24 Aug, 2021 , 08:03

The Carbon Cost of Balconies

Today more and more, sustainability is a focus topic in the construction industry, but what does this mean? From what we see, the term sustainability often lacks clarity and consistency; in this article, we explore the four key areas we can control regarding our carbon costs.

The excellent news with Grappler aluminium balconies is that we reduce the mass of a balcony, reducing transport trips to the site, reducing complexity to create better material utilisation and less waste. These factors alone reduce the carbon costs of the construction projects and reduce the material and the design complexity to deliver them. Let us break this down a little further:

1. Manufacturing

Whilst there is a necessary carbon cost from our manufacturing process, our balconies use a unique design predominantly made from aluminium. The results mean our balconies are weighing around 30% less than a steel balcony and approximately 80% less than a concrete balcony, and we are using dramatically less material by weight. Because we use recycled aluminium and up-to-date facilities, our carbon cost can keep this to a minimum.  

We are currently undergoing a detailed process to work out the actual carbon cost of our unitised balconies systems compared to those of competitors. This process considers many factors to ensure the most accurate result, including gases created from manufacturing, transport & installation. 

2. Installation

A balcony installation typically generates quantities of greenhouse gases attributed to carbon costs, including travel, heavy plant, machinery, etc. However, this process is significantly simplified with our pre-existing philosophy of efficient install compared to similar products.  

A simple example is the brackets used to fit as the beam stub is pre-assembled onto the anchor in the factory and cast into the slab as one assembly. All that is then required is to fit an arm to each stub using four bolts, and if necessary, make a tilt adjustment. With the arm fitted and the façade finished, the installation phase is swift; we can install as many as 15 balconies in a single day. 

3.Operational carbon of the building 

The most significant part of the carbon cost regarding our balconies is the escape of building heat via the balcony anchor.  

To counter this, we utilise a dedicated thermal break between the bottom of the endplate and the floor slab edge, and the thermal break limits the thermal transfer. As part of the design process, we regularly review the number of anchors needed to meet the loads within a good safety margin.  

Other factors that influence the thermal break include the wall construction, and we can work to reduce the penetrations by fixing external walls rather than back into the slab. In turn, these lead to lower heating costs and, of course, reduced carbon usage, which becomes significant as part of a carbon cost assessment. Our team is constantly looking at the trade-offs between absolute thermal efficiency and balcony rigidity. 

4. End of life – decommissioning and recycling 

When it comes to the end-of-life of our balconies, the decommissioning of a cassette balcony is made much simpler because of the nature of the component-based, weld-free assembly, meaning that parts are taken apart and quickly sorted into similar material types.  

As we already discussed, a lot of the carbon cost within a balcony product is directly related to the materials used. End of life recycling is a crucial benefit to aluminium. In the context of a balcony, when aluminium is recycled, the process of recycling is significantly less energy-consuming than the actual conversion process. 

Some examples demonstrate you can achieve a 97% recycling and reuse rate for aluminium structures. Again, if recycled into balcony products, this will reduce the carbon costsq2a of a new balcony product.  

Our final thoughts are although a balcony is only a small part of the overall construction project. Although not explicitly mandated in legislation, carbon-neutral construction is necessary for meeting the 2016 Paris Accord agreement, and at Grappler Balconies, we’re doing our bit to help. 

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