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How important are the materials in my home?

Jul 1, 2019 | News

How important are the materials my home is built from are as sustainably sourced as possible?

  • For the sustainable nerds only.
  • For nerds ONLY.

ALERT, ALERT, Captain obvious here!
Did you know your home is built from a whole bunch of materials like timber, steel and concrete!?

There’s much contention around the best approach and what you should and shouldn’t use when building a sustainable home. In my last article I wrote about the most important thing to do to ensure your home is as sustainable as can be, (and it’s much simpler than you’d EVER imagine) if you haven’t read it you can find it here.

Below I’ll break down the key elements that your home is mostly built from.

Steel would have to be one of the more polarizing elements on the topic of sustainability. Steel is great in the way it can be recycled really well, therefore steel can circulate through many uses for many years and in reality centuries. The flip side is that it takes a hell of a lot of energy to get steel from its rawest form (iron ore) to the steel we use in our homes. And, of course, recycling it isn’t so straight forward either as you have to melt it back down and begin most of the process again which is extremely energy intensive. Let me assure you it takes many thousand boiling kettles to melt down a kilo of steel.

In my opinion the amount of energy it takes to get steel into a workable form plus the amount of energy to recycle makes it a less than sustainable option for your home and worth avoiding wherever possible.

Timber is clearly the alternative to steel and far less carbon producing, in fact, timber stores carbon and takes a hell of a lot less energy to manufacture than steel. On the other hand timber can be labour intensive to repurpose. Which is great on the one hand as it provides jobs but it can cause high costs. Often times these costs are worth it when you see 100 year old timber turned into flooring it looks incredible. WE LOVE TIMBER!

In my opinion (maybe cos I’m a timber nerd) timber is the way to go when making your home as low carbon as possible due to its low energy to produce and the carbon it stores.

Concrete is the other major item that forms part in your new home. Unfortunately, there is no good news at this point with concrete. It is really energy intensive and there are very few solutions. There are a few alternatives to the high embodied energy of concrete. One of which is the substitution of cement for fly ash. Fly ash is rarely used in Australia and there are concerns around the finished quality of fly ash concrete. There is a lot of work going into the development of concrete to make it a more sustainable option but no solution has passed all relevant test or is a viable option for the home construction industry.

Having said that a lot of the homes we build that have concrete slabs also have in-slab hydronic heating. In my opinion this is the best kind of heat and we have a little trick up our sleeves to maximise the comfort and efficiency of this type of heating.

Of course there are many more materials that go in to your home. Here, I have focused on the major three. If there are any other materials you’d like me to review please let me know.

PS. If you’d like to know the trick we apply to maximise comfort and efficiency of in-slab send us an email and we’ll send you a document.

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