Almost 40% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions are caused by the building and construction industry. More specifically, 28% of that is coming from operational emissions such as generating electricity as well as heating and cooling of buildings (World Green Building Council, 2021). For these reasons, it is important to switch to sustainable building materials that decrease greenhouse gas emissions and increase the energy efficiency of buildings.
To achieve that, Epiclay uses clay as a base for the plants instead of soil for the green walls, which was briefly mentioned in the previous article (How are Epiclay green walls constructed?). However, is clay really a more sustainable building material? What makes it more sustainable than other building materials?
Definition of sustainable building materials
To decide whether clay is a sustainable building material, let’s look at the definition. At the moment, there are plenty of different ones. But broadly speaking, sustainable building materials (also known as environmentally-friendly materials or green building materials) need to have a low environmental impact on their entire life cycle. This includes the extraction, processing, the overall performance of the end-product, and the disposal. Furthermore, they should be sourced locally and stem from natural sources, while also being durable, recyclable, reusable, or contain recyclable materials in their composition.
Clay and its many properties
Clay is an ancient building material that has been used for centuries. It has many properties, thus providing many benefits to the environment and the buildings.
1. Clay increases the energy efficiency of buildings.
Because of its insulation properties, clay can absorb heat. Thus, it helps to reduce the energy consumption of buildings. With the Epiclay green wall modules, heat can be absorbed in two different ways: through the modules themselves and the plants. Thereby, the energy efficiency of the building is further increased.
2. Clay is versatile.
This material can be formed and used for a variety of things, from crafting home decorations to constructing entire buildings. For instance, Wienerberger – the world’s largest producer of bricks and the market leader in clay roof tiles in Europe – uses clay to build houses from the base to the roof. At Epiclay, various techniques and technologies are combined to create these innovative clay modules. They are capable of holding water and releasing it to the surface to irrigate the plants. Moreover, the surface is designed so that it facilitates the adhesion of the roots on the modules. That way, the plants can grow and thrive effortlessly. Besides, the Epiclay modules look good even without plants.
3. Clay is durable.
This building material can last for over 100 years and is resistant to extreme weather conditions. Since Epiclay’s green walls are intended to be installed on existing facades and walls, it serves as extra protection for these buildings.
4. Clay is stable in value.
Many buildings made of clay increase in value over the years because of the material’s properties. A similar effect can be achieved with the installation of Epiclay green walls on existing facades. In fact, according to our research and calculations, the building value would increase by 265.50 € per square meter upon sale (Peck et al., 1999).
5. Clay is nature-based.
As it is a natural material that comes from the ground, clay can be recycled and reused. Similarly, once the Epiclay modules reach their end of life, they can be recycled as raw material and reused in the construction industry.
The importance of clay for the Epiclay green walls
Due to the high greenhouse gas emissions of the building and construction industry, sustainable building materials such as clay are inevitable. Compared to other materials, clay has a positive impact on buildings, but also on the environment. Because of these properties, Epiclay was able to create an innovative and sustainable green wall solution.