As architectural designers and their clients are becoming increasingly eco-friendly, their discussions involving the optimized sustainability of buildings often encompasses a broad range of topics. Precast concrete cladding is gaining quite an excellent reputation due to its enhanced capabilities regarding energy efficiency, water consumption, fire safety, and limited maintenance demands. Buildings today must not only be environmentally friendly. They must also be attractive, robust, cost-effective, healthy, and comfortable for the people who use them.
Precast concrete: Longevity, versatility, and adaptability
Precast architectural cladding can be manufactured in nearly any color and texture imaginable. The range of colors of architectural precast is not limited to boring, bland tans and greys. In fact, the U.S. Military Department Investigative Agencies Headquarters (MILDEP) recently requested that their new facility in Virginia contain precast cladding made in a vibrant, rich red.
Precast can be smooth, rough, and even manufactured with a layer of thin-brick designed to look like a true brick-and-mortar structure. Furthermore, precast concrete offers numerous eco-friendly benefits and advantages, according to The Architectural Precast Association (APA).
- Precast concrete is made of natural materials, such as water, stone, sand, and cement.
- Precast concrete is almost 100% recyclable.
- Precast concrete has an extremely low carbon footprint.
- Precast concrete emits almost no Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs).
- Precast concrete gains strength and durability as it ages.
- Precast cladding is non-combustible.
- Precast cladding is easily adjustable to adapt to changing environmental conditions over the lifespan of the building, including earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, and tornados.
- Precast cladding arrives to the job site ready-to-hang, which reduces waste and associated negative environmental impacts.
- Precast cladding requires minimal maintenance over the lifespan of the building.
- Precast cladding acts as a natural air barrier, which saves energy and reduces air infiltration.
In 2015, the U.S. Department of the Interior Bureau of Reclamation (USBR) issued a report entitled Eco-Friendly Cement for Green Construction. In the report, the USBR discusses a new type of precast invented by an Italian manufacturer using a titanium dioxide (TiO2 ) compound. Not only does this concrete cladding reduce air infiltration, it actually self-cleans and purifies the surrounding air of the building. The Italian precast essentially reduces greenhouse gases in the neighboring vicinity for the lifespan of the building.
Meanwhile, another recent study conducted by scholars at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign compared the potential eco-friendly advantages of reinforced precast concrete beams to those made of steel. Using computerized technology, they discovered that the concrete beam required much less energy to produce and exhibited a significantly lower net environmental impact over the long term.
The eco-friendly advantages of precast concrete architectural cladding and beams are almost too numerous to list. Because the individual panels are delivered on-site without packaging of any kind, there is no significant waste involved in the transportation and erection processes. Panels and beams are designed specifically to install quickly and easily. And installation is well-coordinated in advance to minimize the number of deliveries and related carbon emissions from the transportation vehicles. For architectural designers in search of new ways to boost building sustainability and eco-friendliness, precast concrete cladding is well worth a second look.