The types of materials selected at the design stage of building a home will impact fundamentally on its longer-term sustainability.
These choices have implications on saving energy, resilience and improving comfort. While legislation is not forcing the use of more sustainable materials, business are investing in technology and innovation to reduce the carbon footprint of production and to deal with the risks associated with material availability and scarcity. Thereby, safeguarding against the cost of materials production that is tied to energy prices. Overall legislation from government and changing consumer preferences are signalling to industries that changes need to be made.
Current production of materials focus on the energy required to create them. However, there is a lack of understanding that while energy can be transitioned to renewable primary energy sources, materials are not renewable. Unless it’s cells or skin, there is a finite amoutn of it (lithium, vanadium, chromium, cobalt, etc) and recycling it essential. Therefore, materials recovery must be at the fore when designing products and select materials that enable the loop to be closed. When the consumer is making the decision to buy this versus that, if the price is incorporated into the full cost then probably we would make a much more informed decision.
The materials typically considered to be ‘green’ include renewable plant materials like straw and mud brick, timber from forests certified to be sustainably managed, recycled materials and other products that are non-toxic, reusable and renewable.
Some of the newest innovations in sustainable building materials:
There are significant amounts of embodied energy in concrete. In fact, 1 out of 20 units of carbon released by human activity into the atmosphere comes directly from concrete – this does not even take into account other construction-related activities, such as on-site vehicles or other building materials.
Innovation has allowed for the energy intensity of its production to be lowered and even carbon negative. Novacem’s Cement is a new form of cement that actually absorbs carbon dioxide rather than being a primary source of its man-made emissions. New forms of using concrete have also meant that it can be reused in different structures for short or long term applications.
Rather than the traditional brick which is energy intensive to produce, there have been may experiments with different types of raw inputs to create bricks. Brick options include, waste recycled into bricks, bricks made from natural materials and bricks that have been made with less energy intensive processes.
Roofing materials are being recreated to serve more than one function. In the past, roofs space was being used to place solar panels. Innovation to integrate roofing materials into the tiles have created an industry of solar roof tile options. Thin Film and solar shingles are increasing in popularity as the price of solar cells continue to decline. Solar tiles are fully integrated into the building, protecting it from the weather and generating power for its inhabitants.
From numerous articles on greening your home and office, prevention of draughts and having an air tight room is central to energy efficiency. Technology in windows, glass quality and glazing, have improved dramatically. Whilst they are more costly upfront, there are substantial savings in the long run.
The importance of insulation and the level of insulation is also vital for an energy efficient home. Made from recycled newspapers and cardboard, paper-based insulation is a superior alternative to chemical foams. Both insect resistant and fire-retardant thanks to the inclusion of borax, boric acid, and calcium carbonate (all completely natural materials that have no associations with health problems), paper insulation can be blown into cavity walls, filling every crack and creating an almost draft-free space.