Sustainable Architecture Pillar 7: Materials

When it comes to building materials for your new home, there are now more sustainable products to choose from than ever before.

But did you know that you can actually make an even bigger difference for the environment than merely selecting enviro-friendly products?

Sustainable Architecture Pillar 7: Materials

As a society we are more informed and more passionate than ever about the sustainability of the products we consume.

Unfortunately, it seems that the focus for sustainability is often at the point of consumption, or Material Selection.

Material Selection

Focussing on sustainability at the point of selection is important but typically means we have started with a certain type of question:

“Given the options on the market, what type of product should I select ?”

We then use sophisticated models of measuring the total environmental impact of these materials to make our decision. eg:

This question often assumes we need the house we think we need, but just with ‘sustainable’ windows, doors, insulation etc…

As critical as this question is for Sustainable Architecture, it often distracts us from answering an even bigger question that we should be asking …

Material Usage

How much of each product do I actually use?”

This bigger picture question addresses the issue of Material Usage.

When you consider Material Usage, several facets of Design + Build open up where you can directly make tangible, significant environmental contributions:

  1. Use Less. The smaller and more compact a house is, the less material is required.
  2. Use Repetition. Using one material/product over and over again (eg. windows, doors, paints) allows the manufacturer to optimise efficiencies into their manufacturing process.
  3. Use All. Using all of the material you choose by carefully designing for standard building product dimensions means you have less offcuts and less waste.
  4. Use Again. Using Recycled instead of new materials means that the environmental ‘cost’ of manufacturing the new equivalent product is saved
  5. Use Design. Do you really need another room? Or do you just need a better space saving design? Defining the actual problem and addressing it with clever design can make a whole host of materials/products that were to be used, redundant.

Answering this question may result in a house that is completely different (most probably smaller) than what you had in mind, but is one that directly answers your usage needs.

Implementing one or all five of these truly sustainable Material Usage principles into your Design + Build project means that the end result will be better for the environment, regardless of your preferred measure of Material Selection.

Sustainable Architecture: Materials Conclusion

In the context of Sustainable Architecture, our focus on sustainability should begin at the question of Material Usage, rather than at the point of Material Selection.

When you ask questions of Material Usage, there are several facets of Design + Build where you can directly make tangible, significant environmental contributions:

  1. Use Less
  2. Use Repetition
  3. Use All
  4. Use Again
  5. Use Design

Implementing one or all five of these truly sustainable Material Usage principles into your Design + Build project means that the end result will be better for the environment, regardless of your preferred measure of Material Selection.

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