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The Potential For Greater Use Of Low Impact Materials

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Research and discuss the potential for greater use of Low Impact Materials in domestic and non-domestic construction projects?




This paper examines the different positive effects of Low impact materials that are being used in the construction works for both domestic as well as non-domestic purposes. According to the UK Climate Change Act of 2008, it is mandatory as well as voluntary in case of the citizens of UK to take the carbon reduction rate to a target of 80% (Dimoudi & Tompa,2008). This law has been introduced by the European Union along with the national and local government of UK. Construction works include elementary products like- gravel, rock and sand and these products take the shape a sound structure with the help of joinery as well as processed minerals like- cements, timber, steel, paints, masonry etc. The use of these basic elements have been increased in this modern century where population is growing so faster and therefore, use of metals, cladding, wiring, electrics, insulation with plastic materials, glass windows, pipes, hardware, processed boards, coatings etc have become necessary for each and every construction project. The scope of these products is vase in both domestic sectors like- building apartments, shopping complexes, malls, public housing etc as well as in non-domestic sectors such as- roads, harbours, power plants, railways, airports and many more (Butterworth & Soussan, 2001).  

All the products related to the construction industry have negative impacts on the surrounding atmosphere but the thing is that people should adapt those materials that have less impact on the environment (Bullen & Love, 2011). The products with impact can be categorized into two major types, the first one is- products with embodied impact. These products are just the extracted materials or the products that are manufactured from the materials that have impact on the environmental factors. The second one is operational impact products and these products are highly used for the building purpose (Glass et al., 2008).



In UK, buildings are solely responsible for the maximum water consumption which is almost the half of the total water consumption in UK as well as the construction processes involve approximately half of the whole total carbon emission in UK. After the construction project, the landfill wastes cover the one-third part of the total waste materials that are found in this country. In addition to that, the total raw materials used in the construction process are one-fourth part of the materials utilized in the economy of UK (Caird & Roy, 2008). Therefore, sustainable development in case of UK can’t be achieved without transforming the materials, designing part, operation part and construction part that are being applied for structural building in case of both domestic as well as non-domestic projects. There is an alarming condition of greenhouse gas which is an issue of concern for the government of UK and the nation has targeted major reduction in case of the emissions related to greenhouse gas effect and therefore, the government has been encouraging people to use zero carbon materials like- steel, cross-laminated timbers, ceramics, low energy glass otherwise known as Low-E, Alternative Materials, substituted materials etc (Spear, 2004).


A statistical Analysis

This innovative technique of construction with low impact materials has been proposed by the government as well as private organizations which will have lower environmental impact but people can get perfect delivery of a nice building. The construction market in UK holds more than £100 billion and it seems among consumers a pressure of constructing environment friendly buildings has been instigated and with this, new opportunities have come forward with innovative style of business. In May 2008, this creative approach of Low Impact Building was launched by the TSB (Technology Strategy Board) and this board has helped in the funding of the initial projects and encouraging people to go for it instead of those materials that have negative impacts on the atmosphere (Caird & Roy, 2008). The budget of this pioneering platform got enhanced from thirty million pounds to forty-seven million pounds in the first three years. Again the government is taking steps for the improvement of sustainability by targeting 80% reduction of the CO2 emissions by the year 2050 (Sahagun & Moncaster, 2012). From concrete survey analyses, it has been come to light that over 45% carbon emissions occur due to construction processes which include 27% domestic construction and 18% of non-domestic construction. Due to the heating space as well as water, 73% of the domestic emissions take place. Apart from this, 32% of the total landfill wastage materials come from the construction sector and from the destruction of older buildings. It has also been observed that 13% of the total products that are used in construction work don’t even go to the site but are directly taken to the landfill without even being utilized (Caird & Roy, 2008).         

 Here the question should be that,


What actually is a Low Impact Material?

This question is an imperative one but it can’t be excluded from another significant question which is- How to reduce the consumption of harmful materials? A low impact material is the products available for the construction work which can fit affably with the processes going on in the ecosystem. In this way, people can reduce the use of materials those have serious impacts as well as cost high energy (Shiers et al., 2006). Through this, a service-based economy can be achieved but the citizens of UK have to first understand the relationship among these materials, nature and the economy.

Criteria for the evaluation of building materials

These evaluation criteria involve three key factors, those are- resource categories, pollution rate and the performance level. The categories of the materials can be divided according to the resources of those materials which are- whether the products have been consumed through a process of extraction or production or disposal or utilization. The aforementioned factors similarly work for the next factor which is pollution and performance is about the energy as well as resource saving nature of the products. Performance factor is different with different sorts of materials such as- performance in case of a material for insulation should be evaluated on the basis of thermal resistance but a tile should be evaluated according to its durability (Glass et al. ,2008).

