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Environmentally Sensitive and Cost-Effective Concrete Gaining Ground as Building Material Choice

Written by Peter L. Mosca on Tuesday, 12 August 2008 7:00 pm
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Business in general, and the construction and building sectors specifically, are more competitive, cost-conscious and environmentally aware than at any other time in our nation's history. With profits shrinking and consumers choosing more and more 'green' developers, a product that has been around since the mid 1990's is gaining ground in developments across the country.

E-Crete or Autoclaved Aerated Concrete (AAC), according to the Autoclaved Aerated Concrete Products Association, is manufactured from common and abundant natural raw materials with the finished product up to twice the volume of the raw materials used. Plus, the energy consumed in the production process is only a fraction compared to the production of other materials, and the manufacturing process emits no pollutants and creates no by-products or toxic waste products.

"AAC is made with all fine aggregates, nothing more coarse than a grain of sand, cement and a natural expansion agent that causes the concrete to rise like bread dough, with countless small air pockets. In fact, this concrete is 80 percent air," says the AACPA, whose mission is to nurture and champion the autoclaved aerated concrete industry, by creating and maintaining a dynamic network bringing together resources, knowledge, and innovation. "AAC has proven to be a very durable material. It will not rot, warp, rust, corrode, or otherwise decompose and provides a very low maintenance building, saving considerable time and money in upkeep over the life of the building."

In addition to being durable, of high quality and environmentally sensitive, AAC provides architects, developers and contractors - and their customers -- a variety of other benefits. A list includes:

High Thermal Insulation: Buildings constructed with AAC tend to be cooler in summer and warmer in winter. An AAC wall provides solid insulation, without the thermal bridging (cold spots) associated with through-wall framing members or fasteners. As a result, the building's air conditioning or heating use may be lower and makes the use of additional thermal insulation unnecessary.

  • Fire Resistance: AAC is an inorganic material that does not burn and provides a U.L. classified four-hour fire rating. The melting point of AAC is over 2900 ºF, more than twice the typical temperature in a building fire of 1200 ºF. As a result, the use of AAC eliminates the need for applying costly fireproofing materials.

    Mold Resistance: AAC does not offer the nutrients needed for mold growth. The AACPA points to tests conducted by an independent laboratory on AAC block against the three fungi most commonly involved in indoor air quality studies showed AAC to be fungal resistant and repressive in allowing mold to multiply.

    Acoustic Insulation: AAC's porous structure and high surface mass, coupled with its ability to dampen mechanical vibration energy, greatly reduces outside environmental noise pollution and the indoor echo effect (i.e. reflecting sound) in empty rooms, providing a quieter, more comfortable interior for the occupants.

    Design Flexibility: AAC blocks can be incised to create reveals, signage, and graphics, and corners of walls can be rasped and arches cut with saws.

    Seismic Design: AAC buildings have shown good resistance to earthquake forces. The non-combustible and fire resistant characteristics provide further advantage against fires commonly associated with earthquakes.

    Pest Resistance: As an inorganic, insect resistant, solid wall construction material, it is impossible for insects and rodents to inhabit in AAC.

    Improved Indoor Air Quality: AAC is an inorganic material that contains no toxic substances and does not decompose or off-gas. In addition, since AAC is both a structural and insulation material, it allows the elimination of other materials that may contribute to poor indoor air quality.

    Workability: In addition to being cut with a band saw or hand saw, AAC can also be drilled, nailed, grooved, routed, shaped, sculpted, carved, coated, floated, screwed into and milled with common tools and finished with paint, tile, drywall, plaster, or veneer. AAC is economical, sustainable and cost-effective. It has been a popular building material in Europe for over 50 years, and is gaining in popularity today in the U.S. as an environmentally safer choice, something that real estate consumers are increasingly demanding from their builders, contractors and developers.

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