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The Environmental Benefits of Fabric Structures

The Environmental Benefits of Fabric Structures

By Nicholas St. Pierre

The world is becoming increasingly conscious of industry’s effect on the environment. From manufacturing, to mining and everything in between, the global community is searching for ways to reduce its environmental impact. Focus has mostly been centered on lowering carbon emissions through renewable energy, but there remains a need for sustainable structures that are usable in a variety of applications.

While traditional buildings are capable of providing long-term usage, to manufacture, construct and operate them requires substantial energy. According to the U.S. Green Building Council, commercial, industrial and residential buildings account for nearly 40 percent of the nation’s CO2 emissions, using more than both the industrial and transportation sectors.

Traditional buildings require large amounts of raw materials, which increases the environmental impact on its own. Each raw material must also go through its own processing to be ready for use in construction. Once they are constructed, traditional buildings continue impacting the environment with high energy requirements, constantly drawing on the fossil-fuel powered energy grid for lighting, heating, cooling and many other utilities necessary for operation.

As the global community continues working towards implementing green technology to improve sustainability, industries across the world are beginning to shift towards sustainable buildings. Fabric structures are one option for companies looking to lower operating costs, while reducing their impact on the environment, without sacrificing functionality.

“There are countless industries that have benefitted from the installation of fabric structures,” said Geoffrey Ching, Director of Sales for ClearSpan. “Among them are manufacturing, logistics, athletics, bulk storage, agriculture, recycling and waste management.”

Fabric structures see widespread usage across so many industries mainly because of their versatility and lower operating expenses. However, their environmental benefits are becoming more important in an increasingly climate-conscious world.

Quality fabric structures offer several money-saving benefits that allow them to stand out among other building options, and additionally, these cost-effective features contribute to sustainability. In many instances, where customers are saving money, they are also reducing their effect on the environment. Some fabric structures have lower lighting, heating and cooling requirements than traditional buildings. Certain manufacturers also use more sustainable practices to reduce waste and carbon emissions.

Speaking of ClearSpan’s manufacturing process, Ching said, “High-tech fabric welding equipment eliminates scrap, generating virtually no waste through manufacturing. Since all the raw fabrics are shipped to ClearSpan, then sent to customer sites directly from Northeast Iowa, transportation emissions are minimized.”

In this case, building materials are not transported across the country, instead shipping from a centrally-located manufacturing facility in Iowa. Customers who work with a centrally-located manufacturer have the benefit of reducing carbon emissions, while also potentially saving money on freight and other transportation costs.

Aside from saving on transportation expenses, customers can also experience monthly savings from reduced energy usage for lighting.

“White fabric covers can reduce lighting costs by 50-75 percent over conventional construction, as a result of the incredible light transmission that brightens the interior naturally,” Ching said. “The amount of natural light that penetrates the white cover is impressive.”

Certain fabric structures take advantage of natural sunlight to create a comfortable, well-lit environment without using any electricity. This is achieved by using fabric covers that are translucent enough to let in an abundant amount of sunlight, preventing shadows and eliminating the need for expensive supplemental lighting.

These energy-efficient fabric covers simultaneously lower the structure’s lighting expenses and dependency on the electrical grid. Because electricity consumption contributes the greatest amount to traditional buildings’ carbon footprints, fabric structures that utilize these covers offer a level of sustainability that traditional buildings cannot. Customers wanting to maintain a functional interior without having to rely on fossil-fuel powered electricity for daytime lighting should work with a manufacturer who offers translucent fabric covers. Furthermore, some fabric structures don’t require any lighting.

“Many of our industrial bulk storage buildings have no lights installed at all, further reducing construction costs by eliminating the need to run electrical,” Ching said.

Customers who choose a manufacturer that offers fabric structures with no need for electrical work during construction will not only experience lower construction costs, but construction timelines will also be faster. After saving on the initial investment, owners of fabric structures without any lighting installed continue to experience monthly savings, while producing zero light pollution. Lighting isn’t the only area where owners of fabric structures are able to save money and reduce their carbon footprint.

ClearSpan’s woven, rip-stop fabric covers allow natural light to filter inside during the daytime, reducing the need for expensive artificial lighting. Photo: ClearSpan

Traditional buildings require large heating and cooling systems to keep the interior climate comfortable, which consumes large amounts of energy. Customers looking to simultaneously reduce utility costs and environmental impact should opt for a structure with a polyethylene fabric cover. Polyethylene is used in climate-sensitive covers, which help regulate interior temperatures. In the summer, quality climate-sensitive covers can lower interior temperatures by up to twenty degrees. During the wintertime, these covers have the reverse effect, retaining heat and keeping interior temperatures up to twenty degrees higher. Climate-sensitive covers can save money and lessen the negative effects of heating and cooling systems.

Some fabric structure manufacturers also offer buildings that have natural ventilation, which lowers humidity levels and inhibits the growth of mold and bacteria without costly ventilation equipment. Not needing to use active ventilation helps to further decrease monthly operating expenses. By working with a manufacturer who offers designs that feature natural ventilation, customers can create a clean and healthy environment for inhabitants, while also saving money, all without using any energy or putting further strain on the environment.

Fabric structures can implement a long list of sustainable options, and with their wide range of suitable applications, they are finding usage across dozens of industries. Investors in these innovative structures applaud them for their superb functionality and reduced energy requirements. Fabric structures can feature all of the above environmental benefits, and with drastically reduced construction and utility costs, they are the ideal structure for companies looking to go green without the expensive retrofitting of existing structures.

“Fabric structures have become the sustainable choice, because of their superior interior environment and energy cost reduction over time. We hear constantly that customers are impressed with the massive steel frame and the overall strength,” Ching said. “Further positive impressions are noted by the high cathedral feel of the interior peak and the brightness offered by natural light transmission.”

Keep an eye out for these buildings cropping up across the country as industries move to take green initiatives more seriously.

Nicholas St. Pierre  is a Junior Copywriter for ClearSpan, which specializes in innovative building solutions. For more information, visit www.clearspan.com or call 1.866.643.1010 to speak with a ClearSpan specialist.