The fundamental piece of any building project is the materials – the fibres which are woven together and thoughtfully combined to build architectural masterpieces. We have come a long way from the days of rock, clay and wood. Many of the building materials that are used in construction today date back to 400 BC, but in an attempt to make our buildings sustainable and eco-friendly many of these materials have been altered over the years to become the best version of themselves so to speak. It has been necessary for building materials to progress as trends evolve and construction codes become more stringent.
Also known as laminated timber has given wood a comeback. Despite many building options and alternatives wood is still the primary material used for framing in North America, and thanks to new engineering feats it is more durable now, after some processing of course, than ever before. When put to the test, mass timber can maintain structural integrity against fire, making it a better choice than regular wooden building materials. Stronger than other types of wood, mass timber is solid wood that is panelized and then laminated resulting in stronger, super wood material. This material is also more water resistant and durable. You can find this material on the roof of the Richmond Olympic Oval in Vancouver and on the Keystone Wye Bridge in South Dakota, proving that laminated wood is becoming an accessible and sustainable material.
‘Green’ Concrete aka Graphene
Cement is one of the most common building materials – no surprise because of its sheer strength and durability, but unfortunately, it’s a material that is riddled with greenhouse gas carbon dioxide. Scientists have been working on creating a more environmentally friendly version of this material for years, and fortunately, they have made some serious strides. Enter ‘Green’ concrete, also known as graphene. This old building material has been given a makeover and now not only is it more than twice as strong as the original, but it’s also more durable. Graphene is also water resistant and can make buildings more resilient to future shocks and strains. But what exactly Is graphene you ask? It is a form of carbon made up of a single layer of carbon atoms in a hexagonal lattice. Its structure gives it important physical qualities, including efficient conductance of heat, electricity and unusual strength.
It is very likely this technique will be incorporated in other nanomaterials into concrete construction in the future, which could lead to other exciting innovations in the industry.
This material is also classified as a sustainable material, bravo hydrocermic bricks!
These bricks use a clay or concrete shell to give the appearance of a brick, but in actuality, they are filled with hydrogel. Hydrogel’s purpose is to absorb water up to 500 times its own weight and then use this water to cool the interior of the building through the evaporation process. The water required can be collected from rainwater at it’s most basic application making it eco-friendly and cost-effective.
Although there are still some issues and concerns with this new material, including the expense of hydrogel, over time as demand potentially increases, the market will respond, and technologies like this will become more economically viable. Another concern is climate; because water expands when it freezes, it is likely that this technology will not be an option in colder climates for the time being. Sorry, Canada.
Not a new building material, terracotta lost popularity in the mid-20th century when building designs took a modern turn with glass structures. Since then, this clay-baked ceramic has made a return in a big way with a 70% increase in this building material since 2014. It’s not surprising because the uses of terracotta in architectural work are so varied and extensive. This versatile material can be used both inside and out, for decorative and structural features, it forms a substitute for stone and brick, especially in positions exposed to the weather. Terracotta’s fireproof nature also makes this material a fantastic option.
Photovoltaic glass, commonly referred to as PV glass is becoming a common building material as the solar power industry continues to grow. Crystalline Silicon Glass is optimal for sun-facing facades because it produces power in direct light. The power of PV glass is its ability to convert light into electricity. The Building-integrated photovoltaics (BIPV) are replacing materials that were conventionally used for roofing, skylights and facades. They are increasingly being incorporated into the construction of new buildings as a principal or ancillary source of electrical power, although existing buildings may be retrofitted with similar technology. Advantages of the BIPV makes this new material one of the fastest growing segments of the photovoltaic industry.
Bioconcrete aka Self-healing Concrete
This material isn’t out on the market just yet, but it is predicted to take the building industry by storm once it is! In an attempt to make our buildings more environmentally friendly, this concrete blend incorporates an organic process of limestone-producing bacteria. Traditional concrete, although strong is susceptible to moisture which will cause cracks over time. Bioconcrete was developed by the Dutch to solve this moisture problem. The limestone-producing bacteria is mixed into the concrete before it’s poured protecting it from these issues. When inevitably water leaks into the concrete, the bacteria comes to life and produces calcite that fills up any cracks and keeps it from growing, thus a more reliable and longer-lasting concrete is born.
Yes, that is right, waste. The old saying, 'Reduce Reuse Recycle' hasn’t lost speed in the construction space. It is a material that we always have in abundance, so why not put it to good use and reduce our carbon footprint. Scrap metal, cardboard, plastic bags and glass bottles are all valuable materials. For example, recycled cardboard is reinvented into high-quality cellulose insulation, and even beats the traditional process.
Plastic soda and water bottles are being reinvented in PET (polyethylene terephthalate) carpets, resulting in soft fibrous rugs. And the list goes on and on.
It’s apparent that although many building materials haven’t changed fundamentally in their original form and use, the improvements and strides engineers and craftsmen have made to improve these materials to suit our new challenges and goals to be more sustainable and environmentally friendly. As construction materials continue to evolve, we can trust that these elements will only become more eco-friendly, durable and robust. Construction designs, plans and infrastructures continue to change, so should the materials that we integrate into our homes, offices and community centres.