There are many ways green building materials can be defined, especially when it comes to taking account of their environmental impact and social results. There are quite a few materials being used today, such as engineered lumber, natural earthen materials, biomass building panels, paints with low or non-existent volatile organic compounds inside them, as well as a number of other products manufactured all around the world by companies who focus on protecting the environment and workers all around.
As the years have been going forward, a lot of manufacturers have been getting on the bandwagon concerning green building materials. There is hardly a product today that is not capable of being replaced by a type of environmentally safe and sound alternative, as well as a variety of green materials that only get better and better as time goes by.
Francis Ching is a well-known author and illustrator of books on design and construction, perhaps within the building sector his most well-known book is Building Construction Illustrated. Collaborating with Ian Shapiro on this latest book, the pair have developed a good introduction to green building for those just becoming familiar with the field, but it also serves as a good reference guide to green building for those of us with more experience.
“What is green building?”
The point of the question is to highlight the reality that it is really an evolving definition. Some buildings built to a high standard, have, upon evaluation, turned out to be less green than their standard counterparts because they use more energy than the comparative standard, whereas some net-zero or close to net zero buildings aren’t classified as green because the owner has decided not to go through the hoops necessary to become classified.
Further, the authors address why building greener buildings is important, referring to climate change effects as well as resource depletion. They also delve into the different green classification systems that are available.What I like about this book is that after reading it you gain a basic understanding of all the elements involved in building a better, more resilient, lower impact building.
Hosting a Design Charette
Shapiro and Ching emphasize that with the development, design and construction of any building, there are thousands of decisions that are made. One decision affects another, so it means that there are trade-offs for every decision. Getting the design done right at the beginning can save time and money down the road and one of the best ways to do that is to have a design charette. A charette is like a round table discussion where every involved party can have a say in how the design will affect their portion of the building from plumbing, electrical, HVAC concerns, material selection, and occupant use post construction. Ideally charettes include the architect, general contractor, sub-trades, building owner and manager, in other words, all stakeholders.
The book is clearly illustrated and dedicates a good section to design and design issues. Getting the design right is one of the best ways to have the most significant impact on constructing a lower impact building. Again the book is thought-provoking: the authors ask “green buildings are lower impact than what?” In fact Shapiro gently takes LEED to task because the system fails to give points for designing a building that has a smaller surface area (therefore less exposure to the elements), than its standard counterpart. In other words, no points are given for designing a more efficiently shaped building than might otherwise be built. The authors explain the differences between the different green building rating systems out there, including LEED, Passivhaus, Living Building Challenge, and Green Globes.
Another perspective of the book is that it teaches readers to design buildings from the outside in, in layers. So, it looks at landscaping, site and orientation and how those factors affect the design of the building. Further, Shapiro and Ching highlight with detailed drawings, the importance of surface area on the energy efficiency of a building. In general terms, the smaller the surface area, the greater the energy efficiency of the building.
It takes only one brief glance at the chapter on windows to confirm that all those glass condos going up all over Toronto and Montreal are an energy efficiency nightmare. Windows, in addition to having terrible insulation values, also pose potential leak problems between their frames and the building. If not sealed properly there is an extra source of potential drafts and water infiltration.
The chapter on building materials emphasizes the need to consider local, recycled and other materials with a low embodied energy. There is a handy table that shows the different embodied energy of different types of wall constructions.
One of the best features of this book is that it is an all in one reference guide for looking at how to build better buildings from design through to commissioning (evaluating a building’s systems to make sure they are all functioning properly). Once read cover to cover, it can be used as a reference guide to greener building and the different factors that need to be taken into account. While the book does not delve deep into any one area, it does provide a readable and approachable overview that’s easily understood by laypersons as well as professionals familiarizing themselves with green building practices. If I have one complaint, it is that for old people like myself, the spidery, handwritten style font is difficult to read.
I was asked to read and write a review for Chris Magwood’s new book, Making Better Buildings. I have written a good deal about the work that Chris does in the field as the director of the Endeavour Centre, a spin-off of a green building program that was developed at Sir Sanford Flemming College in Peterborough. Chris has substantial experience in using better, greener building materials and has used his knowledge to write this book.
