Products of the times
Technology is really stepping up to the plate in the drive to make homes more sustainable - from the foundations up to the roof. Kevin Stanley takes us on a tour of cutting-edge products, available in the UK right now, that do their bit to mitigate climate changeSustainability is not just about architects and builders designing and building houses and offices that are powered by renewable energy and insulated to the highest levels. Sustainability is about everybody. Whether or not we are taking responsibility for it, we all have a part to play in shaping the future of our planet.
Here we take a look at tomorrow's products and cutting-edge technologies - from the foundations to the roof - all of which are available from UK manufacturers and distributors right now.
Over the past decade, increased urbanisation and climate change has resulted in our sewers not being able to cope with the volume of water. Surface water runoff is forced into over-burdened drains, instead of being allowed to naturally infiltrate into the ground. This has caused widespread flooding. Rainwater harvesting allows for the collection of greywater for use in the garden or for flushing toilets. But it also helps to prevent flooding by releasing water back into the ground in a controlled manner.
Rainwater harvesting is something that every builder should consider - water prices are expected to continue rising. Reports in the media suggest the impact of limited water supplies, and the resulting price hikes, could have an even greater effect on consumers than fuel price rises. The Code for Sustainable Homes also has requirements for builders to reduce household consumption of mains water.
Gerry Quinn, product manager for Entec's Envireau, says: "To achieve ratings at the higher end of the code, developers and builders will need to look to sources other than mains water in order to reduce consumption per person down from an average of 160 litres a day to 80 litres.
"Rainwater harvesting is an ideal solution, since rainwater can be safely used for a variety of non-potable purposes in and around a home or business, including flushing toilets, running washing machines and cleaning vehicles and equipment. Harvesting systems are relatively easy to install and can reduce mains water consumption by more than a third. They are ideal for new-build properties, as the cost of plumbing is usually negligible."
Moving above ground to the damp course, EcoMembrane is a damp-proof membrane from Visqueen Building Products that not only prevents water penetrating into homes but also helps to divert waste from landfill, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and conserve valuable resources. It is produced from 100% recycled post-use waste and reuses low-density polythene found in the packaging used by the construction and other industries, and from plastic carrier bags. Aside from preventing landfill, this is significant because every tonne of reprocessed polythene used in the creation of EcoMembrane means a saving of 1.4 tonnes in CO2 compared with using virgin material. It also cuts the production of sulphur dioxide by a third, reduces nitrous oxide emissions by half, delivers a 90% reduction in water consumption and saves 1.8 tonnes of crude oil.
Guy Coates, marketing director of BPI Recycled Products, says: "At a time when many would have us believe that polythene is bad for the environment, EcoMembrane is evidence that it can actually be used responsibly and be part of the solution as opposed to part of the problem."
Inside the walls, cavity insulation is a good way to significantly reduce the amount of energy needed to heat a home. Installing insulation into cavity walls significantly improves energy efficiency, and in turns reduces impact on the environment.
David Hope, managing director of SIG Construction Accessories, says: "About a third of all heat lost in an uninsulated home is through the walls. Therefore if you do have cavity walls, insulating them will make a great difference - potentially saving you about £90 a year on your fuel bills.
"It will also help to prevent condensation on the walls and ceilings, and can also reduce the amount of heat building up inside your home during the summer months.
"Between 2002 and 2005 about 800,000 households installed cavity-wall insulation. It is estimated this has saved nearly 400,000 tonnes of CO2 - enough to fill the new Wembley Stadium 47 times over."
Alex Cairns of Knauf Insulation says: "In a typical home, more than half of the heat generated internally is lost through the walls and roof. Insulating these two areas is the most efficient way of reducing energy costs.
"We have recently launched a revolutionary new mineral wool, with reduced embodied energy and superior environmental sustainability, maximising the benefits of its patented ECOSE Technology.
"It's the insulation product of the future - a natural, formaldehyde-free binder made from rapidly renewable organic materials, instead of petroleum-based chemicals."
An effective sustainable building product that can contribute to reducing a building's carbon emissions is Eviee's phase-change material. This is a form of modern construction material that incorporates aluminium-laminated panels, which are designed to provide additional thermal mass to buildings.
This technology is capable of adapting the temperature of a room by as much as 7°C and can therefore significantly reduce energy costs and CO2 emissions.
Paul Roche, managing director of Eviee, says: "The process works due to the layering of wax within the aluminium panels that melts and solidifies at around 22°C and 18°C respectively. As the compound melts, heat is absorbed from a room and as it re-solidifies it releases heat back into the room. With the government looking to substantially reduce CO2 emissions from buildings, this product represents an advanced and functional solution that can be deployed to reduce the need for costly heating and air conditioning."
Timber has always been regarded as a robust, natural and sustainable product. But due to forests all over the world having been poorly managed, to say the least, it is now only timber certified under the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) badge that can claim to be sustainable.
Beck Woodrow, a technical advisor of the FSC UK working group, says: "FSC timber can be used for absolutely anything - from the most basic softwood construction timber and sheathing plywood, to exotic tropical hardwood decking and cladding.
"It can also be used for manufactured products such as timber windows, which meet the highest PassivHaus standards, fire doors, glulam timber beams and composite joists."
But why should housebuilders use it though? Woodrow says: "We wouldn't want our new homes to cause the misery that comes from illegal logging and forest clearance.
"Since it's impossible to identify illegally logged timber once it's been exported, the sensible thing to do is to insist on timber that has been independently certified and tracked from forest to building site. Sustainable building here is meaningless if it doesn't support the future of its timber sources."
For contractors and developers looking to distinguish themselves from the competition in a time of a depressed market, the use of FSC timber could be a good move.
Woodrow says: "When building projects are covered by FSC certification, there is the benefit of the use of the FSC name and logo to promote your sound environmental practice to tenants, housebuyers and shareholders."
Finally, looking at roofing, BritLock, from Sandtoft, is a lightweight, fully interlocking slate with a thin leading edge made from 80% recycled slate waste sourced from UK quarries. BritLock has a riven surface with dressed edges and a matt finish.
It weathers like natural slate and can be laid at pitches as low as 17.5°, making it ideal for town houses, apartment blocks and, in particular, monopitch roof extensions.
Nick Oldridge of Sandtoft says: "When it comes to choosing building materials, the key environmental factor is the amount of CO2 generated in the manufacturing, supply and installation processes.
"To significantly reduce the amount of CO2 attributed to a durable roof, the specifier needs reassurance that there is a genuine commitment to climate change issues.
"All of our production facilities now use electricity generated from green sources such as wind farms and hydroelectric plants. This has cut our total annual CO2 emissions by 25%."