Some of the basic criteria that should be used for the evaluation of low impact building materials-

  • To what extent energy as well as transportation resources have been used for the production of the materials?

  • What types of energy sources were made use of for the production; is it renewable or non-renewable?

  • Up to what extent the product has created disposal and what sort of waste products it has generated while production was going on or while it was being transported?

  • Can the product be obtained within the vicinity or is the product available locally?

  • Does the product utilize the overlooked resources in an effective manner?

  • Is the product recycled or reused?

  • Can people recycle or reuse it after the completion of its productive life?

  • What about the durability of it and what kind of maintenance it needs?

  • How is the performance of this material and how it affects the air quality inside the building?

Alternative Materials

These evaluation criteria should be used in case of the conventional materials as most of the people all over UK are using those. However, to attain sustainability people have to think about new kind of materials that will perfectly fit with the ecosystem. These materials are known as Alternative materials (Bullen & Love, 2011). The specialty of these products is that they outstandingly make use of the local resources as well as these products can be produced with very little amount of energy. The non-toxic nature of these construction materials is the key factor which eliminates pollution and these alternative products also utilize the waste products in an excellent style, so with adapting these products waste management will be done automatically.

Some of the alternative materials have been mentioned below.

Timber- SIPs, CLT, Brettstapel and traditional forms of timber

FRP plastic, ETFE plastic



Laminated Bamboo and Unprocessed bamboo

Cardboard for tubing as well as cardboard in the form of panels

Hemp (Hemp-lime Blocks as well as Hemcrete)

Earth which includes cob, adobe, wattle, unfired brick and rammed earth

Geopolymer concrete

Substituted Materials in place of conventional materials

These products the replacement products made of the materials that have lower carbon contents. Such as- concrete is used in foundations as a form of alternative which is suitable in case of low loads. But, concrete is a material mostly used for the construction purpose and from the production of cement, GHG emissions occur which has severe harmful impact on the environment. SCM or else known as Supplementary Cementitious Materials are used for reducing embodied emissions which is one of the major provision implemented by the government of UK (Butterworth & Soussan, 2001). Clinker is also a carbon-intensive product which is being replaced by Ground Granulated Blast Furnace Slag otherwise known as GGBS and it is considered as the extensively used substitute in the form of low impact material. However, the production of SCM is much less than 30% of the conventional cement and a limitation in the production volume is one of the barriers to the sustainability of low impact construction processes in UK. Industrial wastage products like- steel slag as well as sludge ashes from sewages are the main concern of the construction companies and restriction of supply can’t hamper the sustainability of these products. Various consumer wastes like- glasses, plastics, ceramics etc are being used in the sector of concrete production in the form of secondary aggregates (Bullen & Love, 2011).

Some of the substituted materials used for emissions reduction                 


Fly Ash

Construction and Agricultural Wastes

Consumer Waste products like- plastics, ceramics, tyres, glasses etc.

Demolition wastes

Industrial waste products like- residuals from different mills, silica fume, cotton wastes, sewage ash, steel slag etc.

Other sustainable style of construction works

This work involves the environment quality products and innovative ideas by which people can reduce the indoor air pollutants and noxious wastes that have potentially bad effect to the health of human beings as well as they have severe impacts on the environment (Butterworth & Soussan, 2001). From methodical surveys, it has been come to the front that people of UK are getting inclined towards these modern projects.

Bamboo Flooring

The plus point of this type of flooring is about its hardness and strength as compare to other hardwoods. Some of these bamboo species are therefore rated high against that of maple wood flooring as well as floor of red oak (Bullen & Love, 2011). The moisture resistant nature of the bamboo makes it more effective but it has been seen that bamboo forests get destroyed due to lack of management.   

Fiber Carpet

Natural fibers are drier and these products are popular for their flat surfaces. There are two types of fibers, one is Plant Fibers, like-sisal, jute, coir, seagrass etc and another is Animal Fibers. However, these products are quite expensive and therefore people many times hesitate to buy these (Butterworth & Soussan, 2001).   

Hard Wood Flooring

These reclaimed hard woods are effective form of low impact materials with high environment quality. The easy to clean factor along with low maintenance aspects associated with the product makes it valuable.

VOC paint

These paints are made of Low volatile organic contents. These products contain lower volumes of constituents that are responsible for the ozone depletion. Low VOC products utilize water as carrier and not the solvents extracted from petroleum. These materials let out very fewer emissions and these products are famous for their cost-effectiveness as well as there is no need of any kind of special equipments for this paint.

Benefits of these materials

Green Guide Specification of the Low Impact Materials 

With this accredited rating, people identify the relative impacts on environment associated with the corresponding products. With this specification guide commonly used materials for construction purpose can be evaluated.

