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Modern Eco Friendly Developments In The Building World

By Kevin Cain

Nearly everybody has heard about eco-friendly building, but what really lies behind all the hype and talk of carbon neutral homes, alternative energy sources and those peculiar and unfamiliar building techniques? Admittedly there is an urgent need to address the great challenges currently in front of us. Namely, climate change, resource depletion, and pollution. These issues not surprisingly are refusing to go away, and all of them have strong links with the building industry.

The estimated time limit from scientists and the oil industry is that we are going to reach peak oil production by 2040 and that we might have even achieved that unwittingly. Demand is still soaring, whilst production wanes.The building industry is reliant on oil, from the manufacture and transportation of materials, to machinery and tools used in construction. How the building is constructed also has a direct implication on soil, water pollution, and of course waste.

Reducing Energy Consumption - with the inevitability of declining fossil fuels, and the ever present cloud of climate change looming above, reducing our energy consumption is now essential for the survival of the planet.Choosing to build green is not just energy efficient it is essential. Green products have been made using little energy consumption, with a direct correlation on carbon emissions. Eco design methodology can further reduce energy consumption by minimising energy inputs for heating, cooling and light, and incorporating energy efficient appliances.

For the householder saving energy = saving money, an issue close to all our hearts especially as utility bills will only increase as the cost of fossil fuels increase.

Building Healthier Homes - constructing eco-friendly buildings creates a better outdoor environment and will also create a better indoor living environment. Old and conventional building materials have been linked with many health issues.

Chemicals from paint, solvents, plastics, asbestos, composite timbers, and biological pollutants such as dust mites and mould can bring all sorts of symptoms such as: asthma, headaches, depression, eczema, palpitations and chronic fatigue syndrome.

Green building can help to lessen and even eliminate these problems through proper ventilation design, breathable walls and the wide use of natural, non toxic materials.

There Is No Alternative - green building not only makes sense for cost and health, it is also a choice that has no real alternative. The construction industry must adopt eco-friendly and green practices that reduce its impact on the world, before we reach a point of no return and irreversible damage to the world’s life supporting systems.

Around the globe many governments have now realised that this emergency is here now and has to be addressed as a matter of utmost urgency. Countries that have signed up to this charter are committed to integrating green specifications into building regulations and codes of practice, but change is slow and many of the less affluent countries are refusing to adopt new eco-friendly policies because of the cost.

The building industry as a whole also needs to take the lead and implement initiatives that leave construction companies with no alternative. Forcing the use of green products and alternative ways to build, using eco-friendly, renewable energy resources, and adopt non-polluting practices and materials that reduce, recycle and reuse, before it is all too late.

Looking Back In Time May Be The Answer - looking at how we built buildings in the past may hold the key to some of the answers that we search for. Materials used in past centuries were all natural, products that were either growing i.e trees, or were lying about such as rock and stone.One such product was Lime, and it has been used in building techniques for over 5,000 years, as a material it is resilient, durable and water resistant.

The Romans were fine exponents of using Lime in their building techniques. And over the years it was refined and used in mortars and plasters, which was the principal surface finish for all buildings until cement took its place.Lime, gypsum and clay are used today in the constructions of straw bale houses or earth ships, where these natural materials seal the straw thus creating a strong, solid, yet breathable wall.Lime in its raw state is anti-bacterial, resistant to ultra-violet light and will allow moisture to release from surfaces from the inside out, rather than trapping moisture as several modern coatings do.

Building houses with dirt is as old as mankind, and Cob building goes back millenniums. The original material for Cob was soil (clay) mixed with water and straw, sometimes with crushed flint or sand. The Cob was mixed together, and after it was ladled onto a stone foundation. Openings were left for doors and windows, where wooden or stone lintels were added after.

Insulate Well - insulation is a key element of sustainable building design. A well insulated home reduces energy bills by keeping cool in the summer and warm in the winter. This in turn cuts down carbon emissions linked to global climate change.

Don’t skimp on investing on eco-friendly and high quality insulation for your home. The materials will prove to be far less costly than fancy H-VAC systems and far more sustainable.

Old materials such as stone, cob and adobe cannot be insulated, but they don’t have to be as they have good thermal mass to compensate. The green alternative to synthetic insulation is natural insulation, and there are many types, including: Sheep’s Wool, Flax and Hemp, Wood Fibre, Clay Aggregate, and others. Unfortunately, natural insulation materials are currently far more expensive than modern ones, which can prove to be prohibitive to building developers. But if the market demands such eco-friendly homes then of course builders will oblige.

Many of these issues are actually all down to us, the consumer. If you really want to make a change for the better and improve our world then you must demand that green is your colour. The temptation of a modern consumer world is to buy as cheap as it can regardless of the quality, this mindset needs to be eradicated if we are ever going to stop climate change and to start looking at alternative and sustainable power and materials.