Sustainable building materials and applications from Europe


The U.S. residential construction industry is experiencing a dramatic renaissance in innovation, resulting from the concurrent revolutions in digital data capture and green building practices that have accelerated with the COVID-19 pandemic for more widespread adoption of new technologies.

It is not surprising that solutions from Europe and elsewhere are adopted in the United States. At the International Advanced Building Skins (ABDOS) Conference & Expo in Bern, Switzerland I talked about quality assurance in house building and discovered a variety of new materials and applications that deal with production, quality and durability. The list includes dynamic glass for windows and doors, flexible building cladding that improves energy efficiency, transparent solar panels for generating renewable electricity, and thin but thermally efficient insulating wall panels for building envelopes. that work much better than traditional solutions.

And, beyond these ideas, US builders are well positioned to take advantage of other home system components, including home operating systems for data collection and construction products designed from biomimicry, which make their way into the commercial construction market.


3 new innovations for the construction industry

Dynamic glass

Dynamic light-sensitive glass can switch between clear and tinted on demand and can be controlled automatically or by the user to reduce solar heat input and glare through windows and glass doors.

Electrochromic glass tints automatically when the heat of direct sunlight heats the glass. This type of glass adapts to sunlight and the environment and helps maximize natural light and reduce heat load, combining durability, translucent functionality and energy efficiency.

Corning, a company that develops and manufactures specialty glass, ceramics, and related materials and technologies, has its glass marketing lab in New York City, where curious home builders can see a live demonstration of dynamic glass windows in action . Each window has its own IP address (connected to the Internet), allowing a range of shading options driven by a mobile device app. It’s truly amazing to see windows darken or brighten without the need for mechanical roller shades that block the view, and this innovation has direct applications for home builders interested in providing energy efficiency and comfort. improved interior to home buyers.


Transparent solar panels

Transparent solar panels are a research subject at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Excitonic center, an Energy Frontiers Research Center funded by the US Department of Energy.

Transparent solar panels

Solar cells are so thin that they become translucent or even transparent, so the cells can be applied to a surface (such as a roof or glass) and be virtually invisible. Estimates indicate that using solar-coated windows in a high-rise building could provide more than 25% of a building’s energy needs. European builders, facing high energy costs, are using similar technology to reduce the total kilowatts installed in panels on roofs and in protective garden walls.

Richard Lunt, a former postdoctoral fellow at MIT and now a professor at Michigan State University, proposed to make a solar cell that would absorb all of the sun’s energy except for the part that allows us to see. Given consumers’ preferences for breathtaking views through large panoramic windows, what better solution than to use smart glass for a dual function: capturing panoramic views while generating electricity during daylight hours, by charging a whole house battery, then tapping into its reserve throughout the evening.

I have also seen exhibits from product manufacturers that feature innovative decorative solar panels that you can see through that generate electricity. The photovoltaic panels were integrated in an arranged pattern of colorful maple leaves in an otherwise transparent wall panel, creating an electricity-generating privacy screen for patios and gardens.

Airgel insulation

Airgel is a gas derived from a gel with an estimated R-value of well over 10 per inch, which is 1.56 times greater than polyisocyanurate foam, 2.29 times greater than polystyrene foam, 2.86 times higher than mineral wool, 3.03 times higher than fiberglass mats, and 3.22 times higher than blown cellulose.

Three inches of airgel insulation provides equivalent R value of 30.9. It’s also such a good insulator that a torch on one side won’t light a match on the other side. Airgel can provide the triple solution of improved building insulation, better sound control and fire protection – a home builder’s dream comes true. Aerogels are also extremely light, porous and of low density.

Technology gives new meaning to Dr Joe Lstiburek’s quote: “If you’re cold, you put on a sweater, you don’t eat it,” comparing the effectiveness of exterior insulation in buildings to that of interior insulation fiberglass inserted into the cavities of the frame. .

