The Environmental Impact of Single-Family Homes

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