Environmental Assessment

Go thin or go home…or should we?

By Pete Brown Director Bedrock Tiles

Bigger, thinner, cheaper, and faster seem to be common words floating around the construction industry lately but how does this affect sustainability? The consensus is that going larger is cool but, at the same time, weight becomes an issue because tiles in their typical types forms of ceramic/porcelain/stone are pretty, ball-breaking heavy at the best of times!

Solution: proceed with making bigger tiles to meet the industry demand but to make them thinner to offset any health and safety weight challenges or uplift in manufacturing costs, created by producing with more material.

Technically, from a sustainability point of view, this is amazing because there is up to 70% less material being used. Great, right? Well, not really! Bedrock Tiles are in touch with other suppliers across the breadth of the world and, no matter where these super large, thinner tiles are being used, they are cracking either in transport or through handling and this, in turn, generates the requirement for replacement material which doubles, sometimes trebles, the carbon footprint contribution of transport. The factories are literally printing money by promoting thin porcelain. Thin tiles can and do work, they can be moved around, and Bedrock have completed numerous projects where the tiles were specified as a solution rather than a design concept, thought out only to generate an editorial feature in the next Mix Interiors magazine, for being quite forward thinking and putting a 6mm, 3,000 by 1,500mm tile on the floor in a 700 year old college in Cambridge! The key is more education.

Educating the masses is quite tricky because there is no standard guidance and any respectable contractor might seek council at The Tile Association. But looking through TTA’s website, there doesn’t seem to be any information on there regarding thin tiles (unless I’ve missed it!?)

So where do we benchmark a quality installation? If the tiles fail, where is the support? Is the problem the material, the handling, or the transport? The industry must push forward and develop a systematic process of recognition for thin tiles, for a few reasons and mainly that anything that reduces material consumption by up to 70% must be acknowledged. In the meantime anyone out there looking for refined information including the handling, types of adhesive, preparation can find it in a publication, available through the RIBA Bookstore, called ‘A Book About Tiles’ by a certain Pete Brown.

What are the solutions for thin porcelain tiles? Bedrock recognise these ideas might help save time by understanding how to use them:

  • Over tiling an existing wall
  • Lightweight Background requirements
  • Seamless shower enclosures
  • Fabrication concepts

For more information on any of these topics, reach out to a member of Bedrock’s expert team. There are quite a few European manufacturers now making thin tile ranges, so quality and choice is in place. Beware of Chinese imports because they simply aren’t made to exacting standards of European production and generally fail quite quickly after installation. In addition, they are not recognised by British Standards and so could cause problems on site at a later stage.

Bedrock would always advise anyone venturing into using thin tiles that they seek out European made products that can be guaranteed to stand up to the rigors of modern design. And whether you source your tiles from us or elsewhere, ensure you ask for CE marking and technical data to be absolutely sure you are not buying Chinese.

The Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM) is a leading design and assessment method for sustainable ‘new’ buildings. It sets the benchmark and high standard for the best practice in sustainable design. The assessment measures the buildings performance against established criteria. There is a spectrum of relevant topics that the assessment is made over, ranging from materials right through to ecology and energy.

The areas that are titled consist of waste, ecology, pollution, transport, materials, the environmental health (health and well-being), energy and water use, and management systems.

As a client, by achieving a BREEAM rating, you can benefit from the following:
Market recognition for low environmental impact buildings

Confidence that tried and tested environmental practice is incorporated in the building
Inspiration to find innovative solutions that minimise the environmental impact
A benchmark that is higher than regulation

A system to help reduce running costs, improve working and living environments
A standard that demonstrates progress towards corporate and organisational environmental objectives

I have taken the following extract from information found on the BRE (Building Research Establishment) website referring to hard floor finishes to offer the environmental rating awarded by BRE. For more in-depth information relating to BRE, feel free to get in touch with Bedrock Tiles on 01604 330003 or office@bedrock-tiles.com

SKA Rating
SKA Rating is measured in Bronze, Silver, or Gold achievements for ‘Commercial Refurbishments and Fit-Out’.

It is said that UK Green Building Council estimates that non-domestic buildings account for 18% of UK carbon emissions and, on top of that, the waste from fitting out offices goes straight to landfill. Therefore, by adopting good practice when fitting out or refurbishing offices, specifiers and contractors can dramatically reduce their environmental impact.

The SKA Rating is the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors’ (RICS) environmental assessment method. It was launched in 2009 in regard to non-domestic fit-outs. The rating helps landlords and tenants evaluate and rate a project against sustainable criteria. It is estimated that the spending in UK construction on fit-out, accounts for 11%, and buildings may have 30 to 40 fit-outs during their lifecycle. It differs from other categorising systems in that it is project-driven: it labels fit-out projects irrespective of base building.

