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An Introduction to Natural Construction Materials - TNK Green

An Introduction to Natural Construction Materials

Shelter and safety are some of the most basic needs for every human on the planet. For as long as people have been living together in groups we have collectively altered the environment around us to better suit our needs.

Before the advent of the industrial revolution and the mass production of steel, glass and concrete people made use of whatever they could find in the environment around them to build. Soil, Straw, Stone, Wood and used these materials in ever more interesting combinations to build structures that still stand hundreds or even thousands of years later.

Site and location dependant the environment and available recourses led to a diverse library of construction methods for almost every climatic zone. In colder climates, Strawbale, Timber or Hempcrete would be better suited due to high insulation value, while in warm arid climates Rammed Earth, Cob or Stone would be preferred due to their high thermal mass keeping internal temperatures stable.

So if we have these natural construction technologies why are they no longer in wide use in the industry today?

Unfortunately, most of these methods were left at the wayside through the past 150 years in favour of modern materials that allowed more rapid and denser expansion. In recent years after loads of research, we now know that the exclusive use of Steel, Concrete and Glass are unsustainable.

With dwindling access to sand for both glass and concrete and the destructive nature of metal ore extraction, it is time to rediscover these natural construction technologies and redefine them for a new age.

With the construction industry responsible for approximately 39% of global carbon emissions (Construction, material and operational energy included) there has recently been a shift in the thinking surrounding our approach to construction and how we design and build, our cities and living environments.

With global commitment from world leaders at COP26 last year to reach net-zero by 2050, there is renewed interest in natural building materials from designers and architects globally but for their wide use and implementation, a broad push from the public is necessary.

Progress on national building codes are being made but at a slow pace. With only Timber, Rammed Earth and stone currently described in the SANS10400 Building Codes in South Africa (and non of the others)  organizations like the Cob Research Institute are working hard to add codes for the remaining technologies. Why is this necessary?

If you as a home builder seek financing from a bank for the construction of your house, only structures with approved plans will be considered for funding by most banks.  There are various ways to get approval from the council(eg. Agrement Certificates or Rational Design) but these generally take a lot of work and additional money from the owner, designers and engineering team. This restriction remains one of the biggest hurdles to the broad implementation and adoption of these traditional construction methods by the general public (at least in South Africa).

So if you are interested in this greener future please contact your local municipality or support organizations and non-profits in your community to demand that the government fast track the creation and approval of these building codes because if we are to reach our Climate Change Commitments this legislation will become our greatest ally.

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