Multilingual sustainable construction glossary

The beginning of this year’s EU Sustainable Energy Week (EUSEW) was marked by the launch conference of the multilingual version of the Common Language ‘sustainable construction glossary’. The multilingual version of this project was formally introduced on 11 April, at the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC), in partnership with the Architects Council of Europe (ACE) and the European Concrete Platform (ECP).

EESC President Staffan Nilsson launched the glossary. The conference was also attended by the director of the ACE, Adrian Joyce and Bernd Wolschner, president of the ECP. Vice President of the EESC Anna Maria Darmanin also participated in the conference, and the event was hosted by EESC TEN Section President Stéphane Buffetaut. There were discussions involving contributions from many experts in the field of sustainable construction, including non-governmental and national representatives, supplemented by senior officials from the European Commission. (more…)

Energy efficiency -a real alternative!

15th International Passive House Conference presents solutions

From the left: Dr. Karl Kienzl, Prof. Wolfgang Feist and Günter Lang during the Press Breakfast in Vienna. Photo: PHI / R. Meister

Darmstadt/Innsbruck/Vienna, 06.04.2011

The answer to the question of which energy is most environmentally acceptable is: less energy. Good energy efficient solutions are characterised by the fact that they provide more comfort and safety besides saving energy. They represent an advantage for users as well as investors and benefit the regional and European economy. In the case of buildings, the Passive House represents such a solution. This year the International Passive House Conference will take place in Austria. Highly efficient approaches for sustainable construction will be presented at the world’s most important and largest convention for energy efficient construction from 27th to 28th May 2011. Participants from all economic and business sectors are invited to join the committed Passive House regions. (more…)

Buyer’s Guide to Green Insulation

On February 4, 2011, in Efficiency, General, PassivHaus, by PM100

Credit to:

Green Insulation

Green Insulation

Insulation comes in a variety of forms. Loose fill is blown into (or sometimes damp-sprayed into) attic rafter spaces and wall cavities. Rigid foam insulation boards are usually put between the interior wall and the house’s siding, and foam is sprayed into wall cavities and used to seal air leaks. Blanket rolls and batts are used in attics and unfinished walls and cavities. Properly installed, loose fill, rolls and batts are all effective at reducing heat loss from conduction and air infiltration.

To narrow the field of possible materials for your project, begin with your climate. The Department of Energy’s website shows estimates of the total R-value (a rating of a material’s resistance to heat flow) that parts of your home should have based on your climate. Also see the Department of Energy’s Insulation Fact Sheet, and GreenHomeGuide’s materials overview on Choosing the Right Insulation.

This summary table provides application tips and pros and cons to help you narrow your decision.

Download Summary Table of Insulation


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Thermal insulation materials

On August 7, 2010, in Efficiency, General, PassivHaus, Tips, by PM100

The thermal insulation of a building can be done in two ways: as static or dynamic insulation. There are even materials that reflect thermal radiation, thereby affecting the heat loss of a building and which should be considered as representative of a particular method of insulation of their own.

Static and dynamic insulation

Passive Solar House Design - InsulationIn static insulation the insulation value of static air is used. The principle requires the use of a porous material with the greatest possible number of air pockets. These have to be so small that no air can move within them.

In dynamic insulation air is drawn through a similar porous insulation material. When the fresh air is led from outside through the surface of the wall, rather than through small ventilation ducts, it picks up heat loss flowing out of the building. Besides achieving a prewarmed fresh-air flow into the building, the heat loss through the surfaces is reduced to a minimum.

The optimal materials for such a wall should have an open structure with pores across the whole width, plus good heat exchange properties. A high thermal capacity is also an advantage, so that sudden changes in the outside temperature are evened out. Dynamic insulation is still being introduced into construction and has been used in only a few buildings.

