Technical Focus: Sustainable building in America
As environmental concerns such as pollution and global warming continue to rise, the need for sustainable and renewable building practices has become even more pressing.
Sustainable building is a design philosophy that focuses on minimizing the negative impact the construction process can have on the environment by not only reducing waste, but also through increasing the comfort, safety and productivity of a structure’s lifecycle through better material selection, design and engineering. Sustainable building design is often summarized as the practice of creating a balance between people, planet and pocketbook, commonly referred to as the “3 Ps.” As environmental concerns such as biodiversity, pollution, waste management and global warming continue to rise, the need for sustainable and renewable building practices has become even more pressing.
Thanks to the effects that these evolving sustainability practices are having on modern construction, advancements are being made in the tile and flooring industries, which alter the way buildings have been constructed for years. New technology — in the form of floor warming, membranes and dust containment — is being created to shift how consumers interact with sustainable buildings from the planning phase, all the way through final completion and beyond.
While floor warming may seem like an added expense on the front-end of a building or renovation project, the addition of an in-floor radiant heating system provides the user a cost-saving advantage over the life of the building. Although the addition of floor heat adds an expense up front, the floors will pay for themselves over time through their efficiencies, especially in climates which regularly experience cooler temperatures, as these systems provide consistent, energy-efficient warmth.
Through a series of wires, electric radiant floor heating systems transmit heat through thermal radiation that is absorbed by surrounding objects, which in hand helps warm the entire room, significantly lowering kilowatt usage and reducing energy costs. Some companies even claim to provide a 15% decrease in energy costs via thermal diffusion technology methods, which eliminate cold spots through even heat distribution.
In addition to standard programmable thermostats, Wi-Fi-enabled thermostats have become an optimal choice for operating electric radiant heat flooring systems in green and sustainable spaces. Having the ability to utilize various handheld and home-based smart devices and applications such as Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa, Wi-Fi thermostats are able to learn a homeowner’s routine and apply the most efficient settings to the system based on actual usage. Not only do these technological advancements change the entire landscape of how users operate their devices, but some companies claim they can even reduce heating energy usage up to 25%.
New technological advancements in the form of flooring membranes and installation materials continue to trend toward serving more than one function as well, and increasingly aim to fulfill a variety of aspects needed in green and sustainable buildings. For example, three-in-one solutions, which serve as not only the adhesive, but also as the sound control and crack isolation layers, eliminate the need for sound and anti-fracture mats or membranes, which have commonly been used in the flooring industry up to this point. Versatile three-in-one installation products like these save construction professionals money on storage, freight, logistics and labor, in addition to less energy and manufacturing waste in the form of raw materials during production, which successfully trickles down to contributing to a more sustainable cleaner environment, and greatly reduces installation times onsite.
Current multipurpose installation and membrane products are also increasingly being produced from post-consumer recycled materials, which emit lower volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and can help contribute to LEED points. Additionally, many new membrane products are formulated to meet or exceed regulatory requirements and are often supported by Health Product Declarations (HPDs), Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) and UL Greenguard® Certifications.
Respirable silica is the dust created by cutting, grinding, drilling or otherwise disturbing materials that contain crystalline silica particles. These dust particles are very small and can cause lung disease and even lung cancer due to repeated exposure.
In addition to proactively taking health and safety concerns seriously, the entire construction industry is working to create a more sustainable future by producing more sand-free silica products and monitoring compliance in existing products to contain low amounts of silica sand. Manufacturing companies are also doing their part to ensure jobsite safety by proactively seeking independent analysis on their products so these findings can be accurately reported to the people who use them in regards to containing silica, in addition to encouraging installers that they make sure to properly clean off the silica dust residue, which is inherent on cementitious product packaging. When buying and using products, installers and contractors should always carefully check the labels to see if the products contain silica. If silica is listed, they should refer to the product’s Safety Data Sheet (SDS) for more information, and as always, wear proper personal protective equipment (PPE). Even if the products being used are not a risk factor, exposure can happen onsite if the silica was present elsewhere.
Aside from developing products that contain low or no amounts of sand, manufacturers are providing delivery methods that help contribute to safer dust-contained building environments via pumping technology. When utilizing pump technology, cement products are blended completely outside of the building in mobile mixing trucks or stations, which then pump the mixed material into the building through a hose, thus eliminating any onsite mixing, which can contaminate the air.
Considerations for the future
Floor warming, membranes and dust containment product developments are increasingly important as the world continues to seek building materials that contribute to green sustainable environments. The construction industry’s focus on sustainability shows no signs of stopping any time soon, and therefore, the tile and flooring industries will continue to produce innovative multifunctional products that focus on the environment, health, efficiency, ease of install, and most importantly, promote the green and sustainable building movement.