Glass & Sustainable Architecture
Last year was the fourth hottest year on record, according to NASA and NOAA. Although our planet’s climate has been changing throughout geological time, the warmest average temperatures have been recorded in the last five years.
The recent effects of climate change have been well documented. Extreme weather events, like the destructive hurricanes in the U.S., record droughts in South Africa, and forest fires in the Arctic, have all been linked to climate change. These natural disasters are not only damaging for the communities they affect, they are also costly. The economic hit for 2018’s climate and weather events totaled $91 billion.
As we celebrate Earth Day today, we are reminded of the importance of practicing sustainability in our everyday lives. With nearly 40% of energy in the United States consumed by buildings, it is critical that building professionals understand their role in combating climate change through sustainable design and construction practices.
Fortunately, many architects, designers, and construction professionals are taking active roles in adopting more sustainable building practices. The American Institute of Architects (AIA) launched the 2030 Challenge more than ten years ago to commit to developing greener buildings by promoting renewable energy and utilizing smarter building materials. A major focus of the initiative is to increase fossil fuel reduction to 80% in 2020, 90% in 2025, and eventually to be carbon-neutral by 2030.
Sustainability is also a key issue in the construction sector. The United States Green Building Council pioneered the LEED green building rating system to encourage more sustainable practices in the world of construction. As a result, LEED certified buildings save energy, water, resources, generate less waste, and cost less to operate. LEED buildings also boast higher resale values and faster lease up rates.
These actions have proven successful for both construction professionals and building owners. As of 2017, AIA’s 2030 Challenge has provided architects with the tools they need to save 17.8 million metric tons of CO2 per year.
Four Ways to Adopt Sustainable Building Practices
Greener building practices can be slowly adopted over time to make way for a carbon neutral future. AIA lists several ways that architects can fight climate change.
Many times, the greenest buildings are ones that have already been built. The adaptation and retrofitting of existing buildings are crucial tactics to reduce the carbon footprint of construction. Demolition and new construction both produce large amounts of emissions
Pursuing Renewable Energy
Offsetting energy use with renewable sources is a smart solution for sustainable architecture. When architects and designers understand how to effectively use the available renewable energy sources, emissions associated with building operations can be greatly reduced.
Selecting Smarter Materials
The carbon footprint represented by a building’s materials is referred to as its embodied carbon. Reducing the use of high-emitting materials like concrete, steel, aluminum, and foam insulation are crucial to reducing a building’s embodied carbon.
Sustainability of Glass Block and Structural Glass
Glass products have not always been known to be the most sustainable materials. Products of the past had higher transfer coefficients, therefore making them less energy efficient. Modern glass technologies, such as double glazing, coatings, and lamination have improved thermal performance. The use of glass products can even be utilized in daylighting systems to reduce energy consumption through the transmission of natural light.
Glass block can provide more than two times the thermal resistance of single-glaze 1/8” thick plate glass. The differences between the shading coefficient of glass block and flat sheet glass are also significant. Contributing to this is the louvering effect of glass block’s horizontal mortar joints, which helps reduce light transmission from the high summer sun. The size and orientation of glass block can greatly affect the amount of shading that can occur.
Glass block is also made largely from sand and limestone, making it 100% recyclable after use. It generates minimal impact and has a lifespan of 50 years or more. Additionally, glass block and structural glass products can reduce construction waste by being re-purposed in a variety of ways at the end of their lives. The glass can be ground and used as an aggregate in concrete or asphalt, for example. Some other uses for re-purposed glass include beads for reflective paint, pipe cushions for storm drains, filter media for swimming pools, and golf course or aquarium sand.
Additionally, SEVES Glass Block energy saving products aim to reduce a block’s thermal transmittance and increase its efficiency. The new thermal values are achieved by inserting a low-emitting glass plate and pressure-controlled Argon gas inside the glass block. The low-emitting glass plate interrupts the thermal bridge of the block, while the gas further reduces the heat transfer caused by convective motions.
Contact GBA Architectural Products + Services
As the material of choice for many iconic structures throughout the world, glass block and structural glass are practical and easy to maintain. Acceptance of the product has been worldwide, embraced by world-class architects and designers as sustainable building materials of the future.
Our team of experts is ready to collaborate with architects and building owners to pursue sustainable solutions with our range of high-performance glass products.
GBA Architectural Products + Services is a leader in glass block and structural glass architecture for homes and businesses. GBA experts collaborate with home and business owners from all over the United States to create or recreate new structures with glass block.
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