From offices and apartment buildings to state-of-the-art healthcare and educational facilities, architects are designing structures that provide occupants with the space they need to work, learn, and live.
Innovations in chemistry make an important contribution in developing building materials that help meet today’s evolving needs. High-performance spray foam insulation helps save energy by improving a building’s energy efficiency. Vinyl flooring in hospitals and operating rooms can be easily and effectively cleaned and disinfected while lasting for decades. Plastic coatings added to metal roofs provide protection for years, making them durable and storm-resistant and protecting them from corrosive environments.
At the same time, there is increasing discussion around how materials selection decisions may affect the environment and the health of building occupants. Increased interest from the public in “healthy” buildings, along with the desire on the part of building owners to make progress against green building certification system requirements, means architects and specifiers need more detailed information about which building materials and products help to meet sustainability goals. Manufacturers are also challenged to meet this demand for green and sustainable materials and work with architects, specifiers, and builders to provide them with the products they need.
Materials used in building and construction have different strengths, weaknesses, and trade-offs. The following describes just a few of the tools that builders and architects can use to evaluate products and make materials selection decisions:
- Life cycle assessments evaluate multiple potential environmental impacts of a product throughout its life span and can help identify opportunities to reduce these impacts and minimize resource use across a product’s life.
- Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) can help make the environmental impacts and trade-offs of a product more transparent and comparable, helping decision makers assess these impacts throughout the product life cycle and identify opportunities to improve environmental performance.
- Risk assessments combine considerations of product hazards, relevant toxicological end points and how building occupants might actually be exposed to a product and for how long. For example, a product such as insulation, which is contained behind a wall without direct contact with building occupants, should be evaluated differently than flooring that occupants walk on and have direct contact with every day. Understanding how to recognize and address potential risk is critical when considering how to balance the benefits of products with potential health, environmental, and sustainability impacts.
While there may be no “one-size-fits-all” answer to determine the “best” product or material for a specific application, careful consideration of a product’s life cycle impacts, safety profile, and exposure potential, along with the material’s cost, performance attributes, and aesthetics, can help provide increased confidence in materials selection decisions.
For more information on these and other topics related to chemistry in the built environment, visit BuildingWithChemistry.org.