Published on October 22nd, 2007 | by Stephanie Evans1
Looking for a durable, low-maintenance, and aesthetically attractive floor with an amazing capacity for boosting your home’s energy efficiency? Concrete may be just the thing—it can be stamped, stained, and finished to resemble many other materials, and it provides a rather environmentally friendly option, depending on where you get it and how it’s processed.
Thermal mass is a material’s ability to retain heat. Concrete is dense and thus has a very high thermal mass that can be increased by selecting a dark color for optimal heat absorption and retention. If concrete is not insulated properly, it can become very cold—for best results, pair it with a radiant heat system that can be incorporated into its design or sandwiched between two concrete layers. A concrete slab with a radiant panel can also be laid over an earthen floor to utilize the earth’s dense bed of thermal mass.
Concrete has a high embodied energy, the energy consumed during the entire production process of a material, from acquisition to installation. Mining and the kiln-heating process are mainly to blame for high energy consumption, run-off waste products, eco-system disturbance, and CO2 emissions. Offset these negatives by looking for:
- Concrete options that incorporate fly ash, a waste byproduct of burning coal in electric-generating plants.
- Concrete that is heated by a dry-kiln process—this process is newer and it is becoming easier to find concrete produced by this method. Sometime processes that use dry-kiln methods will also use low-CO2 fuel alternatives like agricultural waste products.
- Low-VOC polishes, stains, sealers, and cleaning products.
As wood resources dwindle, watch for the appearance of a variety of eco-friendly concrete variants made with recycled components such as ashcrete, foamcrete, and glass fiber reinforced concrete (GFRC).