would be much more useful in the long run. We have only begun to scrape the surface of possibilities for this self-mending concrete, but as we learn more it may prove to be a revolutionary material in construction.
New forms of concrete are a key component to sustainability since it is the second most used material on Earth, with only water exceeding it. One of the trends that will become increasingly popular is 3D printing with concrete. This year a 3D printed home community was constructed in Austin, Texas by ICON. It consisted of four homes, all listed on the market for $450,000. The company that built the houses used 3D printing technology to create the first floor of all four homes while the rest of the homes were built conventionally. Houses of this size can be constructed in just five to seven days. The homes were built using cement-based material LavaCrete, a material designed to cope with extreme weather. LavaCrete lived up to its claim when the houses withstood a 7.4 magnitude earthquake with no damages.
The Austin homes are not a unique case. There is also a 3D printed home community being built in Coachella, California. By 2022, this community is going to have 15 houses, each of which will be 1,450 square feet and feature three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a terrace, and a swimming pool. Sustainable real estate development group Palari and construction technology company Mighty Buildings will work together to complete the project.
The potential this unique industry has does not stop at high-end homes… nor does it stop on this planet. ICON, the same company that built the Austin, Texas community of 3D printed homes, is currently working in the research and development phase with NASA to create a space-based construction system. Their goal is to construct 3D printed buildings on the Moon and Mars.
The industry has already evolved as people are beginning to purchase and live in 3D printed homes. Meet a previously homeless Texas man who became one of America’s first inhabitants of a 3D printed home. The best thing about 3D printed concrete for homes is that it is environmentally friendly. This form of building uses the exact amount of material needed to complete the project, allowing for less materials like concrete to be used to construct the building, therefore benefitting the environment.
The potential that 3D printing concrete has is immense and is something worth following as they make progress over the next few years. Stay up to date with 3D printing news here.
Concrete is the second most used material on Earth, trailing only water. Because of this and our commitment to safety, we find it important to highlight concrete safety tips. Here are some vital practices that every company should follow to stay safe when working with concrete:
PPE is one of the most important elements of safety on any jobsite, but it is especially important when you are working with concrete. Make sure to protect your skin at all times by wearing gloves. Water-proof and alkali-resistant gloves are recommended. A long-sleeved shirt, full-length pants, and shatterproof eye protection are also important when working with wet concrete. If you are standing in the wet concrete, wear water-proof boots that are up high enough on your ankle so that the concrete cannot flow into your shoes. You will also want to always wear a hard hat, especially when pouring concrete in an interior area where the ceiling is not yet complete. Proper ear protection, proper footwear, and face masks or ventilators are also important PPE.
Be careful when removing concrete PPE, as wet cement could get on your skin. Did you know that wet cement is the #1 cause of occupational skin disease in the United States? To learn more, watch this video, which includes additional concrete safety tips. Concrete burns are a serious and common injury when working with concrete. It is important to always be aware that concrete can find its way into your personal equipment such as gloves, boots and sleeves. To avoid getting burned, remove any clothing splattered in concrete and wash the affected area immediately, not in the next hour. You will then want to keep an eye on your skin to see if a burn is developing. Be careful when you are removing your protective clothing and wash your hands before and after. You should also store your concrete-soiled clothes separately from other clothes and tools. If possible, shower before leaving the jobsite so you can change into new clothes. This will decrease your exposure to crystalline silica, which we discuss more in depth below:
Crystalline silica are very small particles, nearly 100 times smaller than the sand we find on beaches. These particles are present in concrete and other building materials. Even with proper safety precautions, workers who are exposed to crystalline silica may still inhale the dangerous particles.
To be safe, warn workers and mark boundaries of work areas with crystalline silica. It is a best practice to do this because when large amounts of crystalline silica are inhaled, workers are at risk of developing a long-term lung disease known as silicosis. Silicosis can be fatal. The CDC reports that 1,167 people died from silicosis from 2005-2014. Make sure to educate your workers about the risks and harm of crystalline silica by providing proper training that includes information about health effects, work practices, and protective equipment for respirable crystalline silica. You can also learn more about the standards OSHA requires here.
