Tarmac's Dr Bill looks again at sustainable issues
Whilst the concept of sustainable construction is readily accepted in major projects, it is only now filtering down to the smaller building projects in the residential sector. Interest in smaller ‘eco’ buildings is growing steadily, and several websites now exist to provide builders with the information they need.
A move towards more sustainable housing will be an increasingly mainstream trend, and will open up new opportunities for sales of alternative materials by merchants.
Producing a sustainable house is a combination of design, choice of materials and construction practices. We should always remember that over the lifetime of a building, the vast majority of the embodied carbon results from the ‘in use’ phase rather than from the initial construction. Consequently, careful attention to design in order to minimise subsequent energy use is the first step on the road to sustainability. Insulation and efficient glazing are two areas to focus on, alongside the actual siting of the building to maximise light. The use of more energy efficient appliances in the building will also help.
Of course, a sustainable builder will also need to consider carefully the environmental impact of the chosen construction materials. It is often thought that ‘traditional’ materials are preferable to more modern inventions, but care is needed as some traditional materials can also have a high level of embodied carbon. Modern cements have less embodied carbon than previously, due to manufacturing improvements such as reduced reliance on fossil fuels together with new formulations that incorporate materials – other than cement clinker – which combine low carbon with enhanced performance. Even so, optimising the amounts used is prudent.
Finally, construction techniques (even using sustainable materials) need to minimise waste in order to make major strides towards sustainability. This may mean the use of software packages to prevent over-ordering of materials and ensuring that materials are stored on site in such a way as to prevent spoilage (plastic packing, shrink wrapping or weatherproof storage areas). When purchasing materials, always look around for suppliers who have externally verified responsible sourcing accreditation such as BES 6001.
Merchants are well advised to keep track of the evolving demands of their customers as eco building becomes the norm, and to stay informed about the new techniques and materials being developed to meet these changing needs.