Sustainable Base


Take timber, for example. It is always in fashion, in interior design and in many structural applications. It’s stylish and effective. But then, it’s all too easy to assume that because the rainforests are being chopped down, we should not be using wood anymore or we will run out of oxygen. Of course that is nonsense, but sometimes you are led to wonder just what is good and what is bad. Especially in Australia, where we all know that hardwoods are “under threat”, it is sometimes difficult to know what is the right thing to do.

At Embelton, there is no such reticence. For decades this all-Australian company has been producing high-quality timber floorings, backed up by an expert noise and vibration isolation division, and for Managing Director James Embelton, the argument is simple: timber remains a Good Idea. He is aware that public perceptions are increasingly confused in the welter of argument for and against forestry, sustainability and carbon sequestration, so that, for many builders and their clients, the desirability of a smart and durable wooden floor or other surface is clouded by concern that it might be harmful to our environment. But, he says, “Timber is an inexpensive option compared to steel or other building material products. People think timber is not sustainable or eco-friendly, but it is.”

If you were to make your product out of, say, plastic, the impact on the environment would be much greater than if you used timber, for two key reasons, says James. “First, the manufacturing process in making something out of plastic creates much more carbon in the atmosphere than making it from timber. Secondly, timber is a store of carbon – if you use it, you are extracting that amount of carbon from the environment – permanently.” Timber can be not only sustainable, but beneficial in two ways – both causing less damage in its production and ingesting carbon dioxide which the tree exchanges for oxygen.

There is currently discussion at government level about legislation against illegal logging that would mean anyone manufacturing from timber or selling timber products will need to show some kind of proof of the origin of the wood. “We, and all other producers of timber products, will need to show where the timber has come from with a view to proving that the timber has been sustainably sourced,” James explains. He is of the opinion that forestry has been managed far better in Australia over the last 200 years than in most other countries, especially in terms of renewing the stock, and that the proportion of native forest eligible for felling across the nation is very small, on the order of five to seven per cent of the total. For these reasons, the industry should hold its head high and the public should be able to relax and enjoy the range of finishes available.

A substantial proportion of Embleton’s flooring today comes from bamboo, which is extremely hard-wearing and capable of being finished to an exceptional aesthetically pleasing appearance. Bamboo is one of the fastest growing trees in the world (actually, it is not a tree at all but a species of grass), and can be harvested for flooring every six years or so, making it much more sustainable and much more swiftly renewable than timber. Embelton sources nearly all of its bamboo from China and has an exclusive distribution arrangement with one of the world’s leading bamboo flooring manufacturers, who own their own bamboo forest, allowing better control of the raw material and more consistent quality and appearance. The bamboo itself comes from one of the colder parts of China, and is exposed to significant climatic variations, making it stronger than other bamboo flooring; mature bamboo is immensely strong, traditionally and even today used throughout Asia as scaffolding in lieu of steel poles even on multi-storey building projects.

Embelton Bamboo is also GECA-certified. Good Environmental Choice Australia (GECA) is an independent, not-for-profit organisation. By ensuring that products which carry the GECA certification meet stringent environmental requirements, their mission is to transform the actions of business and consumers to drive a substantial increase in the sustainability of consumption.

Currently, bamboo is the most popular choice in Australia for hard flooring. “It is compared to timber flooring, obviously, although it is a grass. It is the largest proportion of Embelton’s flooring sales because it is perceived as a sustainable choice and also because it is relatively inexpensive compared to other ‘timber’ options. It is also a very attractive product and extremely hard-wearing.”

Major drivers in flooring, of course, remain fashion and price. Solid timber flooring is expensive and tends to be installed before finishing, so after laying the floor there is a sanding process followed by sealing. This takes several days; the overall process, says James, can cost around $200 per square metre. One of Embelton’s engineered timber floors will cost probably half that price “and you can have it laid and walk on it the same day.” Solid planks are no longer necessary, because hardly any new building today features traditional joists (and laying solid timber on concrete is an extremely difficult and expensive exercise to do well).

Engineered timber floors have come a long way in the last 20 years, James explains, to the extent that they can look at least as good as – and often better than – solid timber. The top layer can be anywhere from half a millimetre thick to five or six millimetres, with a substrate typically made from inexpensive plantation timber.

It is the strandwoven manufacturing process which gives Embelton bamboo flooring a high density, hard and stylish appearance. Strandwoven bamboo is twice as hard as more traditional horizontal or vertical grain manufactured bamboo flooring. In the former, grain manufacturing bamboo slats are turned on the side before being melded to give them a narrower look. Horizontal grain involves laying the bamboo slats flat before melding together to give them a wider look. Both techniques produce a softer bamboo board more prone to dents, which is why the strandwoven technique was developed.

In the strandwoven manufacture process, the bamboo is mechanically stripped and heated, then the strips are woven together and laminated under extreme pressure. These slices are milled and profiled with a licensed click system or DIY style to produce a floor that is harder and denser than traditional bamboo flooring, with a grain more similar to exotic hardwood flooring.

Keep it quiet, but Embelton knows almost everything there is to know about insulation of noise and vibration in an office or domestic context, a world leader in the design and provision of engineered solutions for the isolation of structure-borne noise working closely with acoustical consultants, structural engineers, and engineering design companies. “We know how to minimise structure-borne noise, which is becoming ever more important,” says James, not just in obvious applications such as a broadcasting studio, sensitive laboratory or medical facility but also as more and more people live closer to each other in high-rise blocks as populations increase. At the same time, we are becoming choosier; “one’s appetite for unwanted vibration or noise is diminishing.” Think of the (very expensive) top-floor suite just below the communal swimming pool, for example, or the apartment on the same floor as the gym. “When someone jumps into a pool on the roof of a building it creates a shock wave that travels through the structure to other parts of the building. So the pool needs to be isolated. We engineer and manufacture the equipment that stops vibration in its tracks.”

In fact, Embelton, far from being ‘just’ a supplier of flooring, has a whole team of designers and engineers that can advise on and devise solutions to just about any structure-related problem involving noise or vibration. Often this team is called in after the building is finished and the problem becomes audible; but James believes the company can be of more help if it is called in at an early stage to examine designs and advise on potential risks and avoidance. Tread carefully, and quietly, is the watchword.

Home Automation

Call it ‘domotics,’ and you are likely to receive a blank stare, but refer to it as ‘smart home’ or ‘home automation,’ and you will get a nod of acknowledgement. For the past few years, consumers have heard the word ‘smart’ attached to countless products and services, from food and drink to snacks like popcorn and mobile phones, which no one seems to refer to as a ‘cellphone’ anymore. Yet what, exactly, constitutes ‘smart’?

May 29, 2020, 5:06 PM AEST