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Construction’s carbon footprint – The sasquatch or the stiletto?

The sustainability debate and the roll out of the Code for Sustainable Homes has put carbon reduction at the forefront of almost everybody’s mind in the construction industry, though there still remains a great deal of uncertainty as to the right course of action to follow.

Even in relation to the Code there is continuing debate about what constitutes a ‘low or near zero’ dwelling, with much of the disagreement focused on the importance of embodied energy, compared to that consumed during the lifetime of the property. Even the Building Research Establishment’s Green Book has failed to settle the arguments between the manufacturers of dissimilar building materials.

Being specialists in the repair of virtually every type of building component from a cracked shower tray to dented cladding panels, at Plastic Surgeon we can take the stance of concerned observers: in that we do not influence how properties are built or heated. Yet we do still see ourselves as having two important roles to play in the process of carbon cutting: both for our own activities, and for helping our clients reduce their own environmental footprints.

For a number of years we have had a policy of operating leaner and greener: providing our 150 plus Finishers with compact box vans offering low fuel consumption to cover the country, while adopting the use of hand-held computers to optimize their working day. Then our unique VisibilITy software enables customers to equate every repair we do for them in terms of the tonnage of waste saved from going to landfill. And our material purchases are, wherever possible, based on lowest possible environmental impact.

Returning to the challenges facing our client base, especially in new build work, it is evident from the many different sources on the subject that measuring the carbon footprint of different building systems or methods is extremely difficult; even for highly trained BREEAM assessors.

Not only do different sources find it impossible to agree on even basic matters such as the tonnages of concrete, brick, plaster, ceramics and steel that go into a typical build, but you then have to balance such factors as the ‘thermal mass’ offered by masonry products, with the ‘carbon capture’ inherent with organic materials such as timber or hemp.

What is clear, however, is that with new building being far better insulated and more airtight than ever before – and using high efficiency heating or other M&E systems – the gap between lifetime energy costs and those locked up in the construction of a structure, are converging rapidly.

While we are not involved in the “cradle to gate” calculation of a product’s embodied energy during the manufacturing process, this figure is highly relevant to what our repair service offers: either in the final snagging of the build process or later during the property’s working life.

As our VisibilITy system shows, every time we fill and colour match a work-surface, patch a hole in a bath, or make good an area of masonry discoloured by mortar staining, this can be equated to a weight of waste saved. But depending on the individual production process, or even the place of origin from which a replacement product would have to be delivered, translate into more C02 emissions saved. In effect everything we repair has a positive impact on the construction industry’s carbon footprint.

There is a huge difference between the contact area with the earth’s surface of a stiletto-heeled shoe and the imprint of the legendary North American Sasquatch. Ironically an average builder’s steel toe-capped boot would fall somewhere half way between.

At Plastic Surgeon we therefore see ourselves as probably taking a size 6, narrow fitting work shoe, rather than the size 14 gumboot many construction companies still stomp about in. Can we help you cut your carbon footprint?

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