Moving Masonry into a Sustainable Future

Words: Nick Vaccaro

Words: Nick Vaccaro
Photo: kazuma seki

Today, one cannot escape from discussions of a sustainable future. Just as when we are exposed to reporting on this subject via news segments and the internet, sustainability seems to accompany the fossil fuel industry. Rarely are any other examples provided, but to truly attain a sustainable future, the terms of achievement must apply to all aspects applicable. Building materials and products are a major component in this race to sustainability, but they must be identified as such before they can receive further attention and directive.

While the building industry employs various products with the intent of yielding a maintenance-free product, some of those are petroleum derivatives. Plastics and many synthetic products serve as a superior alternative when it comes to longevity, but they do not serve as stepping stones to a sustainable future. Fortunately, there are other products of the building industry that do withstand the time of exposure, provide longevity, and meet the standards of sustainability. The world of masonry is a big proponent of this thought cycle.

Sustainable Design Principles

Improving the performance of buildings can produce a sustainable design. Methods to accomplish this include using products that limit the negative impacts on the environment and reduce the use of non-renewable resources. Basic principles available can assist in making that determination and include:

  • Optimize the size possibility
  • Reduce the use of non-renewable energy
  • Use environmentally friendly products
  • Preservation and conservation of water
  • Improve the quality of the indoor environment
  • Enhance practices of operation and maintenance

Masonry Meets the Criteria

Considering the vast surplus of products flooding the construction market, it might seem difficult to render an opinion on any that might meet these basic characteristics of sustainability or participate in the cause. PVC and other non-wood products have been developed to avoid rot and decay, but they are petroleum product-based.

Masonry, however, portrays an interesting concept. Brick serves as a wonderful example of building sustainability. As a structural unit in construction, brick was first sun-dried 60,000 years ago and is the basic building block that the majority of products in the masonry line are built. They are formed from clay or shale, and even a mixture, and then kiln-dried, which is the equivalent to baked in an oven. As one can determine, brick and other forms of masonry are created from natural components of the earth in lieu of alternatives developed by a man using processes that fail to meet the criteria of sustainability.

Getting Onboard Early

All indications of a climate-responsive building future can be seen from multiple vantage points. While no one is directly demonizing products like non-wood alternatives, the processes that indirectly and directly affect the manufacturing process are coming under fire. If the fossil fuel industry experiences drastic change, some building products could be upset.

In addition to potential changes affecting manufacturing, public opinion of the building’s direction has experienced a shift of its own. An eye-opening 70-percent of consumers expressed the importance of being environmentally friendly and socially responsible when taking brand loyalty into consideration.

While masonry has long withstood the test of time as both a finished product and a structural product, it has an opportunity to lead the way in many aspects of building sustainability. With the consumer base acknowledging future sustainability as a factor in their decision-making process, masonry can offer that environmentally friendly alternative both inside and out, from the tile on floors to the brick facade of the structure itself.

Innovators in the masonry world find themselves in an interesting position in this fight for the planet’s future. While technology and product advancements and enhancements seek to better the world, masonry possesses a head start in the process. It is elementary to process when accounting for the various areas where masonry answers the call.

While laminate wood flooring has grown in popularity as an alternative to carpets and conventional wood, their manufacturing involves processes that fail to meet the characteristics of a sustainable product. Masonry has responded for years with its own floor line of rich and robust brick pavers. Their durability is unquestionable and can easily be maintained with a simple sealer. Those sealers are now even offered in a water-based mixture that better supports the health and safety of the installers and the environment itself.

The most popular and durable rendition of countertop found in both the residential and commercial sectors of construction include granite, quartz, or some type of masonry top. Their natural shades and veining lend to an eye-appealing option and are naturally created. They are not based on fossil fuels extraction or other harmful processes.

While brick offers a structurally definitive facade for a home or commercial building, some opt for something else. Advancements have even been made with masonry or concrete-based siding that has been planking homes and businesses for over ten years now. 

Combining a Natural Base with Technology

While masonry’s natural origin has provided a path of success to a sustainable future, it is not benign from technological advancement, creative thought, and innovative thinking. Masonry has partnered with other sources that welcome a green future.

Taking advantage of natural construction components, SolaBlock has outfitted concrete masonry units with solar panels. Responding to the need for clean energy and embracing the solar power revolution, SolaBlock uses a sustainable product and retrofits it with a technology that further answers the call of a sustainable future, from an energy aspect.

The reduction of noise pollution has been a significant area of interest when contemplating building sustainability. Masonry provides an intuitive response in this area as well. Providing an aesthetically pleasing and acoustical solution, Acousta-Wal engages the building industry as a sound-absorbing masonry unit. With the ability to serve residential construction, gymnasiums, and other project types, this product controls the transmission of the sound waves it absorbs. Its versatility allows it to be utilized as an interior and exterior option.

Path to Success

While masonry products come in different forms for different applications like steppingstones, it is conceivable to hypothesize that those very steppingstones can take the masonry industry straight into a green future as a leader. Its natural base from which it is derived catapulted it as a building block to a sustainable future without ever earmarking it for that intention. That was never a thought when masonry was first introduced to civilization, but still, here we are today.

With its ability to serve as the carrying component for technology and new products, masonry has leveraged itself as the gold standard of building practices accepted and celebrated by those seeking to make the world a better place. The components themselves offer a solution to dirty energy and are environmentally friendly. Being used to support such technology as SolaBlock, masonry has fueled the renewable energy sector.

Its is various forms taken, masonry harnesses the ability to take multiple roads to the same place, the utopia of a sustainable future. The absolute genius that accompanies this ability is its variation in options that provide both a mechanical ability like structural support and its aesthetic value like the historical favor of Old St. Louis brick. No matter the component, masonry sees victory in ensuring a bright and planet-friendly future.

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