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The combinations of materials used to build the main elements of our homes — roof, walls and floor — are referred to as construction systems. They are many and varied, and each has advantages and disadvantages depending on climate, distance from source of supply, budget, maintenance requirements and desired style or appearance.

The environmental performance of a construction system is determined by life cycle or ‘cradle to grave’ analysis of the impact of the individual materials used in it. Preliminary decisions about construction systems are often made during the early design stages of a project whereas analysis of their environmental performance often occurs later during the detailed specification stage (see Before you begin). Making decisions in this order can limit the range of achievable and cost effective environmental outcomes.

Similar materials can have vastly different environmental impacts depending on where and how they are sourced. The source of the materials and the way they are processed ultimately determines their environmental impact. Give careful consideration to your choice of construction system early in the project, as changing systems late in the design or construction process can be costly, particularly if it requires structural alterations.

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