According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), sustainability is based on a simple principle: that everything we need for survival ultimately depends on the natural environment. With that in mind, we should consider the environmental impacts of everything we do, from our daily commute to how our coffee is sourced to where we live.
A lot goes into our homes. Whether our involvement is in building the home or maintaining it, we need to be conscious of the impact of our efforts.
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To give you a better idea, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) provides status reports for a variety of sectors, one of which is Buildings and Construction. In 2019, the report found that this sector accounted for 36 percent of the final energy use and 39 percent of the energy and process-related CO2 emissions globally.
“There’s a tremendous need for sustainability initiatives and changes in how we do things in regards to both constructing buildings and maintaining them,” says Gal Frenkel, co-founder and CEO of RoboDeck, which provides automated deck-maintenance-and-cleaning robot and related services. ”Homeowners, in particular, have a lot of opportunities to reduce consumption and make an impact with better maintenance practices.”
Built for Life
One of the largest sources of waste in the world today is products that lack a significant lifespan. This stems from a couple of different places:
- Products designed to be disposable.
- A mentality or mindset that says it's easier or more cost-effective to simply replace something than it is to maintain it.
“When you’re talking about a deck, the amount of lumber, and thus trees, that go into it can be significant. Minimizing the need to replace part of the deck (or the entire thing) is important in minimizing the environmental impacts,” says Frenkel. “However, it is possible to maintain a deck in an affordable and sustainable way, and the ideas that make it possible could easily be translated to other areas of the home.”
By increasing the lifespan of a deck through regular maintenance, Frenkel hopes to help reduce resource usage and cut down on waste. However, this initiative needs to start with homeowners.
Sustainability Starts With the Homeowner
In order to increase sustainability in the world of home maintenance, a few things need to happen. First, homeowners need to understand the significant impact that throwing something away has on the environment compared to performing maintenance. This can start with an understanding of the materials involved in building something, along with the quantities of those materials.
“A home requires a huge amount of raw materials to construct. Proper maintenance is always going to be more sustainable than large repairs or a complete rebuild when something fails,” says Frenkel. “As automation improves, this maintenance will continue to become easier. After that, the trick will be to ensure the products and components themselves are sustainable.”
Both developers and homeowners need to be brought up to speed on sustainable building and maintenance practices. This of course will mean different things depending on the context, but one of the most important ways homeowners can contribute is by considering the types of chemicals and compounds they’re using.
“The chemicals used are particularly problematic,” Frenkel claims. “Homeowners should be careful to use only water-based solutions where possible, for outdoor maintenance — like decks — as well as in other areas, such as pressure-washing solutions and hardwood floor cleaners.”
Powering the Future
Energy use is another major factor that can’t be neglected — particularly in areas where sustainable energy sources like solar and wind haven’t yet become the norm. Depending on the type of maintenance equipment required, energy use can be significant. It doesn’t have to be, though.
“Maintenance doesn’t have to be an in-depth process — it could be as simple as 30 minutes per month. But those 30 minutes can lead to a home that lasts years longer,” Frenkel says. “The end result isn’t just savings to the homeowner, though. It also saves the trees that would be needed to replace lumber. It saves the chemical processes needed to produce the stains and wood treatments. It avoids the environmental impact of disposing of the old material and even transporting the new. The impacts are far more than surface-deep.”
The best part is that there are more advantages to this solution than “just” sustainability, which encourages people to actually take advantage of it — they can see tangible results in their lives right away. For example, RoboDeck navigates around and under deck furniture, so there’s no need to move heavy objects for maintenance. The company says that their costs are up to 80 percent lower than doing a regular annual service, and yet the whole process is much simpler and more convenient.
“The key to adoption with sustainable practices is making them convenient and cost-effective for the average person,” Frenkel explains. “Focus on that, and then sneak the sustainability benefits in alongside. Unfortunately, sustainability alone may not be enough to encourage widespread adoption, particularly if it comes with an inconvenience attached.”
The days of sustainability being an inconvenience are long gone. In fact, it’s often easier to be environmentally conscious these days, as RoboDeck hopes to prove. Whether it’ll be enough to make an impact, only time will tell. We’re off to a great start, though.