Michael Davies, Technical Manager at AG, explains the urgent need for more sustainable building and the role hardscaping can play in achieving a greener future.
The growth of urban developments over the last few decades has certainly created exciting skylines across the nation and whilst this is testament to innovative architectural feat there is no denying that it comes at a cost, resulting in the loss of vast green spaces and increased pollution.
As people continue to migrate towards towns and cities, demand for new-builds in the residential sector has soared, with the number of houses being built reaching its highest in over 20 years. This has placed housebuilders under increased pressure to incorporate more sustainable practices into their designs to reduce CO2 emissions and mitigate environmental risk.
Hardscaping is a critical component in any landscape design offering practical (and decorative) structure to a landscape – from driveways, stairs and pathways to patios, fences, and decking areas. When considering hardscaping elements, such as pavers, for your design, you will probably want the very best in form and function. It is vital paving delivers a stunning first impression. Of course, the colour, texture and how they are laid are all essential elements, but strength, high levels of consistency, colour integrity and overall performance are equally important for the professional who puts their name to the design.
Concrete paving blocks and flagstones have truly come of age, providing a more sustainable alternative to its natural stone counterpart. Produced using locally sourced aggregates from our own quarry, using low cement and water content, the overall carbon footprint from the manufacturing of concrete pavers can be significantly less than other alternatives, meaning homeowners and housebuilders can utilise a modern, engineered solution which has superior environmental credentials. All of AG’s products have an A Rating under the Green Guide. Indeed A+ can be achieved when used in conjunction with a recycled sub-base.
Flooding and flash flooding have been all too prevalent over the last few years in the UK and managing flood risk is becoming even more important, as is water conservation. This has led to many domestic and commercial projects calling for new and innovative ways to manage water runoff that arises from developments and drainage.
Developments can utilise hardscaping elements to keep water in a desired area, or alternatively drain surface water – reducing flood risk. Incorporating sustainable hardscaping features in your design, such as permeable paving, prevents rainwater and other types of water accumulating on pathways or other areas.
One-way housebuilders are doing this is through sustainable drainage systems (SuDS) – a collection of strategies, management practices, structures and design solutions that drain surface water efficiently and sustainably from development sites – making them a key tool in every architect and engineer’s toolbox.
Implementing SuDS with water recycling and rainwater harvesting enables us to cut down on primary water use and as SuDS manage water at the source, allowing developers to avoid the cost of large-scale infrastructure to transport the surface water as well as significantly reducing land grab required by the site therefore reducing the carbon footprint of the project.
Zero to hero
There is often little warning when it comes to surface water flooding. Although weather forecasting is improving all the time, it is not always impossible to forecast intense rain. We are seeing the government raise SuDS higher up in their agenda and the wide-scale implementation of sustainable urban drainage systems now play a vital role in helping to meet pressing climate targets – with the UK having a nationwide 2050 net zero carbon target.
With all their impressive environmental credentials, such as pollution control, by treating the water before it enters the water course and erosion control, by slowing down the flow, it is perhaps somewhat surprising that their uptake was initially slow. This may have been due to the misconceptions surrounding SuDS that they are expensive, impractical and impact negatively on a development’s aesthetic. However, nowadays the inclusion of softscaping elements such as ponds within public space allows developers to integrate SuDS in these features, enhancing the look of the development and even adding value in some cases.
At AG, our aim is to enhance landscapes and encourage local biodiversity. Our Xflo Permeable Paving Solution is designed to remove surface water rapidly and safely at a rate of over fifty times the expected rainfall of a one-hundred-year storm. The harnessed water can then slowly infiltrate through the system and back into the ground with pollutants removed, or in line with Water Sensitive Urban Design (WSUD) principles, be attenuated for recycling for both domestic and commercial use or rewardingly diverted to create natural wildlife ponds, creating socially interactive high quality community spaces, encouraging rich and beneficial biodiversity. The range comes in over 20 colours as well as a variety of styles and aesthetics giving architects and specifiers plenty of choice – without having to compromise on form and function.
Hardscaping has a purpose on every landscape, to counteract the loss of green space, housebuilders must consider sustainable hardscaping options to manage the environmental impact of a build. With legislation continuing to change, hardscaping can play an important role in the route to sustainability within the industry.