In addition to educating and training your workers about crystalline silica, you should also provide those exposed to crystalline silica with periodic medical examination. One of the best ways to prevent the inhalation of crystalline silica is to keep dust out of the air. When you are purchasing equipment look to see if there is a dust control, make sure to always maintain and use the dust control system, and if the dust control system is not working do not use the equipment. Using the nearby exhaust ventilation system can help to keep dust from being released into the air. When you are sawing concrete, you can use a saw that provides water to the blade, as this will make the dust particles wet and prevent it from being released into the air.
To learn more about preventing the inhalation of crystalline silica watch this video.
When working with concrete, steer clear of using tobacco products in dusty areas. BioMed Central did a report in 2018 that found silica-exposed smokers had elevated mortality from non-malignant respiratory disease and lung cancers in comparison to non-smokers. The use of tobacco in dusty areas may leave you more likely to inhale crystalline silica. To proactively prevent the inhalation of crystalline silica you should do air monitoring to measure worker’s exposure to crystalline silica, as well as to select appropriate engineering controls and respiratory protection. You should perform air monitoring to measure the effectiveness of controls, collecting and analyzing air samples according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health Method Nos. 7500 and 7602.
For this quarter’s trade partner spotlight, we are taking a visit to Fleetwood, PA, where AP Merkel Inc. has resided since the 1890’s. AP Merkel is a four-generation company that offers plumbing, heating, and cooling services. They have come a long way since Augustus P. Merkel first founded the company over 100 years ago. AP Merkel first started out as a company that built farm implements, such as machines that would harvest crops. They are well known for manufacturing grain separators known as threshing machines.
Their transition into the HVAC world all comes down to a smart, strategic business move. “Eventually, all of these farms that AP Merkel was working with needed heat,” explains Nate Lobb, an Estimator who has been with the company for 10 years. One thing led to another, and eventually the company added plumbing into their wheelhouse. Approximately 30 employees later, “the rest is history,” sums up Nate.
Today the company is run by Pete Merkel, standing President, and busy with approximately 50 commercial jobs a year. Nate is usually efficiently juggling 20 or so jobs at a time, which he enjoys. “I like the diversity of projects we work on. We do everything from senior living, to coffee shops, to dentist offices,” he explains. Nate also enjoys working through and overcoming the challenges that come with starting every new project. “Being involved in a job from when it is just a concept in budgeting to when it is complete is something I always enjoy,” he says.
Nate, who received his plumbing license about five years ago, grew up in a construction environment. “My dad was always in construction. I had an interest more in the mechanical / HVAC and plumbing side of things,” he explains. Nate earned his Environmental Studies degree from Temple University in Philadelphia, PA. While in college, he interned for a company in Philly doing HVAC work and ended up coming back to the Fleetwood area and continuing his career at AP Merkel.
Nate stresses the fact that now is a great time to get involved in the industry. “There is a HUGE need for young, licensed tradespeople. There are few young people getting into this field right now. Get your license when you can, take it seriously, communicate, and you can have a great career,” he urges.
One young individual who has impressed Nate is D&B’s Superintendent, Ryan Hummel, who he has worked with since D&B Construction and AP Merkel established a relationship within the past year. “He has been really helpful and knows the industry, especially for being a younger guy. Ryan is really on top of it and not afraid to pick up the phone and check on something with us. We can talk through things and work it out. It is clear he takes his job serious,” explains Nate.
This feeling of open lines of excellent communication is just as strong a value for AP Merkel as it is for Team D&B. When we asked Ryan what he likes about working with AP Merkel, he summed it up simply in one word: “Everything.” However, what stands out most to Ryan is “their level of communication and coordination from their office staff to the field staff.” His experience working with AP Merkel over the last year has shown him that “they run a tight ship.”
