What Drives Material Choices?

Picking materials for a project can be both a fun and challenging task for architects. We want the products we select to be attractive and have no or at least a limited negative effect on the environment. Some of our clients require the materials be manufactured or assembled in the U.S. Some even stipulate that they must be made within a certain proximity of the project site. Of course, to most people price is the most important characteristic. It’s actually this initial cost people pay that seems to be paramount over the cost to the environment.

It’s complicated to calculate the environmental cost of a material when you consider all the steps in the manufacturing process from the cost to extract the raw material from the earth to the type of energy used to produce the finished product. Then there are the costs generated during the material’s lifespan, such as cleaning and performing maintenance. Finally, there are costs are involved when the material needs to be replaced. Where does the now-spent material end up—in a land fill, or is it recycled?

We can analyze how green one material is compared to another—including all the above factors. Nine times out of ten, though, the first cost still drives the material choice.