When you think of a green building, if you're like most people, recycling and building with recycled-content materials would likely spring to mind as a key characteristic. In the LEED system, credit is given to projects in which recycled-content represents more than 10% of the total value of all building materials (excluding equipment). This includes structure: roof, floors and load-bearing walls; rough and finish carpentry; insulation (sometimes cotton-batt insulation is made from recycled jeans); doors and windows; architectural metal, rebar, fly ash in concrete, steel structural beams, internal walls and floor coverings.
Because building materials typically represent about 45% of all construction cost, this standard implies, on a $10 million building, that $450,000 of recycled content would have to be used to qualify for one LEED point; for two points, $900,000 of recycled content materials would have to be used. Fortunately, some of the more expensive items, such as structural steel, have a decent recycled content (about 30%), while other steel items such as rebar (reinforcing rods in concrete) can have up to 90% recycled content.
The purpose of the LEED standard is to encourage the development of a local and regional economy that values recycling and that creates new materials with the same performance characteristics (strength, weight, durability, etc.) as virgin materials. In that way, we will begin to close the loop of resource flows in the economy and not incur the energy and pollution costs of using virgin materials.
An excellent example of a post-industrial or pre-consumer recycled-content material is the fly ash from coal-burning power plants. In concrete this material can be used to replace a significant amount (up to 50%) of cement, a very energy-intensive material to make, without compromising structural integrity. Cement makes up about 5% of concrete by weight, but it's the key ingredient. Another post-industrial material used to replace cement is the slag from blast furnaces.
Other examples of recycled-content products used in buildings include toilet partitions and exterior decking from recycled plastic bottles, Homasote® roof decking and wall panels from recycled newspapers (see p. 149),127 acoustic ceiling tile, drywall with recycled paper facing, carpets made from recycled plastics, carpets with recycled fibers and ceramic tile from recycled glass.
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