SKA consists of 104 good practice measures that cover waste, transport, water, materials, pollution, wellbeing, energy, and CO2 emissions. The scheme currently has 1,200 users.

The 2011 version of SKA allows owners and landlords to measure and understand the performance in both commercial and environmental capacities of water and energy consumption for the following 12 months. The 12 months occupancy assessment completes the design and handover assessments allowing the occupiers to manage their working environment or limit their sustainability measures introduced as a part of the green fit-out.

Companies that adopt a more sustainable design and become SKA Rated will engage their employees while strengthening their brand. In addition, energy cost savings will be up to 31%. The actual amount of product saved from being sent to landfill could be as high as 99% and, with the cost of landfill approximately £56 per ton, it is possible that this scheme could save the project money.

The criteria is being revised and updated continually but, at time of writing, there are a number of means that you could include in the design of the project to achieve SKA Rating. These products must achieve or be rated with sustainable accreditation and that all hard floor surface coverings meet at least one of the following.

Criteria: (current at the time of writing and relates to SKA Commercial)
They are reused
Containing 25% recycled content or higher
Have an A or A+ rating in BRE’s Green Book Live database for the retail scheme
Cradle to Cradle Gold or Platinum certificate

Achieves A or A+ in the Green Guide to Specification for the retail scheme
The products are supplied with an environmental product declaration which is written in accordance with ISO 14025 standards

Some other interesting things to discuss while we’re talking about ‘sustainability’ are what the factories that Bedrock work with do in addition to using recycled content in their physical tiles. Before we list out some of the things that are used let’s recap on what recycled content is and the different types. Here is what it is in ceramics:

Recycled Content
Porcelain and ceramic tiles are sustainable both in their manufacturing process and the actual volume of content contained in the product itself. Let us take a look at the three main areas of how recycled content is used within tiles.

Pre-Production: This is where the manufacturer takes the material that is chipped, scratched or not aesthetically or technically suitable from any stage before the tile goes into the kiln firing process. The material is then recycled and milled into re-usable material to be included in the production process.

Post-Production: This is where the tile has gone through the firing process but isn’t at the required quality levels for distribution. The material is milled down into re-usable products to be used in making new products.

Post-Consumer: This is where the material has been used or consumed after production. The best example we can offer is to mention that the glass from cathode screens in old television sets is now being crushed and used in porcelain and ceramic tile production. Glass mosaic tiles are also reclaimed, melted, and re-blown into fresh mosaics.

The factories, as mentioned previously, take extra steps in using recycled content in their collections and also take measures to be more energy efficient during their operational process. This goes in the favour of a high sustainable accreditation. Examples of the methods they achieve this are by channelling heat from the kilns and directing it through to drying rooms and other areas within the factory to save on the amount of heating required in those areas as against using regular methods of space heating. The factories also recycle 100% of the water from the cutting process by filtering and removing the silt (residues left from cutting tiles) followed by the reuse of water in further cutting schedules.

The distribution aspect of the production run would command recycled cardboard and minimum use packaging policies when designing tile boxes. You will notice that good factories strive to use the bare minimum packaging without compromising the safety of the tiles.

Transport is a massive talking point when you are looking at a carbon foot print. This is the inconvenient part of our sustainable dream, we concede. The good thing is that BREEAM assess the transport section as a part of their measurement criteria. They recognise that porcelain or ceramic tiles that offer the required technical properties needed for commercial property are manufactured in Europe, which in turn guarantees manufacturing regulations (ISO) and human rights are protected in the workplace opposed to some corners of the globe, which, without getting nailed, we can’t disclose.

BREEAM recognise that, even with the output of pollution from transport in the assessment, porcelain tiles achieve either a B or an A rating; dependant on their thickness. Bedrock only uses certified FORS-registered transportation companies for the importing and distribution of all our collections and deliveries. Bedrock do this specifically because it matters to us that we support firms who put in the effort to make the difference in our fast paced, consuming world.

Now is a good time to explain how we import tiles. The whole ceramics industry works on a groupage system. Unless the tiles are required fast, then the transport company’s lorry arrives at a factory and they load the truck up to the rafters with any/all orders destined to the UK (or other countries respectively). They are then taken to a ‘groupage’ depot and arranged onto trains or different trucks dependant on their exporting company’s requirements.

By operating this logistics method – we refer to it as groupage – it means that every truck driving around these areas is carrying the maximum load, thereby reducing the number of trucks in any region at any time. It is important to remember that these factories produce in excess of 6,000 sq. metres per day and supply the world with tiles. That’s a lot of trucks, if groupage is not in operation.

Thank you for reading this article. If you would like to know a little more about Bedrock Tiles, then please feel free to get in touch on 01604 330003 and a member of our friendly team would be more than happy to help you with your project.

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