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Eco-building specification

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In the absence of British Standards and other industry-wide frameworks for eco-performance (breeam is the exception), committed groups have been at the forefront of providing help to specifiers. Notable, back in 1986, was Steve Curwell and Chris March's Hazardous Building Materials, focused on what to avoid. Two recent offerings are surer about recommending what you should specify. GreenPro 971 is the most recent edition of the cd from aecb (the Association of Environment Conscious Builders). Green Building Handbook2 is a new specifiers' guide from actac (The Technical Aid Network).

Ecological understanding

Coming from actac, the Green Building Handbook is directed at community groups as well as specifiers. It begins deceptively simply with brief sections defining green building, how to start and some built examples. After a section introducing energy, a lot of the content of the main product analysis and materials specification sections will be unfamiliar. These sections cover:

insulation materials



composite boards

timber preservatives

window frames

paints and stains for joinery

roofing materials

rainwater goods

wcs and sewage disposal

carpets and floorcoverings.

The focus is domestic-scale and on separate materials. So, for example, the timber section looks at that material, not timber-framing, and timber is not compared with alternatives such as masonry.

What impresses about the handbook is the organisation and thoroughness of these sections. Each contains:

an introduction - to the green issues

best buy tables - listing types of the material against environmental factors of production and use. Each grid square is rated 1-5, indicated by size of dot, from nothing (best) to large-dot (worst impact). It sounds approximate but it works well - information in parallel rather than series, like a drawing. (See example.)

product analysis - systematically looking at every type of the material against a general list of environmental criteria where they apply, such as energy use, resource use, acid rain, toxics, fire. These analyses go as far as the authors feel confident, drawing on a wide range of sources. Here is the information - you make up your own mind. There is a mass of information about different sorts of environmental impacts. Of course we would like help comparing one with the other, but it is difficult to see how common scales could be produced at this stage. Each section finishes with lists of preferred suppliers (often from aecb) and references.

The book itself finishes with more references and useful contacts. An impressive compilation.


Sensibly, the cd-rom does not attempt the longer discussions of the handbook - they work on paper but not on screen. The cd breaks down broadly into directories of materials and manufacturers, professionals and contractors, and short, sharp pieces on issues such as coshh, joinery adhesives and badgers. Within the products section there are lists of types of fabric elements such as lintels (50), services items (35), finishes (10) and landscaping. Like the handbook, there is a sense of work in progress.

These are not just listings. They lead to discussion of environmental issues and descriptions of approved suppliers and their products. Other headings suggest measures of environmental performance will be built up in future, such as specific toxicity or embodied energy figures.

The cd is more a selector than a discussion, a good complement to the handbook. Both provide information not readily available elsewhere. Any practice interested in greening its specification only has to look at how few minutes of staff time it could charge for the price of these two publications to appreciate what good value they are.

1 GreenPro 97. cd-rom for Windows. aecb. The Green Building Press, tel: 01559 370908. £31.50

2 Green Building Handbook. Tom Woolley, Sam Kimmins, Paul Harrison, Rob Harrison for actac. E & F N Spon. 216pp. £29.95

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