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The Environmental Impact of Single-Family Homes

2014 March 7
home construction showing cement mixer and framing

Home construction

By Ksenija Janjic

Recently, it seems like there are new houses being built left and right in my neighborhood. Not only do these houses give our neighborhood a fresh look, they also do wonders for our economy. In 2007, new single-family home construction accounted for one-third of construction-sector’s value, and brought jobs to truck drivers, accountants, engineers, contractors, managers and business owners, just to name a few. It also spurred building material sales, approvals of building permits, and extensions of services.

But not everyone realizes that when we build, use and demolish houses, we disturb and erode soil, disrupt habitats, deplete natural resources, pollute air and water and use up land. According to the Sustainable Materials Management: The Road Ahead analysis, of the significant sectors in the U.S economy, new single-family home construction was one of the most environmentally burdensome.

There is a high demand for single-family homes, and we appreciate benefits that the construction industry brings. At the same time though, we want to preserve a thriving environment and maintain plentiful resources for our children. So what can we do to ease the environmental burden of single-family homes?

In the Analysis of the Life Cycle Impacts and Potential for Avoided Impacts Associated with Single-Family Homes, EPA first fully uncovered this burden and then suggested changes to counteract it. This “life-cycle” analysis of a national scale considers goods used during “pre-occupancy”, “occupancy” and “post-occupancy” stages of single-family homes and highlights the most significant ones. EPA shows that if we grow the recovery and reuse of just a handful of building materials from single-family homes, we could notably counteract their full environmental burden.

So…as homeowners, when we repair or renovate our houses, we can ask the contractor to recover and reuse the construction and demolition scrap. As homebuyers or entrepreneurs, we can demand that our homes and properties include salvaged and recycled materials. Little by little, we can make a difference and be proud of the wonderful place we call home.

Learn more about the environmental impacts of single-family homes and how to avoid them.

About the Author: Ksenija Janjic is an Environmental Protection Specialist in EPA’s Office of Resource Conservation and Recovery.  She joined EPA three years ago and has Master’s degrees in Architectural Engineering and Community Planning

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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5 Responses leave one →
  1. Arman.- permalink
    March 7, 2014

    Could The Earth Erupt…………..?

    All the activities in this planet at the end deplete natural resources. The Earth could empty and be lost the power,…. then erupt !!!!

  2. Jim Swanek permalink
    March 7, 2014

    To quote from one of these citations: “reliance on random local materials that are available during construction will most likely result in unique structures and creative material patterns and applications that could be aesthetically valuable in affordable housing.”

    O U C H.

  3. Alan Gregory permalink
    March 8, 2014

    This is a classic case of sprawl and how to make a neighborhood even less walkable. I look at the photo above and I see this: The people who live here will all get around by driving a single-family car.

    • Felicia Chou permalink
      March 12, 2014

      EPA’s Smart Growth program helps communities improve their development practices and get the type of development they want. We work with local, state, and national experts to discover and encourage successful, environmentally sensitive development strategies.
      “Smart growth” covers a range of development and conservation strategies that help protect our natural environment and make our communities more attractive, economically stronger, and more socially diverse.
      For more info, please check out http://www.epa.gov/smartgrowth/

      – Felicia @ EPA

  4. Wayne permalink
    March 10, 2014

    One other rather large environmental impact of single family homes is the potential strain they place on sewer collection systems by discharging large amounts of fats, oils and grease from their kitchens as well as the use of so-called “disposable” wipes, cleaning rags and sometimes even diapers down their drains. These pollutants then block the sewer resulting in back-ups and sanitary sewer overflows.
    While there are local and regional attempts at educating homeowners in the proper disposal of such pollutants, perhaps EPA could help in a nationwide effort to better educate homeowners tied to public sewer systems in proper waste disposal.
    80 percent of the backups and clogs caused by grease in our 1.8 million customer jurisdication are in single-family home neighborhoods-with absolutely no multi-family, apartment complex or restaurants upstream of that blockage (2006-2012 GIS study).

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