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Five Sustainable Building Materials that could Transform Construction

As global populations increase, so too will the need for accommodation. However, current mainstream building methods are unsustainable, producing large amounts of CO2 both during construction and throughout a building's life. Thankfully, sustainability is becoming a priority for developers, and with many exciting innovations happening in the construction industry, sustainably addressing global accommodation needs seems possible. Here's five materials that could help:

1. Wool Bricks


Developed by Spanish and Scottish researchers with an aim to 'obtain a composite that was more sustainable, non-toxic, using abundant local materials that would mechanically improve the bricks' strength', these wool bricks are exactly what the name suggests. Simply by adding wool and a natural polymer found in seaweed to the clay of the brick, the brick is 37% stronger than other bricks, and more resistant to the cold wet climate often found in Britain. They also dry hard, reducing the embodied energy as they don't need to be fired like traditional bricks.

2. Solar Tiles

Traditional roof tiles are either mined from the ground or set from concrete or clay - all energy intensive methods. Once installed, they exist to simply protect a building from the elements despite the fact that they spend a large portion of the day absorbing energy from the sun. With this in mind, many companies are now developing solar tiles. Unlike most solar units which are fixed on top of existing roofing, solar tiles are fully integrated into the building, protecting it from the weather and generating power for its inhabitants.

3. Sustainable Concrete

Whilst 95% of a building's CO2 emissions are a result of the energy consumed during its life, there is much that can be done to reduce that 5% associated with construction. Concrete is an ideal place to start, partly because almost every building uses it, but mostly due to the fact that concrete is responsible for a staggering 7-10% of global CO2 emissions. More sustainable forms of concrete exist that use recycled materials in the mix. Crushed glass can be added, as can wood chips or slag - a byproduct of steel manufacturing. Whilst these changes aren't radically transforming concrete, by simply using a material that would have otherwise gone to waste, the CO2 emissions associated with concrete are reduced.

4. Paper Insulation

Image courtesy of curley house on flickr

Made from recycled newspapers and cardboard, paper-based insulation is a superior alternative to chemical foams. Both insect resistant and fire-retardant thanks to the inclusion of borax, boric acid, and calcium carbonate (all completely natural materials that have no associations with health problems), paper insulation can be blown into cavity walls, filling every crack and creating an almost draft-free space.

5. Triple-Glazed Windows

In fact, super-efficient windows would better describe this particular building material. The three layers of glass do a better job of stopping heat from leaving the building, with fully insulated window frames further contributing. In most double-glazed windows, the gas argon is injected between each layer of glass to aid insulation, but in these super-efficient windows, krypton - a better, but more expensive insulator - is used. In addition to this, low-emissivity coatings are applied to the glass, further preventing heat from escaping.

A building that combined all five of these methods would be an admirably sustainable option for housing. Whilst the construction industry tends to progress at a slow pace, the importance of sustainability is a high profile issue, and one which is only likely to increase. With sustainable building materials already fully developed, it is now up to consumers to actively demand their use and building developers to respond promptly.

By Joe Peach