The advantages of metal as a sustainable building material

Undertaking a sustainable construction project brings its own set of goals and challenges for builders. From meeting green building requirements to reducing waste and designing a structure that conserves energy, there are many factors to consider. To help achieve these goals, builders today are turning to metal as a building material for its many durability benefits.

For one, the recyclability of metal building materials makes them a sustainable option. Christian Zimprich, marketing manager for Coil Coatings at Sherwin-Williams, said metal recyclability not only benefits the environment, it also offers cost savings.

“Virtually all steel in the United States contains recycled content at a fairly high level because it is actually less expensive to incorporate recycled materials than to make them solely from ore. Unlike a lot of materials that cost money to recycle, it’s actually a savings,” he said.

Besides recyclability at the end of its useful life, metal is also an inherently sustainable material. This means that metal components will operate on buildings for decades with little maintenance or need to be replaced.

This durability allows the metal to withstand harsh weather conditions like hailstorms and hurricanes, especially when it comes to roofing. While other materials can be easily damaged, metal components can hold a structure together and maintain watertight integrity through the increasingly extreme weather events seen today.

Opting for metallic building materials also opens up an array of options for metallic coatings with improved durable formulas. Christian Zimprich, marketing manager for building and architectural products at Sherwin-Williams, said these products improve the durability of the metal on which they are placed.

For example, Sherwin-Williams’ Fluropon line of 70% PVDF coatings are designed to last for decades while maintaining color uniformity. Zimprich said Fluropon test panels from their Fort Myers, Fla., plant have withstood the elements for 60 years while maintaining film integrity.

Among the advantages of metallic coatings, many have been developed with solar reflectivity in mind. Not only can reflective coatings help mitigate the heat island effect in cities, they provide cost benefits to the building owner through reduced cooling requirements.

Builders can also have positive impacts and meet sustainability requirements by choosing products made from biorenewable resources. Sherwin-Williams has developed coatings that use biorenewable sources, broadening the sustainable profile of the finished product.

The strength of the metal combined with durable coatings optimized for the elements, helps increase the longevity of the final building product decades into the future. Emphasis on the need for long product life cycles is growing in the industry, thanks to increased interest in sustainable construction. To back up sustainability claims and provide scientific evidence of a product’s environmental impacts, companies like Sherwin-Williams conduct Life Cycle Assessments (LCAs) to help builders make informed choices.

LCAs consider everything from raw materials, manufacturing, packaging, transportation, use and disposal to assess the overall environmental impact of a given product. After performing an LCA, Sherwin-Williams can often produce an Environmental Product Declaration (EPD) that spells out the results in a transparent manner. Green building organizations like LEED use these EPDs to verify the sustainability profile of different types of building products to help builders determine which are eligible for certification.

As for the future of metal and metal coatings, Zimprich said he sees plenty of room for growth given its many benefits as a building material. Beyond metal’s formability and endless possibilities for molding and shaping, metal is especially advantageous for its inherent durability advantages.