Precast concrete have turned out to be a miracle material for builders due to the countless new possibilities it has opened up. Due to the wide popularity of precast concrete, a major question that comes up is ‘are precast concrete slabs sustainable building materials?’
Discussing the sustainability of precast concrete, or of any other materials for that matter includes an understanding of the environmental impact of the material. In this article, we will go through all the details regarding the sustainability of precast concrete slabs.
What is Sustainability in Architecture and Construction?
Many people think of sustainable building materials as just an environmentally friendly construction option. However, there is more to sustainability besides its environmental impact. There are three factors that can define a building material as sustainable:
- Social Factor: Social factor includes the effect of material production on social sectors, such as the labor that works for its making. It is a well-known fact that on-site construction workers work in unsafe environments. However, precast concrete is made in factories with controlled conditions, making it perfectly safe for labor.
- Economic Factor: The economic factor not just includes the cost of purchasing the material but also the cost spent on repairs and maintenance of the materials. Precast concrete is tremendously long-lasting and requires no repairs, making it a winner in this regard.
- Environment Factor: Lastly, it is vital for a sustainable building material to be environmentally friendly. Precast concrete is made with the concept of recycling and has minimal waste compared to other materials. This makes it an environmentally friendly construction material.
Precast concrete is sustainable due to how it fares on every aspect of sustainability. In the coming sections, we will discuss in detail all the particular elements of precast concrete that make it an attractive option for an environmentally friendly construction.
Is Precast Concrete Environmentally Friendly?
In one word- yes. One of the benefits of using precast concrete is that it is a very environmentally friendly construction option. When you compare the sustainability of precast concrete with on site concrete, the difference is of leaps and bounds.
The best part is that while being an environmentally friendly option, precast concrete does not add to the cost of construction. In fact, precast concrete construction can be cheaper than on-site construction when you factor in all the added costs of the latter.
What Makes Precast Concrete a Sustainable Building Material?
There are many factors that make precast concrete a sustainable building material, even more so than many other materials that are considered sustainable. These factors are:
Using precast concrete slabs from an expert manufacturer such as Premier Precast results in lesser concrete being used for the same coverage. This is because of the design optimization and minimal waste. In fact, the difference in the concrete used can be as much as 30%.
Concrete, in general, is a recyclable material. The concrete from demolished structures is used in the form of concrete aggregates. Precast concrete takes the recycled materials a step further as it even reuses the water that on-site concrete mix consumes. Due to controlled conditions, all the waste concrete is also recycled back into the process.
As a matter of fact, recycled materials are used in the making of precast concrete itself. An example is the use of fly ash and recycled steel. Precast concrete is environmentally friendly because it is made of recycled materials and it can turn into recyclable materials.
Since precast concrete is made with industrial technology on a large scale, it makes the best possible use of resources. All the resources such as concrete mix, water, energy, and manpower are used to the best of their ability. In on-site concrete mixes, a lot of resources go to waste. This leads to considerably lower resource efficiency.
Additionally, precast concrete can incorporate insulation layers in the concrete slabs themselves. This reduces the need for adding insulation materials later on. The same goes for surface finishing materials. Elements like steel forms, sand, and acids can be reused later for future manufacturing processes.
The majority of the carbon emissions for a traditional building actually occurs after it is constructed. These emissions come in the form of maintenance, heating and cooling costs, and repairs. However, in the case of precast concrete, the high-quality control leads to a long-lasting material that does not require any maintenance or repairs in its lifetime. Additionally, the insulating layers are added within the slabs themselves, leading to no heating or cooling costs later on.
Precast concrete isn’t a niche material that can lose its appeal or application in the future. It has very high versatility and can be used for extensive applications, from adding finishing aesthetics to making load-bearing components, from floors to walls and ceilings. Even construction elements like beams and arches can be made by the precast concrete manufacturing process.
Weatherproof and Fire Resistant
Precast concrete structures are resistant to adverse weather conditions and even fires. Therefore, there is no chance that the resulting building can get damaged in any way and might require reconstruction. For construction projects made out of precast concrete, a minimum lifespan of 100 years is a given.
