Servizio Comunitario di Informazione in materia di Ricerca e Sviluppo - CORDIS

Environmental assessment of building materials and components

Research was carried out in order to develop a methodology for assessment of the major environmental impacts of building materials. Four key building materials/component combinations (BMCC) were studied as exemplars: clay facing bricks with cement based mortars (excluding wall ties); prefabricated reinforced concrete flooring slabs without insulation boards; timber window frames from heartwood (glazing not included) and single layer polyvinyl chloride (PVC) flooring, excluding floor screed and primers. Four life cycle stages were addressed for all materials/component combinations: raw material extraction and production; construction practice; use and performance; demolition and recycling. Four task groups were established to study all BMCCs at one particular life cycle stage. The findings of the task groups were then combined at a later stage to provide an overview of the complete life cycle. Most effort was devoted to the inventory stage of life cycle analysis (LCA). Process trees (flow diagrams) for each BMCC and life cycle stage were devised from which inputs and outputs for all materials over their life cycle could be defined and tabulated. These were then used as the basis of questionnaires seeking quantified data on the process inputs and outputs from materials producers.

The project has produced useful guidance on how to conduct an LCA for building materials. It has identified issues and suggested solutions to problems. It has furthered understanding of this subject and has promoted a common European approach. It has raised awareness of the issues with materials producers. A significant finding was that although data relating to the production stage is fairly straightforward to obtain, information relating to the construction, use and demolition phases was much less available. This presents a serious limitation to the LCA, especially as the use phase for buildings may be very long and will be a dominant influence over the environmental impacts of the BMCCs over their full life cycles.