These days, the construction market is becoming saturated with various green materials, with many also promising greater efficiency and cost cutting over time. But with so much out there, which ones actually provide the most energy efficiency? This article will present you with the top five energy efficient materials available today.
Insulating Concrete Forms
Insulating Concrete Forms or ICF’s are large insulated panels that have concrete poured between them, creating a thick sandwich of insulation. They are used for both residential and commercial applications. Once the concrete is poured and sets, the resulting structure of two panels with concrete between remains permanent and can be used as a freestanding wall or as the basis of an entire structure. One side ends up being the interior of the building, and the other is the exterior, with corresponding finishes applied directly to the panels.
According to PCA - America’s Cement Manufacturers, “a major appeal of ICFs is the potential for reducing energy to heat and cool the building. Some estimates place the savings at 20 percent or more.” They add that “The walls can often have high air tightness 10 to 30 percent better than frame-with compatible windows, doors, and roof.”
Structural Insulated Panels
Unlike ICF’s which use concrete as the filling material between panels, SIP’s use a special type of insulating foam. This means that they are completely factory made (whereas the concrete for ICF’s is poured on site), can be precision cut for almost any type of structure, and are much thinner than Insulating Concrete Forms.
While both models are sought after due to their energy efficiency, SIP’s also have the potential to save you more money - since they are factory made, on-site labor costs are reduced.
Rammed earth is an ancient building method that is gaining popularity once again not only because of its sustainability, but also because of its unique aesthetic. As the name suggests, rammed earth is earth that is rammed very densely between wooden panels, which are then removed, revealing the layered earth. Generally, a clay-rich earth is used and is combined with water, small amounts of cement, and other aggregates for strength and durability. Because earth is, of course, abundant, this is a very sustainable material and very little energy is used in its on-site construction.
In terms of energy efficient materials, rammed earth is a material with a very high thermal mass, meaning that it naturally regulates the heat and cold. According to Your Home, the Australian government’s guide to environmentally sustainable homes, “Used correctly, and in the right climate, the thermal mass of rammed earth can delay heat flow through the building envelope by as much as 10 to 12 hours and can even out daily temperature variations.”
Recycled steel is a material whose energy efficiency is greatest during the construction phase, rather than being energy efficient from a consumer’s standpoint. For builders, though, the difference can be big. Firstly, while it takes several dozen trees to build an average home, when recycled steel is used, the same sized home can be built using the steel from just a handful of scrap cars. And the energy expelled to make recycled steel framing (known as secondary production) rather than unrecycled iron ore (primary production) is significantly less. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, "secondary steel production uses about 74% less energy than the production of steel from iron ore."
Low-E, which stands for low emissivity, and also known as “high performance” windows, have become an extremely popular product as they can greatly reduce energy costs. The windows are coated with metal oxide which is excellent for light reflection. The windows are designed to reflect light back into a room in winter, and to reflect light outwards in the hot summer months. And according to window manufacturer Pella, Low-E glass also "blocks most of the sun’s harmful UV rays, helping to prevent your carpet, furniture and window treatments from fading."
These five materials are top examples of energy efficient materials available today. Incorporating even one of them in your next project is sure to yield lower expenditures and increased revenue, not to mention it's eco-friendly value.