The UK concrete sector is very aware of the importance of water, especially when considered alongside the likely impacts of global warming and climate change.
Water is a finite resource. And, unlike oil, there is no substitute for water. Of all the water on Earth, less than one percent is easily accessible freshwater for human consumption, and this water has to be shared with the natural environment. Increasing human demand for water coupled with the effects of climate change mean that the future of our water supply is not secure.
In the UK our wet maritime climate has provided a relatively assured supply of domestic, agricultural and industrial water. Recent floods, however, confirm the unpredictability of our water resources; the trend is towards less rainfall in the south of England and more in the north and west.
It may come as a surprise but London is drier than Istanbul, and the South East of England has less water available per person than the Sudan and Syria.
All construction products have embodied water in them and the UK concrete sector is doing all it can to minimise its impact on this resource.
Embedded water refers to the amount of water required to produce a product from start to finish. Embedded water is most commonly used with reference to agricultural products but may be applied to non-agricultural goods as well, such as construction products.
Therefore even your home has water embedded in it. Though no studies have been done on homes in the UK, a 2004 study in Australia estimated that a typical Australian house represents about 15 years worth of operational water, 15 years of water for cooking, cleaning, washing, drinking, toilet flushing and gardening all embedded within a single home.1
This study estimated that a kilo of concrete has about two litres of embedded water, a kilo of timber about 20 litres, a kilo of steel about 40 litres, a kilo of aluminium about 88 litres, and that a kilo of plastic has about 185 litres of embedded water.
References and further reading
1. G Treloar, M McCormack, L Palmowski, and R Fay, Embodied Water of Construction. Environment Design Guide, The Royal Australian Institute of Architects, 2004
For more information on water and concrete, download 'Specifying Sustainable Concrete' from The Concrete Centre website.