Why sustainable building materials pave the way for a cheaper and happier life in Leeds

With Leeds expected to be carbon neutral by 2030, sustainable building materials are vital to reduce the city's carbon footprint.

By Abi Whistance
Thursday, 23rd June 2022, 4:30 pm

After the promises made by the government at the UN climate conference COP26 last year, Leeds City Council has pledged to make the city carbon neutral by 2030.

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From reducing Leeds' carbon footprint to building sustainable infrastructure, there are a number of measures well underway to help the city achieve its goal and educate residents on the importance of combating climate change.

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Projects such as Citu's Aire Lofts apartments (pictured) combine sustainable drainage systems, green roofs and natural materials with sleek design.

But how will the issue of the climate crisis affect housing in Leeds over the next decade?

Susan Bernard Lopez, professor of structural materials at the University of Leeds, told the YEP of a shift in attitudes in recent years that has seen a dramatic change in the way people think about property development.

"I will say there is a wake up," Susan said.

"This is a very important moment for the construction sector, where there is a lot of awareness and willingness to adopt more sustainable practices, not just from the materials, but from the entire lifecycle of an infrastructure project."

In the Aire Lofts apartments, some of the internal walls will also feature exposed wood. This brings variety to the surfaces, and a natural yet contemporary feel to the spaces.

Focusing on the development of low carbon cement and concrete alternatives, Susan's research delves into the ways in which building materials react with the environment, and how they can be created to last as long as possible.

This area of development is vital in the reduction of CO2 emissions across the country, with infrastructure already accounting for 50% of emissions in the UK.

“If we don't do anything by 2050, [infrastructure] will account for 90% of our CO2 emissions in the UK," Susan explained.

"All other high energy sectors, like the metal sector, glass sector and ceramics sector, are making really rapid changes in their work, in their business models and manufacturing processes to minimize their environmental impact. [The construction industry] doesn't have any other choice than that transition."

Every Aire Loft features huge windows. As well as flooding the apartments with natural light, they also open up, to reveal a Juliet balcony.

Yet despite the use of sustainable building materials being indispensable when it comes to meeting national carbon targets, these materials are yet to be made readily available to the public.

"A lot of these sustainable alternatives are not commercially available yet. For normal people, it's not something you can go to a hardware store and purchase, for example, to pave your backyard.

"Most of these materials are available for large infrastructure projects, and a lot of these developments are lower cost or cost the same as the materials we're now using."

Currently used by larger corporations and projects taking steps towards lower carbon emissions, most alternatives to high energy building materials are, when purchased in bulk, cheaper and more durable.

Aire Lofts apartments combine the latest in sustainable technology with stunning contemporary designs that optimise the use of space.

In the long term, Susan believes that introducing sustainable materials to the general public over the next decade will pave the way forward.

"What I expect to see in years to come is the right material for the right application.

"For example, in the same way we now go to supermarkets and you can buy milk, almond milk, oat milk and goat milk, all to fit every person's needs or preferences, perhaps in the future we will see this sensation in construction materials.

"I'd like to see a great variety so that we meet the sustainability and performance needs for different applications."

But it is not the reduction of our carbon footprint alone that is important in making the shift to sustainable building materials.

Each Aire Lofts apartments has low heating requirements and better air quality thanks to triple glazed windows, MVHR systems and excellent insulation.

This progression to carbon neutrality by 2030 must also allow people to live in homes that fulfil their needs and desires.

"One of the most interesting things I have had the opportunity to work on over the past couple of years is infrastructure for wellbeing," said Susan.

"This connection between your urban environment and how that space is making you feel about yourself.

"During the pandemic it actually made a very strong case for how our homes are not just providing shelter, but also safety and all these other important emotions for human beings to feel comfortable and safe.

"What I envision for the future is that we can use all the different types of materials that might be available to enable us to achieve sustainability goals, but also thinking about how we can make our homes more adaptable for the longer term and how we can design homes that benefit the wellbeing of people."

When it comes to Leeds, the city has been making definitive progress when it comes to both renewable energy and sustainable construction.

Projects such as Citu's Aire Lofts apartments, located in the Climate Innovation District in Leeds, combine sustainable drainage systems, green roofs and natural materials with sleek design to create homes that are both long-lasting and desirable.

With open plan living spaces and plenty of natural light, these one and two bedroom apartments on the market present the future of sustainable city living in Leeds.

“There are some really interesting projects going on [in Leeds] that are fully sustainable," Susan went on to say.

"They are trialing quite a lot of these different alternatives in design and building materials to see how people accept these new technologies.

"I think we cannot rule out any potential solution. No solution will be suitable for every individual because every person will have different needs and different expectations about the way they want to live in their environment."