The book is indispensable for anyone wanting to build a home using lower impact materials than today’s standard code-built home. The materials are classified by category for use in different phases of building, including foundations, walls, insulation, windows then roofing. Most of the book’s emphasis is placed on the materials used for the building envelope but there are also sections dedicated to different types of residential renewable energy generation, HVAC systems and interior finishes for floors, walls and counter tops, etc.
Chris describes how a material is manufactured including whether it’s harvested, mined, developed from chemicals, etc. You get a clear understanding of the overall environmental impact of a material.
One of the dilemmas I face when I write about materials is just exactly how green a material really is. With this book you can compare different types of foundations by how much embodied energy they contain as well as other environmental parameters. A foundation made from earth-bagged forms has a “sample building embodied energy” of 0-16,665 megajoules while a foundation made from old tires and rammed earth (8% concrete) has a “sample building embodied energy” of 0-29,216 MJ. The variation depends on whether the materials are virgin or sourced on site and repurposed. This type of material analysis is done for every material listed in the book so that each material can be compared consistently to another within the same category.
What Chris’ book does is thoroughly analyze materials in a way that helps novice and experienced builders decide which material will work best for their project and the impact on the environment that each material has. There is a chart for each material that identifies and rates on a scale of 1-10, not just embodied energy, but also,
overall environmental impacts,
energy efficiency of the product,
skill level needed by homeowner,
building code compliance and
indoor air quality.
By taking an analytical perspective, Chris remains impartial to each material. Note that he leaves out common building materials such as poured concrete foundations because their environmental impact is so detrimental.
Chris has created a list of pros and cons for each material to help you understand why one material might be more widely used than another.
If you are interested in building a home with a lower environmental impact than the current standard built home offers, this is a great reference guide to help familiarize you with all of the latest lower impact materials currently available for building a home.
Every year at GreenBuild (the US green building conference and expo), green building guru Alex Wilson reveals his top ten favourite new green products. These products are carefully thought out and vetted, and are considered the best of the best. If you’re not familiar with the BuildingGreen website, take some time to look around — it is the authoritative source for green building materials and services for professionals involved in the green building sector. This year, one of the products that made his list was CarbonCure, which is a technology developed by a Canadian company, based in Nova Scotia. CarbonCure seeks to solve the problem of the greenhouse gas emissions produced during concrete production.
The manufacturing of concrete is the second most energy and CO2 intensive industry in the world. It is only topped by the emissions output of power generation, particularly from plants that burn coal and gas for power production. Since concrete is a key material in the building sector and will likely remain so in the near future, aspiring to reduce its overall carbon dioxide footprint is an essential strategy for lowering global carbon emissions. According to the CarbonCure website, the reason that concrete is such a carbon dioxide intensive product is partly due to the high kiln temperatures needed to make cement (the key ingredient in concrete), and partly due to “liberating the CO2 from its chemically stable form as CaCO3(limestone)” during the cement making process.
The technology developed by CarbonCure captures carbon dioxide emitted by heavy sources and adds it back into concrete, where a chemical reaction converts the CO2 into limestone. One of the side benefits of adding carbon dioxide (CO2) to concrete is that it makes the concrete stronger, enabling manufacturers to use less cement, the most CO2-intensive part of concrete production.
I had several questions about the technology, so I contacted Jennifer Wagner, Vice President of Marketing for CarbonCure.
On their website I read that for every tonne of cement produced about 0.8 tonnes of CO2 are emitted into the atmosphere. Their website notes that Atlas Block, a concrete manufacturer in Ontario, is able to sequester 50 grams of CO2 per concrete block. Jennifer noted that the percentage of CO2 sequestered varies depending on the concrete manufacturing plant that’s using it. Plants have different equipment, raw materials, and processes, so the potential CO2 reduction can differ from plant to plant. One of the operations using their technology has reduced its CO2 emissions by 20%. Their eventual goal is to produce carbon-neutral oreven carbon negative concrete. In other words, concrete production would sequester more CO2 than is emitted. While they are not close to that number yet, just having that goal is encouraging.
