Sustainability 101: Materials / by Dakota Park

Written by: Steve Socha

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Welcome to the Sustainability 101 educational blog series! Our blog today will focus on building material.

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Material selection is a crucial part of any architectural project. The types of products you choose to build with affect everything from appearance, to cost, health, how fireproof a building is, interior noise level, and, effectively, its comfort level. Material selection is important for both interior and exterior components.

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Interior Materials
Sustainable interior materials are usually selected for low emissions (meaning they don’t release toxic gases over time).  This results in a superior indoor air quality and a healthy indoors for its users.

The amount of recycled content and recyclability of interior materials is also considered. The goal here is to reduce current and future waste sent to landfills. Additionally, the longer the materials last, the least likely it will need to be replaced, equalling less cost!

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Exterior Materials
For exterior materials we select durable and natural products to withstand the weather and to extend the building’s lifespan. At the end of their life as part of the building, these materials will ideally be returned to nature with positive, rather than negative, impact on the environment. As often as we can we use natural, untreated products like wood, straw, and bricks.

Shou-Sugi Ban is an ancient Japanese siding technique that preserves wood (making it resistant to both decay and to fire) by first charring it, then cooling it, cleaning it, and finishing it with a natural oil. The result is a unique, beautiful, and durable exterior wood product that can last for 100 years.

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Galvalume is a sheet of corrugated steel that is coated in aluminum and zinc. The aluminum provides the corrosion protection and the zinc provides the durability. Galvalume roofs are lifetime roofs, meaning they will last for the lifetime of the building.  Another benefit is the light colour, which reflects the sun and prevents overheating.

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Insulation
When it comes to Insulation we prefer to avoid styrofoam and other petroleum-based insulation products whenever possible, opting instead for mineral wool insulation, which is fire-resistant and non-toxic. Our brand of choice is Roxul insulation.  We like it because it is made locally, meaning it takes less energy and resources to get to the construction site.

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ICF stands for Insulated Concrete Forms which are blocks created from insulating materials. The blocks are first laid in place and stacked like Lego. Concrete is then poured into the spaces within the blocks to provide rigidity to the wall structure.  When it comes to ICF products we prefer Durisol, which is made of recycled wood fibre and cement.  Advantages of ICF include good insulating properties, continuous thermal control, and a good air seal.

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Alternative Construction Materials
Straw Bale Houses are houses where the structure is made of waste straw from the agriculture industry.  Straw bale construction is a natural and sustainable method for building, from the standpoint of both materials and energy conservation. Some advantages of straw-bale construction over conventional building systems include the renewable nature of straw, the cost, and the availability of straw bales. They are also naturally fire-retardant and have a high insulation value.

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We strive to use natural and renewable materials whenever possible to achieve a maximum level of sustainability while seeking to achieve an aesthetic that is in line with the specific user preferences.

Stay tuned for our next blog in the Sustainability 101 series!

*The Sustainability 101 lecture series is made as a supplemental learning initiative for high school students across Ontario