A variety of manufactured airgel products are available including Aspen airgel insulation a high temperature insulating ceramic fiber blanket in aluminum silicate and blankets in Spaceloft airgel, a hydrophobic flexible airgel composite blanket designed for building insulation.

As noted in a recent study by the Fraunhofer Center for Sustainable Energy Systems, in Cambridge, Mass., there are three American companies with commercial products available in the market: Aspen Aerogel, Cabot and American Aerogel. Airgel technologies, in Boston, would be the world’s leading manufacturer of mechanically strong airgel materials.

3 ways to amplify the power of integrative technologies

We must think about coupling these integrative technologies with:


Bau-Biology, a German term meaning building biology or construction for life, is the study of the relationship between the human body and the built environment and the health impacts of buildings on humans. Launched in the late 1960s, Bau-Biologie and its science of healthy buildings was introduced to North America in 1986 by the late Helmut Ziehe, a German architect and founder of Institute of Building Biology.

Data sensors for home automation

Occupant behavior is not easily managed without feedback loops to link behavior to performance outcomes. To help overcome occupant behaviors that hinder or even work against energy and water conservation and efforts to improve indoor air quality, a home based operating system on data sensors works like the dashboard of the house; i.e. monitoring variables and providing useful data on energy and water use patterns that can be changed to be more efficient, as well as providing occupants with timely notifications on critical system failures and enable immediate corrective action.

Graphics of various home automation systems controlled from a touchpad

Our cars and trucks already offer this functionality, so why not homes? The world of sustainable construction has become a data-driven market. Motion, sound and security sensors have evolved as the demand for smart home designs increases. Fully integrated systems that automatically adjust for occupancy, weather, time of day and keep owners informed are about to become standard features. To consider:

  • Programmable thermostats with Wi-Fi connectivity allow remote monitoring and instant adjustments, but can also detect radon and monitor carbon dioxide levels, improving indoor air quality.
  • Integrating water consumption monitoring and irrigation control into the home’s digital operating system, along with excess humidity monitoring, can help prevent leaks and leaks. water damage, improve water conservation and reduce energy consumption.
  • Security systems with digital cameras can provide remote monitoring of open or closed doors and windows, two-way remote video communication and motion detection using alternative technologies such as passive infrared, microwave , ultrasound and vibration, all part of an integrated system. Data loggers that monitor performance or interruptions are small black box type sensors widely available.

Biomimicry in building components

Biomimicry presents biological solutions for buildings that go beyond a green roof or a green wall taking into account the well-being of the occupants and the environmental impact, striving to protect natural resources , minimizing energy consumption and integrating into the natural environment. For example:

  • As we widen our view from the inside to the outside, larger windows require more creative structural framing solutions. Consider, for example, PureBond technology for formaldehyde-free wood glue, which uses the protein chemistry of the blue mussel’s byssal threads that allows the mussel to attach to rock-beaten waves.
  • Ornilux bird protection glass, which mimics the UV reflective qualities of cobwebs, helping to prevent birds from colliding with large windows.
  • Wings Tuber (WhalePower Tuber Technology), inspired by the tubercles or fin ridges of a whale, which improve the efficiency of rotating devices such as wind turbine blades, resulting in lower drag and improved stable lift.

Building biology

Bau-Biologie incorporates 25 guiding principles for healthier homes, which may seem a bit far-fetched but which are not out of reach. Building science is linked to Bau-Biology by applying physics to understand building performance processes.

Examples include “the humidity of the indoor air must be regulated naturally” and “a suitable balance between thermal insulation and heat retention is necessary”. Passive design solutions help achieve this through the concepts of daylighting, orientation, insulation, ventilation and mass.

Once understood, Bau-Biologie incorporates this natural and human-improved technology into various components during the construction process. Sensors linked to biomimicry solutions also provide performance feedback loops.

These exciting new construction technology solutions from Europe are starting to be adopted in the United States and we anticipate wider adoption in the future. Designers, developers, builders, contractors and others should explore these innovations to see where they could add value to their projects.

What’s in your toolbox?


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