COVID-19, A Sustainable and Resourceful Building Project

We are now into the fifth week of the COVID-19 lock-down and the end still feels a long way away.

Along with others in our street, around the country, and all over the world, I have been clapping for the healthcare workers, first responders, hospital cleaners, service-industry employees, and all the other dedicated people who are on the frontlines of the pandemic. All these amazing people are risking their lives every day to save people from the virus wreaking havoc around the world. I respect and applaud all of them.

Builders are doing their bit

There are others in the country, in the construction industry, not on the front line and not putting their lives at risk, but who are doing their bit. They are doing their bit to keep the economy going and ensuring that their client’s homes are not left insecure, unsafe, and unfinished.

The builder who drove miles to pick up some ‘leftover’ plasterboard sheets to finish off a job. Another who spent a couple of hours digging up some waste sand from a back garden so he could make a chimney stack watertight. Or the builders who order materials on ‘click and collect’ and patiently wait in the queue to pick up their materials to finish off their client’s job. This shows real commitment; to keeping their company going, to their clients, and to their employees whom otherwise would be without work.
Operating like this is time-consuming and can be frustrating but it keeps things going and it is being resourceful. As one builder (Drew) said to me “his Dad always kept ‘leftover materials’ just in case they were needed. Drew developed this ‘savings’ habit and with some material now like ‘gold dust’ all the bits and piece hoarded in his garage are now becoming very useful.”

Resourcefulness at home

As for me, well I have one new job (a detached uninhabited garage), and I am finishing off existing jobs where I can but otherwise, work has ‘fallen off a cliff’. Clients are reluctant to commit spending money until they can be more certain of their future.
The allotment has never looked so good and we are really on top of things there. We have re-built the compost heaps from pallets found on the street and made a new gate that’s been on the list for some time. The new gate has a Sweet Chestnut frame made from leftover bits of decking and an infill made from old pallets. All these materials were just ‘lying around’.

Sustainable Sweet Chestnut

Sweet Chestnut is the only other English hardwood (Oak is the other one) that has a high level of natural tannin or Tannic acid. The tannin makes the timber more durable and is perfect for decking or external cladding.
Sweet Chestnut is also really sustainable. All over southern Britain, you can still find Sweet Chestnut coppices. Coppicing (cutting the 80-100 year old Sweet Chestnut every 15 years or so) is a harvest, which encourages new timber growth. It is also hugely beneficial to wildlife and a host of plants, moths, and insects. Bluebells run riot after fresh cutting and, combined with mature ‘standards’ (trees which are left), chestnut coppicing produces a wonderful woodscape, it is really sustainable and is superb woodland husbandry.

Tackling climate change must be part of the COVID-19 solution

There are many devastating personal impacts from COVID-19 and I would not want to downplay these but maybe our experiences will make us think more about the environment. I rejoice about the lack of cars on the road, the cleaner feel to the air, the absence of vapour trails from planes, and the quiet. Indeed, only yesterday the BBC reported that “Tackling climate change must be woven into the solution to the Covid-19 economic crisis, the UK will tell [other] governments next week.”

Reusing surplus building materials

In addition to thinking about the impact of our homes, (I think every new building should by law be required to be built to Passive Haus standards) how about doing something positive about all the left-over building materials (not in Drew’s garage) that are sent to landfill.
A quick Google search reveals many organisations who specialise in re-using building materials. Enviromate is just one of these and they state that the UK building industry used 240 million tonnes of material and products every year, nearly 30% is wasted, and 13% is new and never used. This is £1.5 billion work of reusable surplus building materials that enter the waste stream and landfill every year in the UK!

So, when things do get going again and you’re lining up your builder to start work, think about and ask them about waste, sustainability, and reusing materials. It might save you some money and it would certainly be good for the world and the environment.

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Please note this is a guide and is not a definitive source of technical and/or legal information.

MM – COVID-19, A Sustainable and Resourceful Building Project – V3 – 28 04 2020

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