Ma­sonry, green home­build­ing choices

South Shore Breaker - - HOME&GARDEN - STEVE MAXWELL edi­tor@southshore­breaker.ca

Ev­ery­one makes choices in life, and many of th­ese choices af­fect the en­vi­ron­ment. The funny thing is, choices don’t al­ways align with the val­ues peo­ple claim to hold. It’s sur­pris­ing how of­ten this dis­con­nect hap­pens. I know more than one per­son who talks like they care about the en­vi­ron­ment, yet they burn house­hold garbage in plas­tic bags in a smoul­der­ing bar­rel in their back­yard.

A health-food store owner I know tells me that beef jerky sales in his big city store triple when the prod­uct is pack­aged in fancy, waste­ful, plas­tic bags puffed up with air, com­pared with the same jerky sold in bulk bins with­out pack­ag­ing.

Per­haps the most mis­un­der­stood en­vi­ron­men­tal con­fu­sions of all have to do with our homes and how they’re built.

There’s a mistaken idea that home­build­ing ma­te­ri­als and meth­ods need to be mod­ern for them to be en­vi­ron­men­tally sound. The old ways were from the bad old days, right? No, not nec­es­sar­ily, and ma­sonry con­struc­tion ma­te­ri­als are a prime ex­am­ple.

Brick and stone are the old­est build­ing ma­te­ri­als in the world, yet they’re still some of the most en­vi­ron­men­tally sound choices. They prob­a­bly al­ways will be. Part of this has to do with how long ma­sonry lasts. The en­ergy and en­vi­ron­men­tal costs of man­u­fac­tur­ing ma­sonry prod­ucts are spread out over much more time than other ma­te­ri­als, low­er­ing their an­nual en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact. Lo­cal sources of sup­ply are an­other rea­son ma­sonry makes en­vi­ron­men­tal sense.

Brick, block and stone are heavy, of course, so man­u­fac­tur­ing plants have de­vel­oped lo­cally near all ma­jor ci­ties over the years. Not all ma­sonry prod­ucts are made right around the cor­ner, but many are. And when it comes to lo­cal, it’s not just about where the ma­te­rial will be used for build­ing. It’s also about what hap­pens to the ma­te­rial when a build­ing isn’t needed any more.

My grand­fa­ther worked most of his life in the red brick Goodyear tire fac­tory built near Toronto in 1917 and I re­mem­ber the day when Grandpa took me out to see the old plant go­ing down in 1989. It was a sad mo­ment as I thought of all the fam­i­lies that en­joyed a life­time’s liveli­hood from that plant, a place where half of all the tires for Canada were once made. That said, the red brick was be­ing crushed on site for re­use some­where and for some­thing use­ful. No tox­ins, no land­fill, no haz­ardous waste, just hon­est, use­ful, red­dish-brown rub­ble. What could be bet­ter than that?

Per­haps the big­gest rea­son I like ma­sonry is be­cause it con­trib­utes to healthy homes. One of the chal­lenges of Cana­dian home build­ing is the need to let mois­ture vapour es­cape from wall sys­tems, while also keep­ing liq­uid mois­ture out from driv­ing rains and snow. Most peo­ple are sur­prised to learn that ex­te­rior wall frames can de­velop quite a bit of in­ter­nal mois­ture over the course of a win­ter as warm in­door air cools and con­denses.

The fail­ure of build­ings to let trapped mois­ture es­cape is one of the things re­lated to what’s called sick build­ing syn­drome (SBS).

This con­di­tion has dif­fer­ent causes but the re­sults are that peo­ple get ill when in­doors. Syn­thetic ex­te­rior cladding op­tions may be good at keep­ing wa­ter out, but if mois­ture ever does get be­hind them (and it cer­tainly can), that mois­ture can eas­ily trig­ger mould growth be­cause it can’t dry. Brick ve­neer is the most com­mon use of ma­sonry in Cana­dian home­build­ing and as good as it is at keep­ing rain out, it’s also great at let­ting trapped mois­ture vapour es­cape out and away from ex­te­rior walls. It’s ac­tu­ally de­signed to do this. An air space be­tween the bricks and the wall frame, along with drainage holes at the bot­tom of the brick be­tween mor­tar joints, lets mois­ture es­cape.

Some­times the wis­est en­vi­ron­men­tal choices in life are the old ones, the ones that have been sit­ting un­der our noses with­out flash and fan­fare for years. Ma­sonry home­build­ing is one of th­ese.

As seen in

Steve Maxwell

This arch was built more than 100 years ago and is still in great shape. No other build­ing ma­te­rial lasts as long and ages as well as ma­sonry.

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