‘Green’ and sturdy

ttmac logo newThe lasting value of ceramic products

By Ryan Fasan

Products labelled green are too often only trendy and fashionable, but truly sustainable construction with truly green products can bring financial benefits and ultimately result in better buildings.

For any cladding to be considered sustainable it must be durable enough to survive in-situ for the life of the building and be cost and resource effective to produce, install and maintain. Ceramics have many natural benefits that fit well with this evolving green design framework. In fact, ceramics are so durable that much of what we know about past civilizations has only been preserved thanks to recovered ceramic material.

There are several important considerations when evaluating materials for green construction.

Tile and indoor air quality (IAQ)

Ceramic tile is an inorganic and inert material that not only adds no VOCs to indoor air but also actually inhibits the growth of mould, mildew and other organic irritants. There are anti-microbial and even self-cleaning glazes available on some high-technology tiles that utilize minerals as catalysts to keep their surface as hygienic as possible.

Since tile does not absorb odours and become a sink for any VOCs or other allergens, it makes it much easier to create a hypoallergenic space with impermeable materials. Over the lifespan of a building, which should cover many generations of occupants, a properly installed ceramic installation needs little to no heavy maintenance beyond sweeping and mopping. No harsh or perfumed cleaners are necessary to keep the space smelling clean and fresh.

Tile is also one of the few cladding materials that since 2010 no longer requires testing to qualify for contribution towards the IEQ credits associated with indoor air quality under LEED. Ceramics are also unaffected by UV light; they will not fade or deteriorate with exposure to the sun.

Thermal mass

Due to the high density and low conductivity of ceramic tile it is a wonderful heat sink for both heating and cooling a space. This principle is finding applications in both interior and exterior installations of ceramics when paired with intelligent design and subsidiary systems.

Thermal Comfort (TC) has become a buzzword in terms of occupant health and safety, so any means of achieving better TC at lower or no energy cost is a valuable sustainable design tool. American Environmental Protection Agency studies have shown radiant subfloor heating and/or cooling over a hard surface like ceramic tile to be the most efficient way to positively affect TC.

Aesthetics

The visual appeal of a material has to be weighed at least on par with life cycle analysis and other environmental considerations. The landfill burden and environmental costs of premature renovations and refurbishments due to undesirable aesthetics are staggering. The simple truth is that we strive to preserve buildings we love and tear down what we don’t like.

Modern, high-quality ceramics have an unparalleled ability to faithfully reproduce almost any material while still offering all the added values previously discussed. Ceramics today are the Irvin “Fletch” Fletcher of a designer’s repertoire. As masters of disguise, ceramics can reproduce stones, woods, metals and textiles with equal efficacy, without depleting a possibly endangered resource.

Cost

Material costs will always be a determining factor for almost every project. Too frequently, low-cost options are specified to keep within budgets, yet up-front cost is a false economy. When product and installation cost are amortized over a 40-year lifespan, ceramic tile is shown to be the lowest cost option.

Green design will always be a work in progress. As best practices and the definition of green itself evolve, we get closer and closer to creating not only green buildings by today’s standards, but truly sustainable buildings that will last efficiently for generations. After all, what is environmentalism but working to make things better today and better for those that come after?                                                                                  

Ryan Fasan is managing partner of Professional Attention to  Tile Installations and has 18 years industry experience as a technical and design consultant.

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