Towards a net zero carbon future – every part counts!

With the focus firmly on working towards a net zero carbon future in the construction industry and beyond, it has never been more important to choose wisely and carefully. With pledges such as Architects Declare and the RIBA 2030 Climate Challenge gaining awareness, construction companies are following suit with their own pledges – the more of us who commit to making crucial changes, the sooner we will be able to achieve our goal of halting the climate emergency.

The challenge

After making the pledge, the challenge starts in earnest. Achieving net zero carbon may mean new ways of working; finding alternatives to previously trusted options; justifying the specification process for every part of a project. Every material specified needs to meet crucial criteria – Is it sustainable? Is it reusable? Is it recyclable? How long will it last? How is it produced? How can in contribute to a better cared for environment? What may seem overwhelming at first, can more easily be tackled when broken down into smaller parts, and one such component is flooring.

Wood is good

Universally known for its high environmental credentials, wood is a material that scores highly on all aforementioned criteria. Often touted as ‘the world’s most environmentally friendly material’, wood is a renewable source that does not produce waste or pollution; it stores CO2 which in itself is beneficial to combatting climate change. Specifying a solid wood floor for a project can mean one small part of the puzzle is taken care of – it may seem simple, but every bit counts!

A matter of quality

A floor made in solid hardwood is strong and durable. There are no layers of inferior quality; no glue or harmful chemical substances which can adversely affect the air in a room – nothing but real, natural wood through and through. With a lifespan of 60 years plus, the longevity and lifecycle costs of a good quality solid wood floor are second to none. This means less waste management and ultimately, lower demands on natural resources. In comparison, an engineered wood floor has significantly more embodied energy and uses greater quantities of glue and resin. Furthermore, engineered floorboards are made from multiple pieces of wood, all of which have been cut to size, prepared, dried and assembled into boards. This uses significantly more energy than the manufacturing a solid hardwood floorboard.

Hardwood is a natural, biodegradable and recyclable material and it is non-hazardous when disposed of. Most other flooring types will not last as long, which puts greater pressure on landfill as well as challenges in terms of chemical release during disposal. For example, a solid wood floor has a lifespan four times that of an engineered floor, meaning the total amount of energy used for solid wood floors is further reduced as one solid wood floor is manufactured for every four engineered floors.

Many floor finishes will have to be stripped out and disposed of after ten years or less. At roughly the same interval, a solid hardwood floor can be sanded and sealed to give it a new lease of life. A structural floor, usually with a thickness of 20mm+, can be sanded between eight and ten times which means a lifespan of 60 years is comfortably exceeded.

All the right credentials

More and more buildings are certified according to schemes such as BREEAM, LEED and DNGB, where each product specified for a project is measured in terms of its sustainability credentials. A manufacturer who can offer responsibly sourced wood with FSC® and PEFC™ accreditation along with and an EPD (Environmental Product Declaration) will aid in achieving net zero carbon buildings. An EPD assess the manufacturing and material sourcing activities of a company and presents data in relation to the company’s environmental impact, resource use, waste categories and output flow. The EPD, which represents a measure of the embodied carbon for the product, contributes towards BREEAM, LEED and DGNB assessments by providing the specifier with important data pertinent to achieving sustainability accreditation for a building. A manufacturer who demonstrates the sustainability of its products with traceability and transparency can simplify the specification process a great deal.

Retrofit projects

Not only for new builds, a solid wood floor in a retrofit scheme can provide the same environmental credentials to a project. Installation methods and considerations may differ, but a reputable manufacturer will have a solution to counter most issues. A solid wood floor is a beautiful backdrop in any building, but there is more to specifying flooring than looks. A knowledgeable technical team coupled with good continuity of supply can make all the difference to finishing a project on time and on budget.

This article first appeared in the September 2020 edition of ABC&D magazine

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