Building Materials and Energy Efficiency

Jul 02, 2012 1 Comment by

Having recently attended one of the many SANS workshops currently enjoying a national road-trip around South Africa, I realised the complexities and added responsibility now being placed upon our designers, architects and specifiers. One may argue that this should have been their responsibility once qualified and allowed to practice in the building industry. To their defence, many of the calculations and values attributed to building materials and structural componantry were not readily available until recently, once the SANS 204 code was first implemented and forced designers to acknowledge their building material properties.

What does this mean?

Initially, much consultation and training would be required and given to the various local building councils around the country. They would ultimately require sufficient knowledge in order to pass architectural drawings for submission purposes. This being said, the onus now still remains on the specifier, who will ultimately be responsible for the energy efficiency of the structure they have designed.

Where to from here?

There remains a huge opportunity for a renewed relationship between both the building material manufacturer as well as the specifier. In the past the manufacturer was often at the disposal of the specifier who would decide on what material would meet the criteria set out by the designer. This would lead to certain building materials receiving inherited exposure, past down from previous specifications, not necessarily on the basis that it was a preferred material, but simply that it met the projects requirements.

The opportunity now opens up the field again to those manufacturers, who have had their materials tested to meet SANS requirements as well as having their attributed values (K, R & U) open for calculations to add value to the specified project. Over the last 5 years, the term “Green” construction has often been used. Due to lack of knowledge or understanding possibly, this term has been used loosely with regards to certain materials wishing to gain favour with contemporary design and awareness within the building industry. With the new building codes having been implemented as of November 2011, building material manufacturers would need to supply accurate information pertaining to these “values” should they wish to be considered for specifications in the future.

With the focus on how energy efficient a structure can be designed (many principles of energy efficiency are already apparent in existing structures, such as orientation on site, forms of thermal insulation*, ext) the client becomes the main benefactor. With energy costs at all-time highs and our government scratching their heads as to what the most sustainable method of obtaining energy from our resources would be, by designing a structure that would require as little energy to run would be first prize!

* Thermal insulation of a structure will now become scrutinised in many area’s namely, type of material, areas of application, its calculated values, how it is applied, level of skill required, availability, manufactured locally or abroad and so the list will go on. Ask any architect about where most of our energy is lost or gained and the answer would be “through the openings such as doors and windows” more often than not. Another area that will soon be scrutinised in more detail will be areas where thermal bridging occurs. Being able to prevent how energy is lost or gained may also need to be addressed as to how this loss or gain can be controlled. Different environments would dictate different building methodologies and different approaches in trying to create a structure that remains more often than not between 18 – 24 deg C.

I think many new designers and possibly those who would be regarded as mature influences within the building industry are aware that a contemporary approached to design is much needed. This would include building methodologies that may not be termed conventional as well as advanced building materials, whose properties and characteristics add as much value to a structure as traction control does to driving in wet weather.

It is not reinventing the wheel, but simply adding a more comfortable grip and steering experience…




About the author

Brendan Lowen is a qualified Senior Architectural Technologist and Head of Business Development for a nationally renown building materials manufacturer and supplier. Local and Global materials are constantly scrutinised for their fit-for-purpose offering in South Africa, whilst undergoing a route-to-market analysis. He often acts as an intermediary when engaging with the professional, manufacturing and retail sectors and most notably, when a disconnect becomes present within this chain. He contributes media content to the architectural community, through established industry platforms as well as the Advanced-Building website as its Thought Leader.

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