Many Sustainably Approaches direct the design back to a more low-tech approach, however technology also has a role to play e.g. Low E Glazing: has an insulating coating that keep heat indoors and permits the construction of large openings that wash interiors with light and so reduce dependence on artificial sources.
Properly sourced from approved sustainably managed plantations, and in slid rather than composite form, wood is a good green material. It doesn’t require much in the way of processing and it derives from a living renewable source.
Softwoods: require protection from fire, moisture and pests, which is generally delivered in the form of chemical treatment. Eco finishing treatments include borax, which is used as a wood preservative, natural waxes, oils and stains.
In construction, new manufactured wood products, such as parallam and glulam – piles of wood glued and laminated under high pressure to produce structural member capable of spanning great distances – are increasingly a preferred eco option.
When designing with wood, as a designer you must consider where the wood was sourced from e.g. recycled or sustainably managed plantations.
Is a woody grass that rather than a true tree, it is incredibly fast growing and fast spreading, achieving a height of 1.5m within months and full maturity at five to six years.
Its cultivation requires little human intervention and it does not require fertilization or the application of pesticides.
Bamboo improves poor soil, cuts down carbon dioxide emissions and is fully renewable.
Distributed from China & Indonesia.
The associated transport costs mean that in this sense bamboo is high in terms of embodied energy, but its other credentials weigh heavily in the balance.
Strands or strips of bamboo fibre can be laminated into boards, planks, panels, veneers, textiles and papers.
Mature bamboo is harder than maple or oak.
It is available in vertical grain, flat grain and a mixture of the two, which increases its strength, hardness and stability.
Applications: flooring (can be nailed or glued into place), paneling, cladding, counters & worktops.
It comes from a harvestable renewable resource, the bark os the evergreen cork oak (Quercus suber) in Portugal.
The cork used to make tiles, sheets, and other formats for interior surfaces is actually the waste product of the cork harvested to make bottle stoppers – which makes it a recycled material as well as a harvestable one.
The material is very light and cushioned, and spring back into shaper after it has been depressed.
Subern (the coating of each cell in cork) also contributes to the materials natural fire resistance.
Many companies are producing cork suing environmentally friendly water based pigments, solvents & adhesives.
Cork has excellent thermal and sound insulating qualities.
It is antibacterial, hypoallergenic, resists rot, mould and fire.
Some cork tiles have bevelled edges, which allow for expansion and contraction.
Cork can also be produced in many bright colours.
Cork clad ceilings and walls add textural depth to a clean lines contemporary home (wax is an eco alternative to polyurethane seals).
Railway sleepers can be used int he garden to mak pathways or terraces and to enclose area of raised planting.
Energy saving glass comes in a variety of formats the most popular being Low E (low emissivity) glass that is coated with a microscopic layer tha reflects heat back into the interior.
Enhanced energy saving can be achieved by incorporating Low E glass in double or triple glazed units.
Different types of coatings are available to provide high solar gain, moderate solar gain or low solar gain, with the high solar gain glass being suitable for climates where most energy is consumed in heating and low solar gain glass for climates where most energy is consumed in cooling.
Using Low E glass in double glazed south-facing units reduces the U Value virtually to nil, with the amount of heat lost being balanced by the amount of heat gain from the sun.
Low E glass is particularly useful for top glazing.
Coated glass with a Low U Value. A double glazed unit that incorporates Low E Glass has a similar U Values to a triple glazed unit.
Recycled plastic can be made from plastic bottles, crushed CDs, polystyrene cups, mobile phone casings and even children’s wellies.
After collection and sorting, the waste plastic is cleaned and shredded into flakes. this raw materials is then measured into a mould, placed in a hydraulic press and subjected to heat and immense pressure. the combination of heat and pressure turn the flakes into rigid boards or soft sheets, depending on the source material.
Most recycled plastic comes in the form of rigid boards 1200 x 800mm and 6 – 8mm thick. These can be worked like wood base boards with saws and drills, and fastened with screws, bolts, clips and similar fixings.
