Dress Your Building to Impress the Environment

We build our houses and workplaces in the hope that they’ll last as long as possible and need the minimum of maintenance. In recent years, the environmental impact of construction materials has added another consideration into an already complex industry. There are several materials used to cover the outside of buildings, and each one has its benefits and disadvantages. If you’re building your own house, or repairing an older structure, you need to think about what you’ll use to cover – or clad – your building. In short, dress up your building and impress the environment.

A lot of buildings in the US, Canada and Europe are clad in PVC, also known as vinyl. It’s an inexpensive material that needs very little maintenance, is light, easy to install and can come in lots of different colours and profiles. While it can be recycled when it’s no longer needed, it is made in the first instance from oil. Oil, as we know, isn’t an infinite resource. PVC is also energy-expensive to produce and it’s quite flammable. Even worse, when subjected to heat or fire, PVC gives of very toxic gases, making this form of cladding the least attractive option in every way apart from price.Impress the environment - timber

Wood has to be one of the best-looking cladding options. It’s natural, warm and the grain of the wood adds individuality to each building it covers. It’s environmentally-friendly if sourced from managed plantations and isn’t expensive to gather and shape. However, it’s prone to weather, termites, rodents, mould and of course, fire. It also needs a lot of love and care in the form of painting, proofing or staining. If you have the time and extra money, wood is always an option, but if not, keep looking.Impress the environment - wood cladding

Stucco might suit you. It’s very versatile and can be custom-moulded to fit your plans and tastes. It’s very resistant to the likes of termites and rats, and it’s also very fire-proof. Its raw materials – cement and sand – are easily sourced, which is always a bonus. Stucco is also, unfortunately, very energy-expensive to manufacture and hard to maintain. It doesn’t weather very well, either, and needs a lot of looking after.

Brick or stone are very useful and popular. Slate and granite are virtually indestructible. Brick is very hardy as well, although many people chose to wash their brick cladding once a year or so. These two choices are pest, mould and fire-proof, but they are also hard to fit and install. They also use up a lot of energy to extract or produce, although their longevity might make up for this.

Then we come to metal, which is a very high-performance material. Steel cladding in particular is very durable, as you can expect at least 25 years from each system. It’s weather resistant, tough and low-maintenance. Best of all, it’s highly recyclable, which makes up for the initial environmental costs of getting the metal out of its ore.

We need to weigh up these pros and cons before deciding how to clad our homes and workplaces. Cheapest for our wallet isn’t always the best value for the planet.

Contributed by Angie Clark

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