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Feature Eco materials for 2015

5 Eco Building Boards

This drywall system is made from unfi red clay reinforced with coconut fi bres, and offers a natural, breathable alternative to gypsum plasterboard. Clay already has a high thermal mass, but the boards are available with embedded phase-change materials (PCM), boosting their thermal performance still further. At temperatures of 21-24°C, a 16mm-thick board absorbs 60% more heat than 30mm of concrete. “Clay is good for buffering

4 Propelair toilet

This British invention uses just 1.5L of water for each fl ush. The cistern is divided into two – one half for water, the other containing a patented air pump. The lid must be closed before fl ushing to create a seal. Then a small amount of water enters the pan to clean it, followed by a high- pressure jet of air that pushes out the contents, before the remaining water refi lls the trap. Its environmental performance is

impressive, its looks are less so – so it’s more likely to be installed in commercial and institutional settings than domestic bathrooms. Released in 2013, the toilet has so far been trialled by 25 public and private- sector clients including the London School of Economics, McDonald’s, several local councils and the Peacock Theatre, and its inventors have just raised £2.6m of equity funding to promote it.

moisture and also volatile organic compounds, and the PCMs gives you a lightweight structure that behaves like a heavyweight building,” says Chris Brookman, who runs specialist product

supplier Back to Earth. “Clay boards are still a bit green and hairy for most people, but they’ve been used in some high-profi le projects.” The boards have been available since

2010, but interest has been driven in the past year or so by an increasing awareness of overheating problems. At London’s Somerset House East Wing, 1000m2

of 14mm-thick PCM boards weighing 17kg/m3 have been installed.

They deliver the same thermal mass as 50mm-thick concrete panels weighing more than 100kg/m3 1800m2

. Meanwhile, were fi tted at One Church Square, a social housing project in

Westminster, completed in 2013.

6 Refurbify by VRM Technology

This is a cloud-based software tool that aims to bring the data-rich rigour of BIM to domestic refurbishment, and so provide greater certainty and transparency for social landlords. Trades use a tablet computer onsite to input survey data and capture photos and videos, and this is then used to manage the retrofi tting process and to produce BIM models, plans and compliance reports. The developer is now adding 3D scanning capability, which will greatly speed up the process. “On a basic retrofi t, you’re not going

to be able to afford to produce a BIM model, so we’ve taken elements of BIM that sit behind the model, such as the products that are going to be used, how they’re supposed to be used, who is required to install them, the cost and the time it should take, and we end

up producing a model that can be imported into BIM products,” says VRM chief executive Neill Ryan.

Released mid-2014, the software

is already being used by contractor Lakehouse, the Northern Ireland Housing Executive, a number of housing associations and Haringey council’s Retrofi tWorks project. VRM Technology has received grants

from EU’s Horizon 2020 fund and Innovate UK to develop the software further, and is working with Huddersfi eld University and Leeds Beckett University on the BRE’s S-IMPLER retrofi tting project. “It should bring us closer to getting the building we want and better understanding building processes,” says Chris Gorse of Leeds Beckett University. “If we can see how buildings have been built, we know they will perform as expected.” Read more about VRM at


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