Why is Concrete a Sustainable Building Material?
By Diana Smith
Concrete is one of the cornerstones of civilization. Once you consider the widespread use of this building material, you realize how vital it is to our daily lives. We use it to build houses, residential buildings, schools, companies, bridges, sewerage, pavements, etc., for a very simple reason – it is an extremely flexible, durable and easy to produce building material. It is healthy, it cleans easily, it does not burn or soak, and it is, in one word, sustainable in every way. As far as all the attributes go, it is crucial to discuss why is concrete a sustainable building material.
Resource efficiency is one of the most important aspects of any sustainable building material. The predominant material and the main “ingredient” for concrete (we are talking about cement) is limestone. The greatest advantage of limestone is that it is the most abundant mineral on earth. Additionally, you can make concrete out of materials that are waste byproducts from manufacturing facilities such as power plants and steel mills. This ties in directly with the ecological aspect of concrete. Furthermore, concrete industry is looking at various methods to reduce CO2 emissions, and using substitute material in the mix such as fly ash and granulated blast furnace flag is making a marked difference. In general, through switching from coal to gas, the cement industry has reduced CO2 emissions by whopping 55% in the last quarter of the century.
Concrete has an inherent thermal mass or, in other words, an ability to absorb and retain heat. This means residential buildings built with concrete walls, floors and solid foundation are more energy efficient than other counterparts. Therefore, residents who live in apartment buildings made of concrete will have noticeably lower bills at the end of the month. Contrary to the popular belief, concrete also minimizes the effects of heat. In fact, if the concrete surface is painted a lighter color, it will reflect more solar radiation, unlike asphalt.
Concrete cannot burn, rot or rust. It builds durable buildings that last for a long time. If carefully tended, these buildings can last for literally centuries. This is why, when the time comes for renovation or retooling of the building, it is stripped back to the concrete skeleton, which is seen as a cornerstone of the building from which you begin to rebuild. It is impervious to water which means it will not soak it up or leak it through. This is why it has found such a widespread utility for general building projects. This means waste is minimal when it comes to concrete – you can “recycle” it in several ways. It can be reused or crushed and literally recycled to be used for concrete pavements, as road backfill, etc.
Concrete is used to build buildings, both big and small. However, its utility does not only stop there. Due to its resistance to elements, it is also used to build sewage, bridges, dams, tunnels, pavement system, runways and roads – the very veins of modern civilization. It is a very flexible material that can be used for various purposes. The key feature of concrete lies in its malleability while it is in a liquid state. You can use an impressive array of versatile concrete tools to cut it and put it in any shape you could possibly like.
Concrete is such a ubiquitous civilizational element, we tend to forget it is all around us – in our walls, beneath our feet, across the street. This is truly a testament to its utility and. It literally has no parallel among building materials, not to mention the fact it also has immense environmental benefits. They are the undisputed bare bones of every energy efficient building due to its strength, quality, durability and excellent thermal mass. Therefore, concrete is likely to continue playing a crucial role in our future as well.