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Material procurement can be a complex and arduous process dependent on several different factors. Materials must be strong, compliant with regional health and safety regulations, available and perhaps most important of all, cost-effective. A modern construction company will not select materials that adversely affect their long-term profit margins. Conversely, modern construction companies do take into consideration the effect projects have on the environment and are increasingly willing to actively invest in greener building materials.
However, environmentally friendly materials are just one consideration in construction. To understand the selection process more, one must know how construction companies look at building materials. The industry tends to classify them into 2 categories:
- Naturally occurring
Naturally occurring materials include things like wood, timber, and stone whereas man-made includes substances like concrete, glass, and plastics. Many companies procure a combination of materials from both categories applying the factors outlined earlier (e.g. Cost, durability, availability, etc.)
Buildings are responsible for 19% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Reducing a construction company’s carbon footprint begins with material procurement. Materials chosen at this stage can offer the greatest opportunities to limit a building’s carbon impact. Companies across the globe are willing to procure environmentally friendly materials, but often the industry’s fragmentation and risk-averse nature lead it to fall back into familiar but old procurement processes. Many smaller companies that populate the industry also means they cannot invest in the latest materials in the same way an enterprise-organisation can.
A construction company also must think about the architectural considerations when selecting materials:
- What are the physical requirements of the proposed building?
- What kind of UX (user experience) does the client want?
- How much time and money will the project take?
- Where is the building being constructed (e.g. City, town, village, countryside)?
- What are the projected maintenance costs for the client?
Once these questions have been sufficiently addressed, material selection can begin.
Most companies have a design team that typically selects the materials for each construction project. They will segment the materials into specific specialty trades, (e.g. Carpentry, roofing, plumbing, etc.). The team’s choice is primarily based on cost and economic factors, though they must review and comply with regional health and safety and environmental regulations.
What Materials are Generally Selected?
Environmentally friendly materials are becoming a primary focus on the construction of homes wherever possible, with sustainable wood and timber often combining with stone in new builds. However concrete remains one of the most commonly used man-made materials in construction due to its durability, availability in the supply chain and cost.
The UK based Taylor Wimpey, for example, uses both masonry cavity and the timber frame construction in new home builds. These methods use specially treated wood as well as bricks to provide well-insulated housing. Local requirements play an important role in the process with Taylor Wimpey acknowledging the large influence regulations and planning have on their material selection.
There is an increased focus in the industry on working towards zero carbon emissions by 2050 and efforts are being made to consider emissions at every stage of a construction project. Despite this, there is still a disconnect between companies, government and local investors leading to a reluctance to use carbon-neutral materials due to their unfamiliarity. Nevertheless, contractors represent a critical hub of knowledge that many companies believe is crucial to closer cooperation between supply chains and government agencies.
Many manufacturing companies are trying to source and supply construction companies with more environmentally friendly materials. However, they often cite barriers including building codes and contractors & design teams’ lethargic attitudes towards change. The simple fact remains that when it comes to material selection, the contractor and/or the subcontractor will use materials that offer the best combination of economy, quality, availability and good experience.