The environmental and cost benefits of Masonry versus Glass Architectures (HVAC Study)

October 31, 2016

Increased competition among builders and developers for market share continues to shape the construction industry in ways unimaginable. Factors such as cheaper investment and labour costs have fuelled the growth of glass architectures from the early-to-mid 2000 and the trend is evolving now more than ever.

Consequently, glass structures in cities such as Toronto will undergo major repairs or replacement 15 to 25 years after they’re built due to seasonal climate and other changes. Overtime these expenses will fuel an exorbitant increase in maintenance cost, which will inevitably prove a bad long-term investment for both owners and management, making resale or rental of these units difficult or impossible.

With that in mind, masonry buildings offer owners significant ongoing annual heating and cooling (HVAC) savings which is not only good for the environment, but also contributes to a reduction in annual hydro costs.   Multi-unit residential buildings with masonry construction can offer a 15% annual energy cost savings relative to high “Window to Wall Ratio” (WWR) modern glass buildings in the Toronto climate.

 Masonry buildings with high assembly R values also provide lower initial HVAC capital costs.  Multi-unit residential buildings with high Thermal Transmittance envelopes such as Glass Architecture require HVAC systems with up to 50% more capacity.  This higher heating and cooling capacity and can result in a capital cost premium in the order of 25% (modern glass architectural envelope versus masonry envelope).

In simpler terms, a masonry building will foster a greater reduction in energy consumption in comparison to glass and other structures. Power plant emissions will therefore be reduced, resulting in a decrease in coal burning, crude oil or other fossil fuels, which emits carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and other harmful chemicals as a spinoff.

There is now a shift towards more environmentally friendly structures and this shift will undoubtedly shape future policies in favouring masonry products due to their sustainability and “green build” properties.

Compared to other materials, masonry structures rarely needs to be repaired and rebuilt which also contributes to fewer depletion of the earth’s natural resources and requires less maintenance overtime.

Conroy Murray