The technical demands of an insulating material (excluding the reflective layer) are usually as follows:

1. High thermal insulation properties

2. Stability and long life span

3. Fire resistance

4. Lack of odour

5. Low chemical activity

6. Ability to cope with moisture

7. Good thermal exchange properties (for dynamic insulation)

The thermal insulation property for static insulation is usually called lambda ( ) and can be measured with special equipment:

= W/(m°k)

Mineral wool has a lambda value of 0.04, while a woodwool slab has a value of about 0.08. This means that a double thickness piece of woodwool gives the same
insulation value as a single thickness of mineral wool.

Calculating the value of insulation

The example quoted above comparing the thermal insulation of two materials is the traditional method of calculation, making the assumption that there is a linear relationship between the lambda value and insulation/heat loss. There are limitations to the lambda values. They give no indication of the material’s structure, moisture properties or reaction to draughts (which every wall has to a certain extent). It takes no notice of the material’s thermal capacity. In buildings that are permanently heated, as in hospitals for example, there is a great energy-saving potential and improved comfort    if materials with high thermal capacity are used. The same is true for buildings where there can be wide and rapid changes in the inside temperature, for example, when opening the windows. The thermal insulation value of a material is reduced when damp. In frozen materials the ice conducts warmth three to four times better than water. This is important if using hygroscopic materials. Even if such materials seldom freeze, a lower insulation value is assumed during spring because of the higher moisture content.

Age can also affect insulation value. Certain products have shown a tendency to compress through the absorption of moisture and/or under their own weight, while others have shrunk  (mainly foam plastics). The thickness of the layers of insulation needs to be appropriate for the local climate. Too much insulation can cause low temperatures and thereby hinder drying in the outer layers, which can lead to fungus developing in the insulation or adjoining  materials. Insulation materials are sold either as loose fill, solid boards or thick matting. The latter two can result in a damaged layer of insulation, because temperature or moisture content changes can cause dimensional changes. This is especially the case with solid boards, which need to be mounted as an unbroken surface on the structure and not within it. Loose fill insulation is good for filling all the spaces around the structure, but it can settle after a time. The critical factors are the weight and moisture content of the insulation. The disadvantages of hygroscopic materials become apparent here because they take up more moisture and become heavier. Settling can be compensated for by using elastic materials which have a certain ‘suspension’ combined with adequate compression. Structures with hygroscopic loose fill as insulation need topping up during the building’s life span.
Thermal insulation materials usually occupy large volumes, but they are light and seldom take up more than about 2 per cent of the building’s total weight. Many insulation materials do, however, have a high primary energy use and use of material resources, and produce serious environmental pollution during manufacture, and use, and even as waste. The waste must often be specially treated. Only in exceptional circumstances is it possible to recycle or re-use insulation materials.

Credit to: “The Ecology of Building Materials” by Bjorn Berge

Translated from Norwegian by Filip Henley With Howard Liddell

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Green Building Resources

On November 14, 2009, in Efficiency, General, PassivHaus, Sustainability, Tips, by PM100

What Makes a Product Green?

Green building is as much about design strategy as about selecting green materials.

It is important to carefully compare the characteristics of different products. The choices you make will be the result of these comparisons and often priorities differ depending on the specific environmental issues in your community. For example, in one place the most pressing concern might be overflowing landfills while in another it could be contaminated stormwater runoff. For children and some individuals, limiting exposure to toxic chemicals in the home is a major priority. Understanding these differing priorities is key in determining what green material is right for your project

Because each project is different and each person’s reasons for building green are different, priorities need to be set when selecting specific products.

Integrated design – thinking about how a building works as a system and designing that system to be environmentally-friendly – is a key part of green building. Certain products, particularly those that deal with energy, are not inherently green but can used in ways that enhance the environmental performance of a building. For example, a dual-pane, low-E window may not be green in terms of its material components or manufacturing process, but if used strategically it can reduce energy use by maximizing the collection of winter sunlight and blocking out the summer sun. Some design considerations that will help you choose the right materials include building orientation, use patterns, durability, and local availability.

