The most environmentally friendly materials used in construction
25% of greenhouse gas emissions come from construction, according to data from the latest Green Building Council Spain report. A situation that demands solutions from both architects and construction companies: quality sustainability solutions to reduce the tons of CO2 and other GHGs that flood the environment. Among them, the choice of building materials that are much more environmentally friendly than traditionally used materials such as concrete or brick. As we will discover below, decisions like these can make a big difference to the planet. Sustainable materials have the potential to change the landscape. And we have several alternatives:
It is the green building material par excellence. And for several reasons. The first is that, when it comes from sustainably managed forests, it has a minimal impact on the environment and has an adequate renewal rate. The second is that it is an insulating material, which generates buildings with less environmental leakage and consequently buildings that save on heating during the winter and on air conditioning during the summer. The third is that wood has the potential to fix CO2 and prevent its release into the atmosphere. In addition, wood produces biophilic spaces in which people feel much more relaxed.
The sum of ecological will and technological invention produces all kinds of solutions. An increasingly popular one is cellulose, the material made from recycled newsprint subjected to borax salts. Its qualities include a use of energy and resources far below that of conventional materials, low thermal conductivity that balances temperatures inside the building, an acoustic insulation coefficient far above that of traditional insulation and, in addition, thanks to exposure to the salts, fireproof, insecticide and antifungal properties. It is undoubtedly one of the most recommended materials for reducing GHG emissions.
At first glance, no outsider to architectural knowledge would bet on clay as a building material. It sounds very unstable. However, the reality is quite different: clay fired at temperatures below 950°C and subjected to natural treatments provides architects with a wide range of solutions. Specifically, it is used in walls, ventilated ceramic facades, vaults, roof tiles or lattices, among other elements. This is because terracotta offers great insulation, low radioactivity, high capacity to absorb humidity and a great deal of safety. But, above all, it offers sustainability: it is very easy to reuse and recycle.
Building construction cannot rely exclusively on one material. Architects and designers need different alternatives to cover all existing needs. In that sense, we still require traditional materials such as plastics to create homes and offices, especially for sewage and water supply networks. But there is a solution: using more environmentally friendly versions of these classic materials. In the case of plastic, this means replacing polyvinyl chloride or PVC with polypropylene (PP), polybutylene (PB) or polyethylene (PE), which are much more environmentally friendly.
Less polluting concrete
The same process can and should be carried out with concrete. The original material is over a hundred years old and, as we have already mentioned, has much higher pollution rates than wood, cellulose or terracotta. In recent years, however, the use of self-repairing concrete, a version containing microcapsules that, in the event of a crack in the material, break apart to repair it, has grown. In this way, the service life of the concrete is considerably increased, thus reducing the need for replacement and therefore the cost of energy and resources. It doesn't matter which way. It matters that it leads to a reduced carbon footprint.