A World Without Concrete Foundations
...For Anything Up To A Two-Storey Residential Building in the UK
What would a world without concrete foundations for anything up to a two-storey residential building in the UK be like? How would it be different to our current world? How would it work? Are these other choices any better?
These questions have been developed from our last blog post and will be answered, in part, here today.
1) What would a world without concrete foundations for anything up to a two-storey residential building be like?
We would have less global shipping, less carbon going into the air, and fewer toxic chemicals in existence in our ecosystems.
Now, let's work out how much less.
Using figures from 2018 from the UK Government, 9.2 million tonnes of cement were produced in the UK. Roughly 20% of cement used in the UK is imported. That makes 11,040,000 tonnes of cement used in the UK in 2018.
Of that, 159,617 new homes were built in the UK. With concrete only being used as foundations and applying an average figure of 25 cubic metres of concrete per house, we can say very roughly that 3,990,425 cubic metres of concrete were used. Roughly 350kg of cement is used in 1 cubic metre of concrete. Applying that, we get 1,396,648,750kg of cement used to make foundations for new homes in the UK in 2018.
Many variables have not been accounted for in that very loose and rough calculation. The simple point of that exercise was to work out within an order of magnitude how much less concrete we are talking about by not using concrete foundations for anything up to a two-storey residential building.
2) How would it be different to our current world?
If every single one of those homes had a foundation built with a different building method using different building materials, that figure of 1.4 billion kg of cement per year is what would be saved. So, we would live in a world with roughly that much less cement produced and used.
This example would in turn inspire other teams around the world to see equivalent declines in cement usage. We would then start to see a real and meaningful lessening of the damage reviewed briefly in our last blog post. For example, 8% of worldwide carbon dioxide emissions came from 4 billion tonnes of cement in 2018. Our 1.4 billion kg of cement saved is 1.4 million tonnes of cement which accounts for a total of 0.28% of worldwide carbon dioxide emissions.
That's not a big bite on its own into carbon emissions. But it is a part of an ongoing culture change in an industry which is our single biggest contributor to material production, usage, and wastage. Beyond carbon emissions and material production, usage, and wastage, the energy savings could be reworked to serve our energy demands. The energy equivalent of burning 1,335,600,000 litres of crude oil in making cement every year would be saved in the UK by using different materials and methods for residential foundations than we are right now.
3) How would it work? Are these other choices any better?
We could use timber screw piles. These would store carbon as opposed to releasing it and include a one-step, low-intensity production process with locally sourced timber. We need to work out how many piles we would need, how big they would be, and how many trees we would need to grow to make them.
As an answer, that is simple and achievable.