The materials used in your home’s construction have a significant impact on its performance, durability and energy use. Careful analysis and selection of materials, and the way they are combined, can improve the comfort and cost effectiveness of your home, and greatly reduce its lifecycle environmental impact. You can also reduce demand for new materials by considering waste minimisation principles in the design and construction of your home.
In this section
Embodied energy is a calculation of all of the energy used in the production of a building, from mining to manufacturing, and transport. Sourcing materials with low embodied energy can reduce your home’s environmental impact.
Building waste makes up approximately 44% of Australia’s waste. The ‘three Rs’ of waste minimisation – reduce, reuse, recycle – should be applied throughout design and construction.
Sediment control should be used on building sites to prevent sand, soil, cement, and other building materials from reaching waterways.
Construction systems are the combinations of materials and methods used to build roofs, walls, and floors. Each has advantages and disadvantages.
Concrete slab floors
Concrete slab floors can be on ground, suspended, or a mix of both. They have high thermal mass that can assist in effective passive design when used in the right climate.
Lightweight framed construction using timber or steel is the most popular construction system used in Australia.
Brickwork and blockwork
Bricks and blocks of clay and concrete are common building materials, used in brick veneer, reverse veneer or double brick construction.
Precast concrete can be poured and set either onsite or offsite before being lifted into place, offering a fast construction method.
Autoclaved aerated concrete
Autoclaved aerated concrete (AAC) has been manufactured to contain many air pockets, forming a lightweight building material with lower embodied energy than conventional concrete.
Cladding is the non-loadbearing skin or layer attached to the outside of a home to protect the building from water and weather. There are many different cladding options available.
Mud bricks are made by mixing earth with water, placing the mixture into moulds and drying the bricks. Mud brick construction has low environmental impact.
Hemp masonry mixes hemp fibre, lime and sand. The hemp and lime react to cure the mixture and sand provides additional thermal mass and strength. Hemp masonry construction provides good insulation and has low environmental impact.
Rammed earth walls are constructed by ramming a mixture of gravel, sand, and clay – and sometimes some cement – into place between flat vertical panels. Rammed earth typically has low environmental impact.
Straw bale walls are built using straw bales around a lightweight frame. They are rendered and resistant to fire, pests and decay. Straw bale construction provides good insulation and has low environmental impact.
Green roofs and walls
Green roofs and walls are designed to hold soil and growing medium, or growing mats, to support plants. They provide many benefits to a home and can play a role in reducing urban heat.