By Scott Kriner, Green Metal Consulting
Several green building rating programs, including LEED and Green Globes, have begun moving away from materials and items that have single attributes. In their place, a more holistic approach to aspects of green buildings with multiple attributes is in vogue. In earlier LEED programs, for example, some of us remember the confusion over points based on whether the extraction, harvest, recovery and manufacturing took place within 500 miles from the project site. Complying with Material credits often focused on the amount of pre-consumer or post-consumer recycled content. Using a roof for rainwater recovery was another example that within a few new versions of LEED was incorporated into impacts on the building.
The current LEEDv4 program is focusing on the quality of the indoor environment, since we spend 90% of our time inside a home or a car. Now, instead of materialistic assessment, LEED is awarding designers for better daylighting for occupants, better ventilation, thermal comfort, maintaining a connection to nature, and reducing or eliminating VOCs in the interior air. Terms like “wellness” and “air quality” have replaced “pre-consumer- recycled content”.
What is ironic in this shift away from the impact from materials is the fact that scientists and material engineers around the world are changing materials and how they perform. In some cases the new or modified materials are better for the indoor environment, or are lighter in weight but higher in strength.
Designers and Architects are familiar with the traditional established materials such as steel, concrete, wood and polymers. Designers are aware of the structural properties of those materials that have been used for decades. As more of these science fiction materials are being announced in universities and laboratories the architectural community will need new educational courses on today’s and tomorrow’s materials and how we may be constructing buildings in the future.
According to the July issue of the ENR magazine, Material ConneXion is an international library with thousands of material samples on file, with over 40 new materials being added every month. At the 2016 METALCON Expo and Conference in Baltimore, a 3-D printed small home was on display. Yes, you read this correctly. The DOE’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory and a large team of industry representatives successfully developed a way to “build” a house using 3D printing technology. 3D printing has positive implications in the medical, transportation, energy and building industries. Announcements on new items that have been created with 3D printing seem to be released monthly from around the world. The ORNL house should have given pause to those in the building construction industry as to what the future holds for residential and commercial building materials and techniques.
Another recent issue of ENR magazine featured an article titled “Tomorrow’s Materials”. The story highlights a variety of materials that will likely be used in mainline construction in the not- too- distant future. In some examples sustainability concerns are driving the change. How about “bioBricks” that are made in Italy using parts of a hemp plant and a natural lime binder? Or a structural sheet material made from a specific fungus and agricultural waste. The material is similar to fiberboard. Or transparent wood, as developed in Sweden, but similar research is being done at the University of Maryland. Or how about a concrete mix that can use up to 25% recycled glass without compromising strength. Or what about a liquid light switch that bridges the gap between light and electricity.
When learning about these futuristic materials and how they are made, it is no wonder to read about the brilliant Material Engineers and Scientists that come with the titles such as “Director of the Center for Bio-mediated and Bio-inspired Geotechnics, who has received a multi-million grant from the National Science Foundation.(true fact) Those folks make me proud to have a Master’s degree in Metallurgy and Material Science. That qualifies me for fetching the coffee for these impressive men and women who are changing the face of building construction!