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Sustainable building expert Chris Magwood explains how carefully chosen materials can turn buildings into carbon sinks.
Canadian Chris Magwood is a man of many hats - but all of them belong on the same rack: the one labelled sustainable building. His passion for creating buildings that help rather than hinder the Earth has resulted in the creation of a tool to help specifiers find verified low-to-no carbon materials for their projects. He explained this tool and the drive behind it at a recent webinar presented by Abodo, titled ‘Carbon Drawdown Now’.
Chris Magwood’s self-proclaimed obsession with planet-friendly building began with the construction of his own straw bale house in 1998. Working on many such buildings since, and through his work as a researcher and writer, he saw the need for a simple system for ascertaining the carbon cost of materials.
“If we’re going to make a building store carbon, we want to think about keeping that carbon out of the atmosphere for the longest possible time. We realised one of the reasons buildings come down is not because they’re not structurally sound or not useful, but because someone wants to change what’s on the land,” he says.
To investigate this, Chris created the Zero House, a building that uses zero carbon, zero net energy, and generates zero toxins and zero waste - and which can be taken down, moved and rebuilt in a day, prolonging the amount of time its carbon content is retained.
Another interesting example was a building created for Trent University in Ontario. Through a careful choice of materials, Chris was able to reduce the building’s carbon footprint by 88% - and by using carbon-storing timber, the building tipped to a net carbon storage of seven tonnes.
Aside from the carbon emissions of materials, the operational emissions of a building must also be taken into account when calculating its carbon cost - and this is where passive building techniques come into play.
Some materials Chris recommends for low carbon emissions and greater carbon capture are thatching, strawbale insulation, hempcrete, cellulose insulation, wood fibre boards, and, of course, FSC® certified timber products such as Abodo Vulcan.
This thermally modified, New Zealand-grown Radiata Pine is the first verified carbon negative feature timber, as certified by the product’s Environmental Product Declaration released in 2020.