With building, maintaining and occupying homes accounting for almost 50 per cent of the UK’s carbon dioxide emissions, sustainable construction and the use of sustainable construction materials both have important roles to play in the war on energy waste and environmentally unfriendly living. In fact there are a whole host of reasons why using sustainable construction materials make sense. More than just the direct environmental benefits such as the ability to cut down on avoidable heat loss or the impact on the environment in the production and transport of certain types of traditional and environmentally unfriendly construction materials, there are also many economic benefits in heading down the green path.
Construction impacts on the environment across the board. From the environmental expense of producing raw materials, to their transportation to their inefficient deployment to their disposal it all adds up on a massive scale. With construction accounting responsible for 25-40% of total energy use, nearly a third of raw material use, 30-40% of global greenhouse gas emissions and 30 to 40% of solid waste generation the size of the environmental challenges, as well as the opportunities for improvement are immense.
Considering the incredibly rapid speed at which many nations are developing and the real terms explosion in the volumes of material used and waste produced this is clearly an issue that needs to be seriously addressed sooner rather than later. In the UK alone, for example, about 6 tonnes of material are used per person per year with 250-300 million tonnes of material quarried for aggregates, cement and bricks. Roll out these sorts of figures globally and it’s not hard to see the enormous scale of the issues at hand.
Direct Economic Benefits
As well as environmental benefits there are direct economic benefits in using sustainable construction materials. Recent studies by the UK Environment Agency for example show that a one-off investment of £800 could improve an existing home’s resource efficiency by as much as 25 per cent with a consequent annual saving of approximately £138 a year in utility bills. Clearly it wouldn’t take long to recoup your initial outlay and from year 7 you would start to enjoy real savings.
Not only do sustainable construction materials save you on your day to day energy bills they also add value to your home and make properties a more attractive proposition. Research shows clearly that buyers are prepared to pay more for property that has a high performance Energy Performance Certificate (EPCs are used to outlines the costs of heating, hot water and lighting in homes).
Whilst many claim that materials are “recyclable” or being recycled, in reality only a small fraction of them actually are. One of the great sustainable construction material successes has been that of plastic recycling. Plastic recycling has seen the introduction of lumber, roofing battens, sustainable recycled tongue & groove, sustainable recycled decking and sustainable recycled fencing. In many cases recycled plastic represents a triple win. Not only is it more cost-effective than traditional alternatives such as wood, concrete and metal, it often out performs them and of course is much better for the environment.