Eco-Friendly building materials!!
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As of January 2019, Australia’s construction sector was reported to responsible for over 25% of our greenhouse gas emissions and non-bio-degradable waste. With Australia aiming to be a zero-emissions country by 2030, we are looking at ways we can reduce our carbon footprint while still accommodating population growth and existing structure maintenance. That’s why a shift to eco-friendly building materials is the first step towards a greener future.

1. Green thermal insulation

Polyester, sheep’s wool, cellulose and earthwool. What do these materials have in common? They help to lift the energy rating of buildings, by trapping excess heat in winter and keeping it away in summer. This reduces the need for energy-intense forms of temperature control, such as air-conditioning, which in turn keeps electricity bills down. You could probably say that most forms of insulation are eco-friendly, for this reason. However, some are greener than others, so to speak. Many people use fibreglass insulation because it’s cost-effective, however the manufacturing process uses up to 10 times more energy than sustainable alternatives. There are better options:

Sheep’s wool: This is probably as natural as it gets, off the back of a sheep. Harmful particles in the air are absorbed by this material, which doesn’t burn easily or itch the skin. It also doesn’t degrade as fast as materials like straw and can be harvested quicker than some other natural insulators, like cotton. It’s not the cheapest sustainable insulation option though!

Cellulose: This insulation consists of recycled newspaper and other types of paper that would otherwise end up in the rubbish tip. On the downside, this isn’t the easiest material for firefighters to manage in emergencies.

Polyester: Recycled plastic bottles can be found in this product, which can also be recycled. It’s non-flammable and doesn’t cause itchy skin or release dust particles.

Earthwool: There are no artificial colours in this product, which contains natural bio-based materials and inorganic glass fibres.

Plant-based polyurethane rigid foam: This foam is made out of natural materials such as bamboo, hemp and kelp. The product resists heat extremely well and insulates better than fibreglass, due to its higher R-value.

Straw bales: You probably wouldn’t expect straw to be resistant to fire (or vermin and decay for that matter), but it is. Many Australian buildings feature strawbale walls that are rendered with cement or earth. Straw comes from grass, so it’s a renewable building material that’s easily harvested. Cost effective, strong thermal insulation, sound insulation, moisture resistant and safe – straw bales tick all of the boxes.

Keep in mind: Whatever material you choose, there’s no sense in slapping it in place and hoping for the best. Insulation doesn’t perform effectively if installed poorly, which defeats the purpose.

2. Structural insulated panels

A structural insulated panel (SIP) consists of a piece of foam that’s placed between layers of plywood, strand board and cement. Floors, walls and ceilings can be constructed using these durable engineered panels, instead of conventional framing lumber and insulation. The benefits for architects, designers, builders, residents and property owners?

  • SIPs are stronger than traditional wood framing types
  • Less waste from the prefabricated approach
  • The general consensus is they conserve around 50 per cent more energy, resulting in lower bills for property owners or residents
  • They can be combined with other building materials, lending more creative freedom and versatility to design
  • Higher upfront cost but shorter construction times and lower labour costs than traditional framing
  • Builders don’t require specialised tools to install SIPs
  • A high level of airtightness in buildings, which means reduced drafts and less heat transfer

3. Recycled metal

Builders rely heavily on metals such as aluminium and steel, which are durable, lightweight and versatile. But there’s a challenge: A lot of energy goes into mining and manufacturing the metal, which takes its toll on the environment. Keep in mind, ore is a finite resource that already shows signs of being in short supply. Recycling provides a feasible alternative, by lowering the energy used in the overall manufacturing process. And the best part? Metals keep their properties, even after being recycled multiple times – that’s an infinite number for aluminium and steel! This means that 75 per cent less energy is used every time that steel, for example, is repurposed.

“If you think of the whole thing like a cycle from the raw extraction to the processing to the installation to the demolition to the disposal, when you get to recycling you basically cut out the whole raw extraction and processing.” Mike Stopka from the Delta Institute, quoted in Smart Cities Dive

There are other practical benefits to consider too: Recycled metal tends to be strong, durable and long-lasting, as well as water and pest resistant. It doesn’t need to be replaced frequently, so it can be used to construct roofs, bridges, roads, building facades and roofs.

4. Reclaimed wood

Recycled wood that’s been properly treated is useful for building walls, cabinetry, decks, floors, beams, panels and other structures. It’s usually sourced from old-growth trees, which makes it sturdier than virgin wood that comes from first-generation forests. As with recycled metal, reclaiming wood significantly reduces the amount of energy that’s used to make it. It also stores carbon and lowers the demand for fresh timber from forests. And of course, there’s a certain aesthetic charm that appeals to architects who desire a rustic and ecological design that only occurs when wood ages over time. However, wood is vulnerable to being degraded by pests and insects, so it’s important to carefully inspect every restored piece.

5. Engineered wood for cross-laminated timber buildings

Engineered wood contains different wood types that are bound or fixed together, as opposed to solid pieces of wood from a single source. Entire buildings are being built to heavily feature this material, that’s how cost-effective and sustainable it is. In fact, Australia’s tallest engineered timber office building recently opened in Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley. The floors and walls are made from cross-laminated timber (a form of engineered wood, also known as CLT). Why engineered timber?

  • Builders work faster with it, which saves money on construction time
  • Excellent strength and stability
  • Decent fire resistance
  • High thermal and insulating properties
  • Long-lasting
  • More flexibility with design
  • Less waste on building sites, since the panels arrive prefabricated
  • Strong and durable
  • Resists moisture well

The environmental benefits are impressive too. Global carbon emissions could be reduced by up to 31 per cent if more buildings were constructed with wood, rather than concrete and steel. This is according to a 2014 study by the University of Washington and Yale. However, it’s worth noting: Some forms of engineered wood may release chemicals and solvents into the air (off-gassing), which raises health concerns. Ask your manufacturer directly about their approach, as certain companies are careful to use ingredients that don’t do this.

6. Precast concrete slabs

Concrete slabs arrive at the construction site fully formed, having been mixed and set into blocks by the manufacturers. A lightweight filler, such as foam insulation, is usually sandwiched between the outer layers. Prefabrication occurs in a controlled environment, so there’s less chance of cracks and structural faults forming in the concrete. Precast concrete slabs are extremely durable, withstanding all kinds of weather conditions. This affordable building material is often used to construct walls and building facades, for this very reason. As far as sustainability goes: Producing and assembling the slabs takes less energy than many conventional concrete types, making this a greener option. The concrete also helps to control heat, which saves money for property owners who don’t need to use the air conditioner as much.

7. Bamboo

Bamboo has a long history as a building material, stretching thousands of years. Lightweight, durable and renewable – it offers the best of many worlds. Fast-growing around the world, there’s no need to replant bamboo after harvest and it self-generates at an impressive rate. As for construction performance: This perennial grass has more compressive strength than brick or concrete, so it’s well-placed to bear heavy loads and withstand harsh conditions over time. It’s commonly used as a sustainable building material for scaffolding, bridges, flooring, structures and cabinetry. Be mindful though: Untreated bamboo attracts insects and swells when exposed to water, so it needs to be treated to prevent this.

SEE MORE:- Benefits of eco-friendly homes


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