Jennifer pointed out that over time concrete naturally sequesters CO2 but only the exposed surfaces of concrete absorbs the CO2. Their technology mixes concrete with CO2 while it’s still in its looseform (its texture is similar to a sandcastle) in order to maximize the absorption of CO2. Further, calcium carbonate increases the strength of the concrete and permits the use of less cement.
Carbon dioxide is collected from the nearest CO2 emitting plant to keep transportation emissions and costs down. When CarbonCure calculates the carbon footprint sequestration of their product, they do take into account the amount of emissions produced in the production of cement, as well as the transportation emissions to get the CO2 to the cement plant.
The technology is constantly improving. Right now they are working on developing it for ready mix concrete – that’s the concrete used to pour sidewalks and foundations. That means the machinery would have to be portable and attach to concrete mixing trucks. It’s an important area on which to focus because the majority of concrete produced is ready mix concrete, so solving that problem would significantly increase the potential greenhouse gas reductions of the technology.
CarbonCure is currently working with three concrete producers, a local Nova Scotian company (Shaw Group), an Ontario company (Atlas Block), and a company in California (Basalite Concrete Products). Atlas Block currently offers three products that include sequestered carbon: concrete blocks, pavers and segmented retaining walls (SRWs). Currently, each concrete block contains 50 grams of sequestered CO2.
Cost: according to the website, the up-charge of using their technology should be minimal because less cement is needed to make concrete which offsets the cost of adding the technology.
CarbonCure presents a new and exciting technology in the process of reducing carbon dioxide emissions from concrete. If the technology continues to progress towards making carbon neutral or carbon negative concrete a reality, it could become a significant factor in reducingoverall CO2 emissions from the building sector.
******UPDATE: UNFORTUNATELY, g GREENDESIGN IN TORONTO HAS CLOSED DOWN AS OF OCTOBER 20, 2011. FOR MORE INFORMATION ON OTHER g GREENDESIGN CENTERS, PLEASE VISIT THEIR WEBSITE AT: http://ggreendesign.com******
“g” GreenDesign Center is a new green building store located in the Castlefield Design District in Toronto. If you’re just learning about how to “green” your renovation or build a new greener home, this is a great place to start your search. “g” GreenDesign offers all kinds of small, little one-offs from your picnic supplies (places, cups and cutlery) to ReBinders — recycled cardboard binders — great school supplies for September. But the small items serve a purpose. You come in to buy biodegradable cups and cutlery for your next picnic, but you can also learn so much about greening your next home improvement project while you’re there.
“g” GreenDesign is a franchise owned by David Lee and Joe Caricari, with store manager, Michele Vig. The concept of “g” GreenDesign was developed by Nicole Goldman, with the first location based in Cape Cod, MA. As an interior designer who was building her own house, she wanted to build green but was having difficulty sourcing all the products and trades. Nicole had the idea of developing a green building store that would be a one-stop shop so people wouldn’t have to run all over the place trying to do exactly what she did. By franchinsing out, she offers homeowners the opportunity to take advantage of all the research and foot work she’s already done. Toronto is the third location of this store. Because suppliers are already in place, sourcing products becomes that much easier. All trades hired, naturally, are local and the store carries local products as well such as milk paint from The Homestead House.
While green interior products abound in the store and, admittedly, are the most fun to put together, it’s also great that they offer all the options for building a tight building envelope, and all the HVAC systems you could dream of — not to mention the design services that will help you put it all together.
“g” GreenDesign carries many of the finishes I’ve written about before including American Clay, PaperStone, IceStone, Eco by Cosentino, Marmoleum, etc., but it also carries many products I have yet to write about including fabrics, window coverings, bamboo products and lighting. I will be visiting shortly to learn more about these products.
The next time you’re in the Castlefield Design District, drop by and take a look around. Michele will be happy to help you out.
“g” GreenDesign Center is located at 113 Miranda Ave, Toronto, ON, M6B 3W8.
For the most part we rely on third party organizations to determine what is and isn't a "green building material." The only time we might not is when products are locally produced or no third party green designation is available for the product.