The global construction industry uses over 400 million tons of building materials each year, many of which have an adverse impact on the environment, according to the U.K. Green Building Council. The extraction of raw materials keeps manufacturing lines running and the residential construction industry afloat, but contractors are gradually seeking out more efficient and eco-friendly products that work with nature, not against it.
Materials like hemp and mycelium are healthy for humans, good for the environment, and can create a pathway to stimulate economic growth by funding valuable, easy-to-harvest crops of the future. New product innovations offer alternative methods for regional builders to take on more efficient and sustainable modern construction.
Armstrong Empower Flooring
Armstrong’s FloorScore certified Empower flooring features a reinforced mineral core that “outperforms traditional rigid core products in both indent and stability,” according to the company site. The revamped material is scratch resistant, waterproof, and protects against stains, making Empower a viable option for kitchen and bathroom flooring.
Armstrong Flooring mixes a solid polymer core with uncultured diamonds for a strong finish in their Empower products through a patented process called ‘Diamond 10 Technology.’ On the Mohs scale of mineral hardness, Armstrong’s cultured diamonds score a perfect ten, yielding a durable result in the company’s latest flooring development.
Mycelium is a threaded fungus that is increasingly used to replace everything from styrofoam to leather, but some innovative builders are testing out its functionality in the residential construction sector as well. By controlling temperature, CO2, humidity, and airflow, mycelium threads can be manipulated into lightweight, buildable structures. The process of growing mycelium requires very little energy, making it a low-cost crop with a range of possibilities.
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) recently launched its Engineered Living Materials (ELM) program studying the practical application of living materials in building science. According to DARPA, “The long-term objective of the ELM program is to develop an ability to engineer structural properties directly into the genomes of biological systems so that neither scaffolds nor external development cues are needed for an organism to realize the desired shape and properties.” Innovations with natural materials like mycelium could cut down on building costs long-term while significantly reducing the collective carbon footprint of the construction industry at large.
Evocative, a mycelium technology company, currently manufactures packaging products made of compostable hemp and mycelium. The Mushroom Packaging binds hemp hurd and mycelium fibers to form a solid composite that is “light, strong, fire, and water-resistant,” according to the company. Evocative offers a starting point for mycelium construction goods by demonstrating the structural capabilities of fungi materials for commercial use.
Like classic concrete, hempcrete can be mixed with a binder and compacted in the shape of blocks or panels with thermal, structural, and moisture-handling properties ideal for building insulation. Hempcrete material is extracted from the dried wooden core of hemp plants, which have dense fibers that can act as thermal barriers in residential construction.
Though it can’t support the load-bearing structure of a building, according to the International Hemp Building Association, hempcrete can insulate existing buildings and purify the air. While concrete accounts for roughly 8% of global carbon emissions, hempcrete has the opposite effect, sequestering and storing harmful CO2 to keep buildings and their surrounding environments healthy.
The cost of hempcrete is comparable to other widely-used insulation materials, but with limited availability, the production of hemp materials is mostly centralized in Europe, where only about a dozen processing plants are up and running. With long-term investment, hempcrete could prove to be an innovative and sustainable alternative to conventional cement and interior insulation.
Bamboo building materials provide strength and versatility in present day residential construction projects and leave behind little to no carbon footprint. Bamboo plants grow at a much faster rate than both hardwood and softwood trees extracted for lumber goods. While some trees can take up to 50 years to mature, bamboo takes only 3-5 years to harvest, and bamboo fiber is also 2 to 3 times stronger than timber.
Though stronger and much faster growing than trees, bamboo plants filter out carbon dioxide in much the same way. In fact, the high leaf surface area of bamboo plants makes them ultra-efficient carbon capturers when used in construction, so not only can bamboo materials support the structural integrity of residential buildings, but they can also filter the surrounding air.
Though bamboo thrives in climates from northern Australia to East Asia and India, companies like BamCore are making timber bamboo more accessible to regional builders in locations where plants cannot be easily harvested.
BamCore wall panels bring the strength and sustainability of bamboo across the world to increase wall thickness “from an equivalent of 2×4 up to 2×12 equivalent for almost nothing more than the cost of the wider plates and extra insulation” according to company claims. In addition, BamCore paneling outperforms traditional materials in thermal and acoustic tests while reducing interior mold risk.