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Up the green wall

If you’re building your home from the ground up, you can boost your eco credentials by using energy-efficient building materials.

Many discuss energy efficiency at home as an investment. And indeed it is. First of all, you will recover your initial financial outlay through savings on your utility bills. And secondly, society benefits from the use and waste of less energy resources.

The basics of energy efficiency at home are simple: you need to consume less energy and ideally generate energy from alternative sources such as sun and wind.

However, energy efficiency at home goes beyond the installation of photovoltaic panels and solar water heaters, changing all light bulbs and home appliances to more energy-efficient models, and adopting energy-saving strategies. Of course, these are all good incentives. However, if you are building a new home or remodelling an existing structure, then it pays to also use energy-efficient building materials.

There is a huge variety of energy-efficient building materials, including some which we might never have thought of. For instance, last year, students at the Nottingham Trend University’s School of Art and Design, UK, started investigating ways how to process waste paper in its dry state and create a composite which could be as strong as medium density fibreboard. This material is suitable for interior use such as partitions. The added advantage is that the interior grade version of this material can also be recycled back to shredded paper.

The construction industry is also considering other materials such as hemp and straw. These natural crop materials are good insulators and were typically used in the past for thatching roofs and insulating walls. However, applying modern building techniques ensures that such materials acquire added structural strength. In fact, the Marks & Spencer store in Cheshire Oaks, UK, was built using hemp and lime wall panels.

Another natural material is bamboo plywood. Natural, non-toxic and renewable, bamboo plywood can be used as wall coverings, flooring and other interior items. The added benefit is that the material is easy to work with and comes from sustainable sources.

While such materials might not be widely available yet, others are. Insulating concrete forms, for instance, are gaining in popularity. Used in freestanding walls and building blocks, concrete forms are sandwiched between two layers of insulation material. Apart from being structurally sound and durable, insulating concrete forms are also energy-efficient. A 2010 study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology showed how buildings made from insulated concrete forms achieved 20 per cent savings on energy consumed. Insulating concrete forms also discourage the formation of mold and mildew.

Insulation at home is key to energy efficiency. Insulation keeps your home warm or cool, depending on the season. This means that for optimal insulation, you have to limit penetrations in your home’s walls and ceilings, which cause significant air leakage. To seal penetrations, you can use spray foam insulation, which is also water and shrink proof. This simple solution works by trapping more conditioned air, which allows for less leakage of hot or cool air. This translates into lower energy used for cooling and heating your home.

If using steel elements, you can opt for recycled steel. This material is widely available, especially since it is calculated that two out of three tons of new steel is recycled from old steel. Recycled steel uses less energy to produce than new steel and is structurally strong and durable.

With a wide choice of energy-efficient building materials, you can build your home in a shade of green that never fades.

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