Western Cape Business News

Send  Share  RSS  Twitter  09 Jan 2009

BUILDING: Clay Brick Makers put their Case


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RESEARCHERS at the University of Newcastle, NSW, Australia (which has similar climatic conditions and building materials to South Africa) have been conducting extensive empirical research, over eight years, on the thermal performance of buildings constructed using a variety of walling systems.

Not surprisingly, they have concluded that thermal mass is essential to obtain optimal energy efficiency for the operation of a building, and that a single-minded focus on thermal resistance (R-values) is detrimental to energy reduction efforts. In fact, a combination of thermal mass and resistance, used correctly in walling systems, with consideration of climatic conditions and solar passive design principles, always yields superior results.

To demonstrate the benefits of various construction methods in terms of energy efficiency and environmental compliance, the LandCorp of Perth, WA, commissioned the construction of 10 show homes. The only home to receive 8 stars for energy efficiency under the BERS rating system, is the one built from cavity walls using clay brick, with insulation in the walls and ceiling. This is practical proof of the benefits of combining thermal mass and resistance to achieve optimum results.

“This is even more proof that clay bricks are an excellent choice for sustainable buildings. Besides the energy efficiency gains of thermal mass, clay bricks are durable, long lasting, require low maintenance, are recyclable and provide a healthy and comfortable living environment”, says At Coetzee, the executive director of the Clay Brick Association of South Africa.

He says the clay brick industry is firmly committed to reducing its impact on the environment. “We are actively involved in technical workgroups that are designing and implementing solutions to address a range of issues, such as emissions and air quality, sustainable manufacturing practices and fossil fuel reduction. Most clay brick makers use local resources, recycle waste back into the process and design products with a long life span and optimal performance. Many brick makers use energy sourced from waste streams of other industries and, in that way, make a substantially positive impact on the environment,” Coetzee says.

It is unfortunate that in South Africa very little scientifically valid research has been done on different materials and walling systems in order to assess their impact on our environment.

However, the results from Australia provide a good lead and proxy for South Africans to consider. The newly formed Green Building Council of SA is modelled on the Australian version, with the GreenStar rating tools an adaptation of the tools used successfully in Australia.

Coetzee stresses that there is an unfortunate plethora of statements being made in the public arena by suppliers of building materials, many of whom are guilty of ‘greenwashing’. This is the practice of making unsubstantiated statements of a product’s performance under the umbrella of environmental friendliness. Lately, we have come across many claims under the banner of embodied energy, where suppliers publish tables of data in an attempt to prove that their product is better than the competition’s.

Perhaps the most helpful insight into this comes from a quote by the World Business Council on Sustainable Development’s extensive research that says, “Embodied energy must be understood in the context of the system using the material, rather than the material itself. The whole system must be compared with alternatives performing the same function. The results of a direct comparison between a ton of one material and another would be misleading. Instead, a comparison must be made between one square meter of walls performing the same function.”

“This comparison needs to be based on similar insulation levels and life expectancy. Transport, construction and disposal aspects must also be taken into account.”

The National Research Center at Clemson University, U.S.A, conducted a life cycle analysis on various walling systems. Clay brick masonry was rated at a 100 years life, with the next best system rated at 50 years. The clay brick masonry was the only walling system identified to be 100% recyclable.

Coetzee concludes “Clay bricks are a natural solution to a challenge of nature. Why consider alternatives that are unproven, risky to finance and are not what the average South African wants and deserves?”

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