Plastic recycled from children’s wellies is softer and thinner (3mm thick).
Rigid sheets or panels: worksurfaces, shelving, cladding, furniture, screens and partitions.
Textiles & Papers:
Many natural materials are compromised by synthetic backings or underlays. Try to source natural or recyclable underlays if possible.
Another way natural materials can be compromised is through the use of synthetic adhesives. Water soluble solvent free adhesives are available as an alternative.
The amount of Chemicals & Formaldehyde in Textiles & Papers make them unsafe for children to be around e.g. no licking, biting or chewing.
Bamboo fibres can be woven into mats, rugs and even textiles. Bamboo fabric is incredibly soft because of the roundness of the fibres and is available made up into clothing such as shirts.
Unbleached and Organic Cotton is preferable: vegetable dyes can also be used to colour the fabric.
Felt is a natural shock absorber & insulator.
Hemp is a very strong fibre and naturally resistant to rot and salt water. Hemp can be woven into ropes and coarse canvas: when blended with other, softer natural fibres, the fabric is lighter and more comfortable and has many potential applications.
Jute weaves used as floor covering are softer than sisal or coir and suitable for area of light traffic only.
Linen can also be woven into floor covering, suitable for light traffic use only.
Nettles have been used for centuries to make textiles. Because the fibres are hollow, nettle cloth is naturally insulating. Crops require no pesticides or chemical treatment during the growing cycle.
Rattan: Fibres from the southeast Asian grasses and woody plants are woven into products such as baskets, matting and chair seat.
Seagrass (China) is slightly slippery underfoot and not suitable for use on stairs.
Silk: a supremely soft and luxurious material woven from the fibres of silkworm cocoons, is generally treated with moth proofing chemical and chemically dyed.
Sisal carpeting can be used in areas of heavy traffic: weaves are softer than Coir but rougher than wool. Sisal is not water-resistant and will stain if wet.
Wool: warm, absorbent and naturally more flame resistant than cotton or linen. Natural wool products are untreated and dyed with vegetable dyes.
Natural Fibres Characteristics:
Natural Fibre Flooring is nonoily and hypoallergenic.
Made from renewable sources and biodegradable.
Many natural fibres are not stain resistant.
Arrowroot: derives from a Caribbean plant and produces a narrow ridged weave in evocative neutral shades.
Bamboo: strands can be woven into textured paper. Stronger colours are a feature.
Jute: can be woven into fine, silky paper and comes in pale neutral shade.
Recycled Paper: Most wallpaper today is made of recycled paper. Avoid paper that are surface treated with vinyl to make them water resistant.
Seagrass: Naturally smooth with a raised texture.
Sisal: sisal papers have a fine weave and a broader range of colours.
Wildgrass: the texture of these papers is reed like, but flatter than seagrass. Darker shades are typical.
Paper surfaces should be avoided from touch, to prevent leaving finger marks. This is therefore not appropriate in a childcare centre.
Salvage & Reuse
As far as recycling materials is concerned there are several strategies you can adopt.
You can choose to obtain use, recycled, or second-hand materials as a substitute for new ones.
Types of Recycled Materials:
Reclaimed Architectural detailing, fittings, and fixtures
Furniture and furnishings
Materials with a high recycled content. Synthetic materials with a significant recycled content are considered environmentally friendly. Paper and glass are easily recycled .e.g. recycled glass tiles are produced using a quarter of the energy needed to make cast glass tiles.
Minimising Material Use:
Repairing and Restoring existing surfaces and finishes wherever possible.
Restrict the use of new materials to what you can see.
The carcasses of fitted kitchen units, bathroom vanities and fitted storage can be given a fresh face with new doors, drawer fronts and worktops.
Investing in Quality:
Short term, stopgap solutions tend to be supplied by synthetic materials because they are cheaper.
However their production and disposal is extremely costly for the environment.
Good – quality materials, especially natural ones, tend to wear better.
Regular refreshing and proper maintenance will add years, if not decades of serviceable life.