Recycled products along with Secondary Materials

These recycled materials are actually the products that are generated from the waste materials especially throughout the construction methods along with the demolition processes. However, secondary materials are the derivatives or by-products that are extracted during the industrial processing (Butterworth & Soussan, 2001).  The UK Government is taking tremendous steps to encourage the public about adapting recycled as well as secondary aggregates instead of the greater use of primary and conventional aggregates. This helps in the reduction of carbon emission to a greater degree which is the ultimate objective of the visionaries of the nation.

Healthy Materials like- Volatile Organic Compounds or VOCs instead of Toxic materials will keep the surroundings well-suited especially for the kids. The voluminous amounts of toxic products in the primary aggregates are responsible for different deadly diseases and extensive use of secondary aggregates can diminish this factor (Spear, 2004).

Waste management will not be a problem in the near future which is a kind of superior advantage in case of the use of low impact products. Recycling and reusability factors are associated with these products by which demolition of the construction projects can be reduced. By adapting these products it will be less challenging for the designers and the engineers towards the disassembling aspect related to the construction projects.

The low impact construction materials have benefits such as- greater longevity period along with high robustness so that the consumers don’t have to spend more money in the designing as well as redesigning of the structural buildings. Low maintenance aspect with these environment-friendly products is the reason behind lower expenditure in the future scenario (Mardaljevic et al.,2009).

LCA or the Life Cycle Assessment of the low impact materials is quite good on the basis of the output, energy as well as waste flows related to it. With this the environmental impacts can be measured. Low and Zero Carbon Technologies or LZC for greater energy efficiency is one of the plus points linked with the products which are known for less CO2 emissions.   

Thermal bridging is one of the major problems that are attached with the construction process and these low impact building products avoid this thermal bridging which can be taken as solutions regarding the problems in case of parapet walls as well as flat roof. The renewable products store enough carbon throughout their lifespan and these things are usable for a longer time span (Bullen & Love, 2011). The light weight products avoid any sort of load on the foundation levels and so there will be no need of using the products such as- concrete with greater embodied energy (Butterworth & Soussan, 2001).

Robust upfront construction design can be possible with these materials and by this design improvement can be easily done with better efficiency. The construction process on the sites will be simple as well as structural designing and building parts will be completed in much faster rate. Sundry fixings are one of the excellent styles of advantages that come with the robust walls with high-quality finishing made with the help of low impact and environment-friendly products. The wall construction process in case of these materials is quite effective and vapour-permeable nature of these walls enhances the efficiency (Bullen & Love, 2011). Last but not the least, Affordability is a positive factor which is always there with these materials and therefore, the government is encouraging people and construction companies to go for it.



Dimoudi, A., & Tompa, C. (2008). Energy and environmental indicators related to construction of office buildings. Resources, Conservation and Recycling,53(1), 86-95.

Butterworth, J., & Soussan, J. (2001, May). Water supply and sanitation & integrated water resources management: why seek better integration. InPrepared for WHIRL project workshop on ‘water supply & sanitation and watershed development: positive and negative interactions’, Andhra Pradesh, India (pp. 5-14).

Bullen, P., & Love, P. (2011). Factors influencing the adaptive re-use of buildings. Journal of Engineering, Design and Technology, 9(1), 32-46.

Glass, J., Dainty, A. R., & Gibb, A. G. (2008). New build: materials, techniques, skills and innovation. Energy Policy, 36(12), 4534-4538.

Shiers, D., Rapson, D., Roberts, C., & Keeping, M. (2006). Sustainable construction: the development and evaluation of an environmental profiling system for construction products. Construction Management and Economics,24(11), 1177-1184.

Caird, S., & Roy, R. (2008). User-centred improvements to energy efficiency products and renewable energy systems: research on household adoption and use. International Journal of Innovation Management, 12(03), 327-355.

Lantz, M., Svensson, M., Björnsson, L., & Börjesson, P. (2007). The prospects for an expansion of biogas systems in Sweden—incentives, barriers and potentials. Energy policy, 35(3), 1830-1843.

Spear, J. R. (2004). Minimum-impact research. Conservation Biology, 18(4), 861-861.

Coombes, P. J., Kuczera, G., Kalma, J. D., & Argue, J. R. (2002). An evaluation of the benefits of source control measures at the regional scale.Urban Water, 4(4), 307-320.

Sahagun, D., & Moncaster, A. M. (2012, January). How much do we spend to save? Calculating the embodied carbon costs of retrofit. In Proceedings of the Retrofit 2012 Conference, Salford, UK (pp. 26-28).

Giesekam, J., Barrett, J., Taylor, P., & Owen, A. (2014). The greenhouse gas emissions and mitigation options for materials used in UK construction. Energy and Buildings, 78, 202-214.

Mardaljevic, J., Heschong, L., & Lee, E. (2009). Daylight metrics and energy savings. Lighting Research and Technology, 41(3), 261-283.        

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