It's as inevitable as the winter holidays. Near the end of the year, every publication, organization or armchair critic releases a best-of list. We catalog the movies that made us laugh, the books that made us cry, the inventions that changed the world and the people who inspired us over the past 12 months. At the end of 2008, BuildingGreen, a publishing company that specializes in green design information, announced its top 10 green products of the year. Among the entries was something called Integrity Block, which is claimed to be the first green replacement for the concrete block.
It's already hard enough to distinguish one green product from another, let alone discern whether it's even truly environmentally friendly. Is Integrity Block really any different? But even if you're suspicious of another top 10 list with seemingly arbitrary listings, you're probably a little bit intrigued, especially if you know a few things about cement and concrete. Cement, the main ingredient in concrete, takes a great deal of energy to produce and results in huge carbon emissions. The production of 1 ton of cement releases 1 ton of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere [source: Sturrock]. Further compounding the problem is our reliance on the substance -- concrete is the second most consumed substance on earth, trailing water [source: Zawicki].
Integrity Block Inc., the manufacturer of Integrity Block, isn't the first company to consider how cement could be produced in a more environmentally responsible manner. Many other people have tried to determine a new production process or list of ingredients that might be friendlier to the Earth. Still, even with everyone's best efforts, any replacement would have a lot to live up to. Concrete is an extremely durable building material that many know and trust. You'd want something just as strong, easy to use and about the same price before you switched to a new product, right?
Go to the next page to find out why this Integrity Block just might fit your needs.
Integrity Block's Advantage
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.
Related HowStuffWorks Articles
More Great Links
- "BuildingGreen Announces 2008 Top-10 Green Products." BuildingGreen. Dec. 1, 2008. (Dec. 9, 2008)http://www.buildinggreen.com/auth/article.cfm/2008/11/24/BuildingGreen-Announces-2008-Top-10-Green-Products/
- "CEO Showcase." GoingGreen. Sept. 17, 2008. (Dec. 9, 2008)http://goinggreen.goingon.com/page/display/28929?param=session/375
- "Integrity Block for Landscaping." BuildingGreen. Oct. 1, 2008. (Dec. 9, 2008) http://www.buildinggreen.com/auth/productDetail.cfm?ProductID=4192
- "Integrity Block Receives $2.7 Million in Funding to Manufacture Green Building Materials: Company introduces the first green replacement for concrete block." PR Newswire. June 30, 2008.
- Integrity Block Company Overview. 2008. Integrity Block Web site. (Dec. 9, 2008)http://www.integrityblock.com/
- Martin, Brett. "Concrete Block Trends." Masonry Magazine. May 2008. (Dec. 9, 2008) http://www.masonrymagazine.com/5-08/block.html
- Redell, Charles. "Cracking the code." Sustainable Industries. Aug. 4, 2008. (Dec. 9, 2008) http://www.sustainableindustries.com/greenbuilding/26191524.html
- Sturrock, Carrie. "Green cement may set CO2 fate in concrete." San Francisco Chronicle. Sept. 2, 2008. (Dec. 9, 2008) http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2008/09/02/MNGD12936I.DTL
- Webster, Keeley. "Building Smart When Building Green." California Real Estate Journal. June 30, 2008. (Dec. 9, 2008) http://integrityblock.com/pdf/IB_Special_Report_Green.pdf
- Wilson, Alex. "Cement and Concrete: Environmental Considerations." Environmental Building News. March 1, 1993. (Dec. 9, 2008) http://www.buildinggreen.com/auth/article.cfm?fileName=020201b.xml
- Zawicki, Neil. "Earth to Builders: Use Me." BUILDERnews Magazine. September 2008. (Dec. 9,2008) http://integrityblock.com/pdf/Builder_News_Mag_Sept.pdf