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What's so special about Integrity Block?

Integrity Block's Advantage
Composite soil samples at Integrity Block's laboratory.
Composite soil samples at Integrity Block's laboratory.
Photo courtesy Integrity Block

Integrity Block aims to be the sustainable and ­­environmentally friendly alternative to the concrete masonry unit, or CMU. For those of us who don't work with concrete, a CMU is very simply a concrete block, available in a variety of standard sizes. Integrity Block differs from concrete blocks in ingredients and production. About half of the block is made of pre-consumer recycled content, or material from mining and quarrying operations that would have otherwise been considered waste [sources: Integrity Block, BuildingGreen]. The manufacturing process cuts energy consumption by about 40 percent and emits 39 percent less carbon [source: Integrity Block].

Integrity Block's precise makeup is proprietary, so we don't know exactly what's in the block. There is a little bit of cement in there, but by using such a high proportion of recycled materials, the amount of cement is reduced by about 40 percent [source: Webster]. The company hopes to cut out all cement from the block eventually [source: Zawicki]. The soil composite used in Integrity Block results in natural colors like gray and brown, so that the finished project won't necessarily look any differently from one constructed with regular concrete.

Using soil composites and recycled rock materials, or earthen building, is nothing new. It's been around for thousands of years, and dwellers of rammed earth and adobe homes have long sung the praises of natural earthen materials as an environmentally responsible way to build. As an additional benefit, earth has natural heating and cooling properties, cutting down on energy bills in the long run. The real challenge of a dwelling like a rammed earth home, however, is how unconventional it appears from the outside. It may be difficult to get a loan from a bank for construction, and the technique requires a specialized contractor.

Here's where a material like Integrity Block could gain the upper hand. Because the blocks are available in the same standard sizes as other concrete blocks, builders won't have to learn any new construction techniques. Additionally, there won't be the same runaround to meet an area's building regulations, since these blocks fall under established codes. And you're not sacrificing quality, either -- Integrity Block has met all the same performance standards as load-bearing concrete blocks. By using Integrity Block in a construction project, you may be eligible for LEED credits, and according to Integrity Block, none of these features will cost you any extra. Integrity Block will be priced competitively with concrete block.

What's the catch? Well, right now Integrity Block is new to the marketplace; the line for landscaping projects just rolled out in late 2008, with structural and architectural lines to follow. Additionally, the company's factory in Stockton, Calif., is the only place making Integrity Block as of press time. To keep the company's carbon footprint low, the product is only being distributed in northern California (if you're a resident of that area, you can check Integrity Block's Web site for nearby retailers). However, Integrity Block is seeking the financing that will fund national expansion, and it plans to have factories all over the country.

For other interesting products for home and garden, see the links on the next page.