How Sustainable Precast Concrete is Making a Difference

Precast concrete panels with sustainable icon beside.


Sustainability in Construction

When you think about sustainability, concrete might not immediately spring to mind. It's hard, it’s heavy, it doesn’t grow on trees, and, well, it's pretty much here to stay once it's set.


But hold that thought. There’s a lot about concrete, especially precast, that most people don’t know. In fact, given the needs of modern infrastructure and improvements in manufacturing, precast makes a lot of sense when it comes to sustainability in construction.


How? Let’s get into it. In this post, we’re digging into the ways that precast concrete is paving the way for a more sustainable future.


Fritz-Alder Precast is at the forefront of precast concrete. Our commitment to quality, craftsmanship, and sustainability has earned us a reputation as an industry leader. Get in touch with our team to discuss your project requirements.


Sustainable Construction Is Non-Negotiable

Climate change, resource depletion, and environmental degradation are real threats, and construction is one of the largest contributors to carbon emissions. And with cities like Toronto aiming for zero emissions in new construction by 2030, we need to look at materials and methods that are more environmentally responsible.


One material that ticks all the right boxes is precast concrete. Yes, concrete, the most abundant building material we have.


At first glance, concrete might not seem like the poster child for sustainability. Its production is energy-intensive, and it's everywhere in our urban landscapes. But when you take a closer look, things look quite different.


How Is Precast Concrete Sustainable?

The precast process, from factory to site, is marked by steps that conserve resources, reduce emissions, and promote efficiency, making it a sustainable choice for today’s construction projects.


Here, we’re going to zero-in on the manufacturing, transportation, water use, and durability benefits that give precast a sustainable edge.


Residential building made with precast concrete.


1. Durability

What makes durability so important for sustainability? It’s simple.


The longer a building lasts without needing major repairs or replacement, the less material we need to use over time. This means fewer resources extracted from our planet, less energy spent on manufacturing new materials, and, importantly, less waste ending up in landfills.


When you build with precast concrete, you’re building something that can last not just a few decades, but centuries or more.


Better yet, when we finally reach the end of a structure's life (be it 50 years or 200 years from now), precast concrete can give one final nod to sustainability. Concrete can be recycled and reused in the form of recovered aggregate, finding new life in other projects as a base material or engineered backfill.


When we choose materials that are built to last, we're not just investing in our immediate future but in a sustainable world for generations to come.


2. Factory Efficiency

Unlike concrete that's mixed and poured on-site, precast concrete is manufactured in a controlled factory environment. This process might seem minor in difference but is major in impact.


In the controlled environment of a factory, every mix is measured with care, ensuring not a drop of water or pinch of cement goes to waste. This precision cuts down on excess materials, slashing the waste that's all too common in on-site pours.


Pouring in a factory also means that conditions are always ideal for concrete production. There's no waiting for the right weather to pour or cure concrete. This not only speeds up the construction process but also makes it far more. Less energy used means a smaller carbon footprint, a win for any project aiming to be green.


Precasters have another trick up their sleeve: recycling. Almost everything that can be reused is. Steel and fiberglass forms are reused time and again, and plywood forms can be dismantled and reused, reducing waste and minimizing the need for new resources.


The entire operation runs on a waste not, want not mindset.


3. Water Conservation

In a world where every drop counts, it is important to think about how we can reduce how much water we use in construction. Concrete is known to be a huge water guzzler. But this is another area where precast comes in clutch.

Precasters use just what they need, no more, no less. Every stage of production is as efficient as possible, and that includes how much water we use.

Since precast concrete is made off-site and delivered ready to install, the need for water on the actual construction site is dramatically reduced. There’s no mixing, pouring, or curing with additional water on-site. This means your overall project has a smaller water footprint.


4. Transportation Emissions

Another way precast concrete contributes to sustainability is by reducing transportation emissions. This might seem a bit contradictory at first—after all, concrete is heavy, and moving heavy things usually means burning a lot of fuel. But the story changes when we consider the local nature of precast concrete production and use.


Many of the materials used in precast concrete manufacturing, like sand, gravel, and stone, come from local sources. We’re not shipping it from overseas. Since our materials don't have to travel far to get to our factory, transportation emissions are minimized. It's a straightforward journey from quarry to factory to construction site.


Here in Ontario, where natural resources are plentiful, this local loop of production and supply means trucks spend less time on the road. Fewer miles driven equals less fuel consumed and fewer emissions released into our atmosphere. It’s a great example of how thinking locally can have a big impact on reducing our carbon footprint.


Plus, precast concrete components are made to measure and ready to install upon arrival at the construction site. This efficiency not only speeds up the building process but also means fewer trips back and forth. It’s a major improvement over the constant back-and-forth of cement trucks to pour concrete on site.


Tackling Sustainability Challenges Head-on

Like any construction material, precast concrete faces its share of sustainability challenges. From the energy-intensive process of creating cement to water use, our industry is under pressure to find solutions that are more in line with our broader environmental goals.


The good news is that precasters are problem-solvers by nature, whether it’s solving design challenges by designing and building new forms or coming up with sustainable solutions.


Reducing Carbon Emissions

One major hurdle is the carbon footprint associated with producing cement. Cement production is a major source of CO2 emissions. However, the industry is not standing still.


There's a growing shift towards alternative cementitious materials (ACMs) such as fly ash, slag, and silica fume, often by-products of other industrial processes, to lower the emissions involved with making cement.


Energy consumption is another area where precast concrete aims to improve. As manufacturing technology advances, our processes are becoming more energy efficient. From optimizing the curing process to implementing better insulation and energy recovery systems in factories, precasters are quickly finding ways to slash the overall energy footprint of precast concrete production.


Over the past three decades, the Canadian cement and concrete industry has improved manufacturing efficiency by 20%, with an ambitious milestone to reduce the carbon intensity of cement by up to 40% by 2030.


We’re also seeing companies pioneering technologies to capture CO2 emissions from cement production and use them to cure concrete. This technology is still new, but it’s likely to move in leaps and bounds as more R&D is put towards sustainable precast concrete.



Restoring Quarry Sites

Quarries are necessary for extracting the sand, gravel, and stone that form the foundation of our concrete structures. But, as we dig deeper into the earth to meet our construction needs, we face the dilemma of environmental impact versus material necessity. It's a tough balance, but one that we're learning to manage more sustainably.


The good news is that the industry is stepping up. The Aggregate Resources Act (ARA) in Ontario mandates that quarry sites be rehabilitated, and there are numerous examples of successful quarry rehabilitation projects.


One standout example is the Kelso Quarry, near Milton, Ontario, which has been transformed into a vibrant community resource featuring new wetlands, extensive tree planting, and a constructed lake that is now a healthy fish habitat.


Fritz-Alder Precast is committed to advancing sustainable precast construction practices. Interested in learning how sustainable precast concrete can make a difference in your next project? Reach out to us for a detailed discussion and a personalized quote.




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Fritz-Alder Precast
Name: Fritz-Alder Precast
Posts: 3
Last Post: June 25, 2024