Each new era brings technological advancements that have helped to shape the world as we know it today. Early humans invented fire and Ancient Romans invented the aqueduct. The Bronze Age produced the wheel and the industrial revolution brought us the Steam Engine. In the past century, innovation has rapidly increased, from the telephone to the internet to wireless technologies and AI. In fact, technology seems to be exponentially advancing, changing in ways we couldn’t have imagined just a couple of decades ago. A similar advancement has occurred in building sciences.
These technological developments haven’t just made life easier, they’ve made it more productive, albeit – in some cases – at the cost of a healthy environment. Luckily, modern technology and science have afforded us the opportunity to step in and repair much of the environmental damage we may have caused. Many of today’s building products are applying building science to not only make the building process more productive but also to make it more environmentally friendly.
According to many of the world’s most respected scientists, greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide are key contributors to global warming. The largest source of these carbon emissions comes from the consumption of fossil fuels along with the production of byproducts from industrial manufacturing.
Concrete has frequently been criticized because cement is part of its mixture. According to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), cement production is a notable source of industrial process-related emissions in the U.S. Fortunately, research has resulted in a way to minimize cement use in concrete. The cement is replaced with wood that has been reduced to nanoparticles that have been engineered to preserve elements of their original material. When the nanoparticles are added to concrete, they make it stronger. This added strength increases the concrete’s durability while minimizing the need for repairs and reducing carbon emissions.
Another cement-related issue in the building products industry is the dust created from cementitious grout. Cement grout exposes tile installers to silica dust, a leading cause of respiratory disease that threatens an estimated two million U.S. workers annually. Long-term exposure to silica can result in silicosis, a chronic medical condition in which the lungs become scarred and it becomes difficult to breathe.
In addition, the majority of grouts available in the U.S., including cement grout and most epoxy grouts, are labeled as hazardous and include warnings to avoid skin and eye contact along with instructions for specialized disposal methods. And, since cement grout is porous, an anti-microbial is usually added to the mixture to prevent the growth of mold and mildew. In the case of both cement and epoxy grouts, waste disposal recommendations are often not followed, and contractors instead dump waste from their jobs in the nearest drain, resulting in potential contamination of the water supply.
A new offering of tile installation products called ZHERORisk® is taking on these challenges. Engineered in collaboration with leading universities in the tile-producing region of Italy, these products are non-toxic, non-corrosive and are VOC free, providing a healthier alternative for installers and consumers while also contributing to improved indoor air quality and building wellness.
Speaking of water, water waste has become a growing environmental concern. It’s easy to take for granted access to a clean and seemingly never ending water supply, but changing weather patterns and over development have the potential to impact our ability to source clean water – making it increasingly important to be adopt more conscientious water habits. Consider, for example, that – according to the EPA – the average family wastes 9,400 gallons of water each year because of household leaks.
New smart home technology offers a proactive solution to water waste. The StreamLabs® Smart Home Water Monitor sits over existing plumbing, utilizing ultrasonic technology to accurately measure water flow and provide early leak detection. If the water flow drastically changes, a smartphone app alerts the user so leaks can be addressed before causing extensive damage. The StreamLabs®Control valve goes a few steps further, allowing the homeowner’s water to be shut off remotely from the app or automatically in the case of a water emergency. The valve also uses advanced sensors to measure water temperature, ambient (air) temperature and relative humidity, providing real-time push notifications, status alerts and freeze warnings. Both devices allow users to monitor, modify and, if necessary, mitigate their water consumption.
As “fast fashion” continues to gain traction, more consumers are purchasing new – and cheaper –clothing at a faster pace than ever before, making waste a growing issue. The EPA has reported that more than 16 million tons of clothing waste was generated in 2014. Rather than throwing away outdated clothes, a number of manufacturers have seized the opportunity to repurpose clothes destined for the landfill into something new and useful.
Recycled clothing can be made into surface coverings such as floor tiles, wall panels and other interior products. The recycling process starts with removing solid pieces on the clothing like zippers or buttons. The leftover material is then shredded and treated with chemicals to glue the fibers together. The process ends with the treated fibers being pressed under heat, forming the new surface coverings. These new surfaces are water-resistant, strong and can be utilized in a variety of different settings.
Turning Over a Better Leaf
Technology and science are constantly evolving, changing the industry and the world. By adopting these newest innovations, the building products industry can hopefully forge a path that leads to a healthier environment and planet.