Roman construction techniques are greener than we thought

How can the concrete in our building be more environmentally friendly? How can this commercial construction project be “greener”?

At Leon Williams Contractors, we field these questions with every project we undertake in the Knoxville, Maryville and East Tennessee area. We have many techniques and processes to build a greener commercial construction property.

While doing some research, we discovered that “green” construction is not a new idea. Yes, the concepts of protecting the environment and being less of a burden are new, but nature-friendly construction methods date back to the age of the Romans.

Here’s a few of the interesting things we discovered about how the Romans made environmentally-friendly concrete. The Roman method is far ‘greener’ than current techniques, releasing far less carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Most modern concrete is derived from lime that has been baked at approximately 2,600 degrees Fahrenheit. These high temperatures create seven percent of industry carbon dioxide emissions.

The Romans weren’t thinking of carbon dioxide when making their cement, but the strength of their concrete is no accident.

Did you know that contemporary concrete is designed to last for about 100 years?

Yet at the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea lie the remains of Roman harbors, buildings and other structures that have remained surprisingly intact for almost 2000 years. What’s the secret to their durable concrete?

Like modern chemists, Roman builders took limestone and burned it to create lime, a key component of mortar. But then, Roman builders mixed the lime with volcanic ash and saturated the mixture with salt water.

The reaction between the volcanic ash and the salt water naturally produces a bonding material called calcium aluminum silicate hydrate, or CASH.

This structure of CASH differs significantly from modern industrial concrete, which lacks aluminum and relies more heavily on silicates.

Furthermore, an X-ray analysis of the structures revealed that the concrete contains tobermorite, a crystalline material whose structure is considered “ideal”—meaning that the way its molecules arrange themselves is highly organized and therefore very strong–and which is nowhere to be found in industrial concrete.

Some makers of modern concrete have experimented with using volcanic ash as a substitute for Portland cement, but until now, no one knew how long such mixtures could be expected to last.

So, if going “green” is important in your next commercial construction project, see what Leon Williams Contractors can offer.

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