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How is Chemistry Relevant to Healthier Building Materials?

In this video, Bhawani Venkataraman uses plastic bottles to illustrate how materials' chemical makeup determine how they interact with the environment

Most of those in the design and architectural spaces don’t have a background in chemistry. However, it’s critical to recognize how chemistry is relevant to understanding building materials.

The properties of materials are determined by their molecular structure and the compounds they’re made up of. It’s because of their chemical makeup that materials interact with the environment in a certain way. Ultimately, this determines the impact they might have on human health.

In this video, Bhawani Venkataraman, Associate Professor of Chemistry at The New School, uses plastic bottles to illustrate this concept. However, the same thinking can be applied to building materials. When we use materials for building, we want to understand their chemical makeup to identify how the material might interact with us and the environment.

Some of the questions we should ask ourselves when designing or choosing building materials are:

  • What is the carbon footprint of making this material?
  • What are the processes used to make it?
  • How will this material degrade when it’s no longer in use?
  • Could we recycle/reuse this material to be used for something else?
  • How much do we know about the health impacts of this material?

Over to You

What other materials can you think of that we have stopped using, or are trying to limit use of, because we discovered they are harmful to the environment? Share your comments below.

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Building Products and Chemistry

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