Material efficiency

Concrete and masonry can offer material efficiency at each stage of development, providing varied opportunities to do more with less. Concrete is often seen as ubiquitous and low cost and so its use may not be considered as carefully as other materials that are scarce or expensive. Consequently, guidance from The Concrete Centre, Material Efficiency, aims to increase awareness of the potential that concrete and masonry construction offer designers to provide material-efficient design solutions.

The summary below is extracted from The Concrete Centre guide.

Resource-efficient manufacture

  • Concrete contains recycled materials and by-products from other industries that reduce the amount of virgin materials required.
  • The concrete industry is a net user of waste. 210 times more waste is consumed during the manufacture of concrete and its constituent materials than the industry sends to landfill.
  • Concrete is manufactured using efficient, low-waste processes.
  • Manufacturers offer schemes to reduce waste on-site by offering take-back of surplus products.

Designing for material efficiency in use

  • A range of design solutions in concrete enable designers to improve material efficiency. e.g. post-tensioned concrete or void formers.
  • Exposed soffits and fair-faced concrete reduce the need for internal finishes, whilst optimising the benefits of thermal mass.
  • Over the life of the building, exposing the surface of structural concrete reduces the resources associated with the replacement and maintenance of less robust finishes.
  • The concrete industry has developed generic environmental product declarations (EPDs) for use in building information models (BIM).

Designing for longevity

  • Durable materials such as concrete and masonry can extend the serviceable life of a building/structure. Designing for long-life is the most efficient investment in resources.
  • The long life of a building product is unlikely if it is reliant on regular maintenance. The structural integrity of concrete and masonry is, in effect, resilient to lack of maintenance.
  • Considering a building’s performance in future climate change conditions is an essential part of designing for longevity. Concrete and masonry products can be used to provide resilience to overheating, flooding and strong wind, i.e. the extreme weather events predicted to become more frequent.

Designing for reuse

  • The long service life and robustness of concrete facilitate the reuse of existing concrete frames, extending a building’s life still further.
  • Designers can use space planning and strategies for adaptation, to extend the life of a structure by planning for future change of use.
  • Re-mountable and reusable concrete elements are common place in the form of paving, beams, fencing etc.

Designing for material recovery

  • At end of life, concrete is 100% recyclable.
  • Demolished concrete can be relatively simply segregated and crushed for reuse as a cost-effective material for hard core, fill or in landscaping or used as recycled aggregate in new concrete.

Concrete Futures magazine