There is no perfect green material. Trade offs are inevitable!

Building materials have multiple impacts on the environment, both positive and negative. One common way to assess these impacts is through Life Cycle Assessment (LCA), which considers the full range of a product’s environmental impacts, from resource extraction to manufacture and then through installation and ultimate disposal. This type of analysis allows for comprehensive and multidimensional product comparisons. With flooring for example, LCA weighs the resource-extraction impacts and durability of hardwoods with the manufacturing impacts, emissions during use and potential recyclability of carpet.

Defining whether a building material is “green” is not an exact science. But there is still a role for objective analysis and testing.

Most of the materials Global Green has experience with are included in GreenSpec, a database of approximately 2000 environmentally-friendly building products published by the Environmental Building News. GreenSpec screens its products based on standards and testing procedures established by third-party groups with an interest in green building. This scientific analysis helps to separate green products from “greenwashed” products.

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Green Building Materials

On October 25, 2009, in General, by PM100

When most people think of building in a way that’s better for the environment, they think of a house that’s more expensive than the average home.

Solar panels and better insulation make for higher costs during building, even though they pay off in the long term. But if you want a house that’s truly green, there are ways to build even more cheaply than you would if you were building a traditional house.

Use Natural and Recycled Materials

For a truly green home, consider using natural, local or recycled materials as the main ingredient in your building. Earth and straw are building materials that have been used in homes for thousands of years. They are cheap and readily available locally almost anywhere. If you use earth as your construction material, it should be composed of approximately 70 percent sand and 30 percent clay; most of the dirt in most parts of the world is appropriate for building. There are many different methods of constructing with earth. Cob is a simple, labor-intensive method of building with earth: simply mix the earth with straw and water and then take handfuls of the mixture and pile them on top of each other by hand to create your structure. Building with adobe is similar; you mix the earth with water and then form it into bricks which you can stack to create a building. Rammed earth uses the s ame mixture of clay and water, but instead of piling or stacking, you compress or tamp the earth into place. In modern buildings, rammed earth is made with machines. All earth buildings are very durable; if constructed properly, they can last for thousands of years. They can also easily be built to be highly energy efficient since earth has such a high thermal mass.

Straw bale is another cheap natural material that can form the basic construction material for a natural, green home. In this method, bales of straw form the bulk of the walls inside a standard wood frame. This creates excellent insulation and is quick and easy to construct. However, the straw needs to be plastered over to prevent moisture or pests from getting into it, and because this is a specialized skill, it can be expensive to have a straw bale house finished.

You can also build a house out of recycled materials. Michael Reynolds of Earthship Biotecture invented the concept of “earthships,” which are houses built out of used tires and aluminum cans on wood frames.

When choosing materials for your green home construction, look for something that is locally available. This will make your cost of materials cheaper as well as more ecologically sustainable.

Do the Work Yourself

Many ecologically sustainable constructions are more labor-intensive than they are skill-intensive. Even for a house that requires special skills, such as a straw bale house, you can save money by doing much of the labor yourself. By acting as general contractor for your home, you can not only save money, you can also be truly involved in a hands-on way in the planning and design of your home. Traditional cob building, for example, involves mixing the earth and straw with bare feet and then piling the cobs by hand. This might sound like a tedious process, but when done together with a group of friends or family who all participate in the design of the home as well as its construction, it can be a fun and exciting project.

Build for Efficiency and Sustainability

As you are designing your green home, plan to save money in the long-term as well as in the immediate construction costs. With sufficient thermal mass and insulation, you can design for passive solar heating and cooling, which will mean that your home will stay the same temperature year-round without needing electricity or air conditioning. You can also save on utility costs by including features such as a root cellar for storing food without refrigeration and a gray water recycling system to reuse water for multiple purposes. Consider the long-term durability of your construction; by building with durable materials, you will save money on maintenance over time.

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