Generally, people have a notion that sustainable building material is going to cost more. However, in the case of precast concrete, it is actually one of the most cost-effective construction materials. In fact, due to the time it saves, precast concrete ends up being more cost-effective than site-poured concrete while offering a higher construction quality.
Precast concrete construction has a high safety element. Firstly, these structures are fireproof which is a huge benefit in itself. Additionally, these structures do not get mold due to the addition of special additives. Also, there are no toxic substances used in the making of precast concrete as certified companies like Premier Precast have to comply with national standards.
Most sustainable buildings do not have many options when it comes to design finishes. However, with precast concrete, you can get any design finish that you require. In fact, there are so many surface finishes options available that you might not even need to use secondary finishing for aesthetics. Many buildings made with Premier Precast concrete panels have won awards for their architectural and aesthetic appeal.
Labor and Neighbor Friendly
Everyone is familiar with the high noise that traditional construction makes. However, there is no such noise when using precast concrete since there is no concrete mixing involved. The construction is cleaner as well, making it more comfortable for labor as well as the people living nearby. The low noise pollution also adds to the sustainability of the building materials.
Carbonation is a process where a material ends up absorbing carbon dioxide, thereby reducing the carbon footprint. Precast concrete units and structures absorb more carbon dioxide due to carbonation than the carbon dioxide released during their manufacturing process. This adds to their sustainable and environmentally friendly construction nature.
Indoor Air Quality
Usually, artificial heating and cooling equipment in a building ends up deteriorating its indoor air quality. However, precast concrete’s thermal mass is quite high with the incorporation of many insulating elements, eliminating the need for secondary insulations or heating and cooling equipment.
This improves the indoor air quality of the building. In addition, precast concrete components do not release any chemicals or toxic fumes. Therefore, these structures do not require chemical treatment at any time in the future, improving air quality even more.
All the raw materials used by the precast concrete industry are sourced directly from nature. Materials like sand and limestone are found naturally, eliminating any need for the artificial construction of raw materials.
There are no adhesives used, which further reduces the amount of artificial chemicals incorporated in precast concrete elements. Therefore, precast concrete products naturally make a green building.
Quality of Materials
Branded precast products, such as those sourced from Premier Precast, use the best available materials globally since the production occurs on a large scale. These have significantly higher quality than on-site concrete since the latter uses the best available local materials. Using best possible materials instead of local materials also increases the lifetime of the structures while reducing repairs.
LEED Certification of Precast Concrete
Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, is a rating standard used to define how much environmentally friendly construction is used for making a green building. It is a globally accepted standard that ensures that the construction materials and methods you use are healthier, have a high energy efficiency, and are cost-effective.
LEED certification is divided into four categories: Certified, Silver, Gold, and Platinum. The categories are based on a points system. To qualify for LEED, a building must have a minimum of 40 points. Once the building qualifies with over 40 points, it is placed in one of the above categories. The criteria for each category is:
- Certified: 40 to 49 points
- Silver: 50 to 59 points
- Gold: 60 to 79 points
- Platinum: 80 points and more
How Does Precast Concrete Get Rated?
Precast concrete structures get a high number of points since it uses the policy of ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’. To make a green building certifiable for LEED, there are many factors at play. If you use precast concrete as the construction material, you will definitely be far ahead in the race.
Firstly, precast concrete reduces the quantity of concrete required as compared to construction site poured concrete. In addition, all the steel forms, molds, and other equipment used in precast concrete construction can be reused over and over again. Lastly, the precast concrete panels themselves can be broken down into a powder and used as aggregate recycled materials.
Therefore, constructing precast concrete sustainable buildings is a great way to enter the platinum or gold LEED rating.
Precast concrete elements are one of the most sustainable design and construction materials out there. This is why precast products have become the go-to option for large scale projects in the construction industry. Not only is precast concrete environmentally friendly, it is also a safer and cost effective option.
If you are wondering about how to source precast concrete elements for your construction industry projects, Premier Precast is the best way to do it. It is the leading precast concrete products manufacturer in the US, with a quality exceptionally superior to local markets. It is available in a wide range of designs, shapes, and finishes to meet the particular requirement of the construction processes. These panels can be delivered right to the building site.