The increase in housing needs and the global warming issue put our environment at risk. But we can do something to keep everything balanced. Choosing sustainable materials for building or expanding our home, for instance, is one effective solution. Here are some green materials to let you enjoy your new home the eco-friendly and guilt-free way!
What are Sustainable Materials?
Home-building materials typically require natural resources (like trees, oil and gas) and, in the process, produce construction waste that can affect the environment. Sustainable or eco-friendly construction materials, on the other hand, do not. They even promote environmental conservation either by upcycling or minimising resource consumption.
The following sustainable materials not only cause less environmental impact but also make money and energy-saving homes.
1. Recycled steel
Steel is 100% recyclable. Each year, the steel industry recycles more steel than any material worldwide. What makes it an excellent building material is that its durable properties don’t change even when recycled. Compared with other sustainable materials, recycled steel doesn’t require frequent treatment or replacement either. It’s long-lasting and highly resistant to moisture and pests.
- Uses: Recycled steel is best for building facades, roofing and structural support like beams and girders.
- Green benefits: Recycling steel reduces the need for mining, heating and shaping new ones that require a lot of energy. With recycled steel, manufacturers can save up to 75% of energy costs and prevent metal reserve depletion. Using this material can also save a lot of trees taken down for timber.
2. Precast concrete slabs
Precast concrete is one of the most durable sustainable building materials available. Manufacturers make these slabs at the plant by pouring concrete into moulds with rebars for support then cured. The individual sections are then put together at the construction site to form structures.
With proper curing in a controlled environment, precast concrete is less susceptible to cracking, structural faults and different kinds of weather elements. It’s an affordable building material that is also temperature stable and cost-effective.
- Uses: Precast concrete is excellent as walls and facades. Others use it for flat roofing and flooring.
- Green benefits: Compared with site-cast concrete, precast ones take less energy to produce and are easy to assemble. Concrete is recyclable, too. Also, using precast slabs prevents mixing concrete more than necessary to avoid waste of material and money. The fixed price of these slabs also helps keep your construction expense within your budget limit.
3. Reclaimed wood
One of the most used sustainable building materials is recycled wood. Like repurposed steel, this green building material is better for the environment than harvesting trees for new timber. It’s a durable and versatile material that also makes homes feel warm and cosy. Timber can boost your resale value, too.
You can source reclaimed wood in salvage yards, excavation companies, retired barns, home remodelling contractors and shipping crate companies. Timber can deteriorate over time, so make sure to reinforce recycled ones and give them proper treatment against insects.
- Uses: Recycled wood adds vintage appeal to floors and exposed beams. You can also use it for structural framing and cabinetry. Make sure to assess the integrity of your timber first. This way, you can match its weight and strength to your project.
- Green benefits: Using recycled timber for house construction can help save trees and reduce lumber in the landfill.
Bamboo may have properties that are similar to timber. But did you know that bamboo belongs to the grass family? This characteristic allows it to grow way faster than pine or cedar. It’s also a perennial grass that grows almost anywhere in the world except in Europe and Antarctica.
On top of its antibacterial and aesthetic properties, bamboo has an excellent strength-to-weight ratio, too. It does require treatment, though, as its natural starch content can attract insects. It’s also prone to swelling due to moisture absorption.
- Uses: Bamboo is ideal for flooring, creating wall screens and countertops, decking and cabinetry.
- Green benefits: Aside from being 100% biodegradable, bamboo is also highly renewable. Trees are ready for harvesting after 25 to 50 years, whereas bamboo takes 3 to 5 years only. It continues to grow after harvest, even without replanting, too. Its tensile strength also makes it a sustainable alternative to concrete and reinforcing steel. However, it requires treatment to prevent insect infestation and fungi growth.
5. Straw bales
Straw is a by-product of the agricultural industry and an excellent way to repurpose waste into framing, insulation and soundproofing material. And contrary to what others believe, straw bale homes can resist flames, too, by preventing air from passing through. The best thing about these renewable resources is that they can be used in their raw state, making them non-toxic and more affordable.
- Uses: Straw bales work in walls, ceilings and attics as an insulator. They can be used as filling material for beams and columns, too.
- Green benefits: Straw is easy to harvest and replant without harming the environment. It works as a substitute for concrete, fibreglass, stone, plaster or gypsum.
6. Sheep’s wool
Like bamboo, sheep’s wool is a renewable and natural material that’s easy to source. When used for insulation, it can make your home energy-efficient and flame-resistant, too. Nowadays, you can buy wool insulation in rolls and batts for easy installation. Compared with more popular choices like fibreglass, wool’s insulating power is 10% higher. However, it can be pricey.
- Uses: Property owners typically use wool for walls, ceiling and attics as an insulator. Its fibres have millions of tiny pockets that trap air, which enhance the energy efficiency of your sustainable house during winter and summer.
- Green benefits: Sheep’s wool is readily available and regrows quickly. Unlike other raw materials, it requires less energy for manufacturing and does not degrade as fast as other options like straw. It also has a natural purifying ability, taking formaldehyde, nitrogen oxide and sulphur dioxide out of your indoor air. It’s compostable at the end of its life, too. Wool is safer than chemical-laden insulation as well.
7. Plant-based polyurethane rigid foam
Polyurethane (PU) is a petroleum product with a high carbon footprint. Back in 2005, a PU supplier closed down due to environmental issues with PU foam in surfboards. But thanks to this development, traditional PU has been revolutionised into an eco-friendlier plant-based foam. This green building material now uses kelp, hemp and bamboo to recreate the same rigid and immovable feature.
- Uses: Rigid plant-based polyurethane foam insulation is perfect for walls and roofs. It can be used for insulating pipes or pipelines and making furniture, too.
- Green benefits: Compared with fibreglass, plant-based PU has better thermal properties, which, in turn, helps reduce your energy consumption. It is also mould and pest-resistant, which means you can save money from this long-lasting material.
8. Recycled plastic
We all know that plastic takes thousands of years to decompose. In the meantime, they stay in the landfill and oceans to pollute soil and marine life. And so, it’s a great move for many manufacturers to reuse plastic in several construction materials.
- Uses: The combination of recycled and virgin plastic makes polymeric timber for fences, bricks and outdoor furniture like benches and picnic tables. Manufacturers convert beverage bottles into fibre to make stain-resistant carpets. Cable pipes, roofs, tiles, windows and indoor insulation made of recycled plastic materials are also widely available. Building a plastic bottle garden is an excellent way to reduce waste at home, too.
- Green benefits: Aside from reducing environmental waste, recycling plastic generates 95% less carbon emission than concrete.
With so many sustainable materials to choose from, we can practically make every part of our home eco-friendly. The best part is they are as durable as other industrial building materials. Moreover, they can even give you significant savings in the long run.