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Changing How We Build: Five Sustainable Methods

According to the United States Green Building Council (USGBC), demolition and construction waste contribute up to 40 percent of the solid waste stream. Using sustainable building materials not only create greener buildings, but they also reduce the negative effects of greenhouse gases and are essential for a healthier world. Modern construction processes need to consider how materials are used, sourced, transported, manufactured, and discarded.

Life Cycle Management

Managing sustainable material requires a systematic method of productively using and reusing materials over their entire life cycles to avoid desertification, biodiversity loss, and habitat destruction. For the sake of the Earth, the construction and building industry needs to adopt more sustainable ways of managing materials through that entire cycle – the payoff being slowing global warming, creating 270,000 jobs, saving billions in energy costs, massive financial and health benefits, and generally enhancing the quality of all life.

Here are five exciting sustainable building materials making news in the industry today.

Precast Concrete

Concrete, known for its strength and durability, is one of the most common building materials in the world. Precast concrete may just be one of the most sustainable. Precast concrete is delivered to a site reinforced and finished, eliminating the need to cast at the site, resulting in shorter installation time, less dust, debris, noise, pollution, and disruption to the site environment. It also reflects sunlight better than darker surfaces, which cuts air conditioning costs.

Cross-Laminated Timber

Cross-laminated timber (CLT), a solid wood panel created by bonding layered boards with adhesive, is also an increasingly popular building material option. Lightweight, strong, and fire and earthquake resistant, CLT weighs about a fifth of a concrete building of the same size. CLT is prefabricated and transported to the building site, resulting in less dust, noise, waste, and greenhouse gas emissions.

Reclaimed Wood

Building with wood harvested and milled decades ago reduces manufacturing and transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions, and prevents unnecessary logging of old-growth forests. In use for decades as wood pallets, barn siding, railroad ties, and trestles, reclaimed wood has greater stability than newly logged and milled wood that hasn’t been exposed to the elements. It has a denser grain, is stronger, more durable, and less likely to bend or warp.

Steel

Steel has been a popular construction material decades before the green building movement began, but now it’s even more sustainable than ever. Steel can easily be assembled and disassembled, and it is very recyclable – some steel products contain 100 percent recycled material, and all steel products today contain at least 25% recycled content. It is not vulnerable to pests such as termites, doesn’t expand or contract when exposed to moisture, and is a strong and flexible green building material.

Terrazzo

Terrazzo is a long-lasting mosaic style of flooring composed of marble or granite pieces set in epoxy resin. Requiring only simple maintenance, terrazzo flooring can last 40 years or more without losing their brilliance. Other recycled materials such as glass, porcelain, aluminum, brass, zinc, and even beer bottles can be used as aggregate. Known for its durability, beauty, and design flexibility, the seamless floors are also hygienic and sturdy and can be used in high-traffic areas such as stadiums, schools, and airports. While there may be a higher upfront cost than other flooring materials such as carpeting or tile, it can last as long as six other installations, making terrazzo not only a classic flooring material but also a very modern, sustainable one as well.

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