Performance Assessment of Alternative Composite Earth Wall Panels

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Virginia Tech


The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air conditioning Engineers suggests that the building sector represents over 30 percent of our national energy consumption (Parsons, R., 2001). Embodied energy in components of building construction can represent as much as five to ten years of operating energy. Building materials such as concrete, steel and glass require significant amounts of energy for production, and therefore are important when calculating embodied energy in buildings (Keable, 2007; Rypkema, 2007). Because of the relatively large area and volume of related components, the building enclosure system represents a major factor when calculating embodied energy. Alternative materials could be incorporated by adapting traditional and vernacular building approaches to today's standards, for example, compressing soil blocks for use as external walls in buildings that can be applicable to almost any climate including rainforests and cold climates. As an alternative to high-embodied energy materials used for enclosure systems, compacted earth-based enclosure systems may be a viable option, particularly if developed and applied as a pre-manufactured modular system. This study seeks to both quantitatively and qualitatively explore the potential development of earth-based building curtain wall systems. Using modified ASTM test protocols for building enclosure systems and components, alternative earth-based panels were compared. The results suggest that earth-based panels may be a viable option for curtain wall systems but its performance is highly dependent on the composition of the panels. The results of the tests are summarized.



Rammed earth, renewable, panelized wall systems, natural binding agents, panel compaction methods