An example of this can be found at one of our healthcare projects currently in active construction, Grove Dental Pediatrics. Ryan has worked with Nate and Tom, AP Merkel’s Superintendent who has been with the company for around 25 years. “I bid the Grove job, completed estimating, submittals, and the purchasing of equipment and piping, and Tom took it from there and is currently managing the actual job,” explains Nate.
One highlight of this 3,700 SF medical office space? “This project has medical gas piping, which is something we don’t deal with that often. This type of piping has to be put in very clean. It has a special fitting with a braised fitting joint. The key is to keep it clean, so when we start to install it we have to flush it with nitrogen gas,” explains Nate.
We recently visited this healthcare project in Wyomissing, PA. Here’s some photos of AP Merkel team members, Andy, Zach, and Scott, their lead plumber, working to keep the job running smoothly and safely with Team D&B:
Our first Trade Partner Spotlight features Gillespie Electric, Inc. Located in East Greenville, PA this full-service electrical contracting company has been a recognized industry leader known for its reliability for over 40 years.
We recently drove out to Souderton, PA to check out the new 12,500 SF community health center quickly taking shape for the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Every time we visit we are greeted by the smile of D&B’s Superintendent on the jobsite, John. He always has a positive energy about him, but when we visited on June 23rd he was literally excited to show us the work that Gillespie Electric, Inc. just completed. We’ll show you as well so you can see what John was talking about:
Although new to Team D&B, John has been in the industry working on a variety of large construction projects over the last 34 years (including the delicious Steak 48 on Broad Street in Philadelphia). John described the work the Gillespie team completed as a “quality standardized performance” and claimed he has never seen such well-executed work from electricians. “This demonstrates the quality and care that these guys have to make this job beautiful,” says John with a smile as he admires their work once more.
According to Gillespie Electric’s Project Manager, Keith Lewis, who has worked on this healthcare project with D&B Construction since it began, they “have been on and off site since this project first broke ground last year and will be on site until the job is complete in a few months.” Over 350 receptacles and 15,000 linear feet of HFC Hospital grade MC are being installed on this project. “All of the lights are LED and we are installing a back-up generator for all of the vaccine refrigerators,” explains Keith.
The company’s Foreman, Mike, as well as Nick (who John admiringly refers to as “another badass” on the Gillespie team) just recently finished tying everything into the panels, a job that took about a week to complete. “Mike and Nick both completed two different rooms. A lot of times when you have two electricians on the same job you can notice slight differences, but their work looked identical. I couldn’t even tell who did which room since their work was so precise,” says John.
The Foreman, Mike, has been with Gillespie for 10 years since 2011 and received his Electrical Apprenticeship from Bucks County Tech in 2012. Keith, who sings high praises of his co-worker, says that Mike was a journeyman for nine years and became a Foreman at the company last year. “Interestingly enough, this job is Mike’s first job that he is completing from start to finish as a Foreman. It’s not every day you win both the core and shell and fit-out phases and are able to be involved in the entire project.”
Although Gillespie has completed a number of jobs for CHOP over the years, this is the first job they are completing for D&B. “There are always some challenges when working with a new general contractor,” says Keith. “It’s like when you first start a new job. You have to feel out your new boss, and they are doing the same with you. But we have had very minimal challenges working with D&B. Communication has been easy, and working with Jim (D&B Project Manager on the job) has been easy, too. It honestly feels like we have been working with them for much longer than we have.”
Keith had similar remarks to say about our Superintendent on the job. “John is on top of things. He gets questions answered efficiently and makes good, on-his-feet decisions. If I ask John a question, I know I will have the answer within a day or two. That’s unusual. Construction should be fluid, and he makes it that way,” says Keith.
At D&B, we view our trade partners as an extension of our team. That’s why we work with trusted trade partners like Gillespie Electric who bring the same level of care that we do to the jobsite.