Sustainable Materials to Use When Building a New Home

What Is Sustainable Building?

Sustainable buildings primary focus is on meeting the needs of human beings without compromising the environment and future generations. There are three basic principles that must be followed and applied to every new construction:

  1. Location: The location of new constructions must be considered: instead of imposing a decontextualized idea, the aim is to adapt to the surroundings.
  2. Utilize Local Resources: When contemplating a new construction, the surrounding materials and natural resources must be considered. Collaborate with the local environment and use what is readily available, do not go against what nature has already created.
  3. Respecting environmental principles: With any new construction the question must be asked, “is there a present or future need for this building?” Additionally, costs and social benefits must be considered before construction starts.  

Guiding Principals Behind Using Sustainable Materials

Behind the three basic principles of sustainable building are five fundamental elements. The guiding elements of sustainable building provide a framework for all new constructions to ensure that each building is utilizing the full spectrum of sustainable resources.

  1. Recycling: Reusing is mandatory for any building to be considered sustainable. Buildings should be constructed with sustainable or recycled materials. Examples include tiles made from glass bottles, salvaged wood for parquet flooring, etc.
  2. Reusing water: Water, our most used and wasted natural resource. The average American uses roughly 34 gallons of water every day. Sustainable buildings must ensure that water is being reused by providing a sustainable water plan. Reuse wastewater with correct treatment systems and by collecting rainwater.
  3. Solar energy: The sun provides an unlimited supply of electrical energy that can be easily collected and applied to residential and commercial buildings. All of the energy collected from solar panels can heat water, charge electrical devices, and decrease the building's reliance on carbon-heavy alternatives.
  4. Natural light: Sustainable buildings are designed and positioned to take full advantage of sunlight. This reduces electricity and heating consumption.
  5. Low-carbon materials: Sustainable construction companies are increasingly engaged in developing environmentally-friendly transportation and manufacturing of materials. In addition they are striving to establish new ways in which to mitigate their emissions.

How Green Are Sustainable Building Materials?

Using sustainable materials in the construction of sustainable buildings can significantly decrease the use of water, energy, land, and raw materials. In addition to the decreased depletion of materials, sustainable buildings also reduce overall construction emissions, waste, and pollution. The following list highlights the significance of decreasing waste and increasing the use of sustainable materials in the construction of new sustainable buildings. 

  1. Water: Traditional construction practices demonstrate out-dated water reuse plans and traditionally lack any water treatment equipment. If current trends continue communities will begin to face local water shortages caused by water misuse. With sustainable buildings strong emphasis on water reuse, they inherently use less water and have proper water treatment equipment. Sustainable buildings also landscape in ways which decrease water misuse and minimize soil degradation. 
  2. Raw Materials: Developers of sustainable constructions use less raw materials and more sustainable materials that are inherently more environmentally friendly. In addition to using recycled and sustainable materials, sustainable buildings construction debris is typically recycled. The reduction of construction debris decreases the amount of waste being sent to landfills.
  3. Energy: Sustainable buildings include energy-saving appliances and utilize natural light. Both decrease total carbon emissions and lowers the building's reliance on fossil fuels.
  4. Land: The very location of a building can have a significant impact on the local environment. Sustainable buildings are built in areas where their construction will have the lowest possible impact on land degradation and deforestation. They also help in promoting a healthy landscape.

Cost of Building with Sustainable Materials

Generally speaking, the upfront cost of building with sustainable materials is greater when compared to when traditional building supplies are used. Despite the greater upfront cost of building with sustainable materials, the price difference is amortized within 5-15 years. The savings of a home built with sustainable materials and sustainable building principles is due to the decreased use of utilities. Sustainable buildings use less water, have decreased heating requirements, provide increased electricity savings, and have an overall lower cost of maintenance. 

Sustainable Materials to Replace Concrete

The most commonly used building material used in a traditional building is concrete. Unfortunately, the production of commercial concrete releases tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere each year. Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas that is known to contribute to global warming and climate change. Fortunately, there have been great advances made in the production of sustainable concrete replacements. Here are a few of the most promising replacements.

Grasscrete: 

Grasscrete is a method of laying concrete in a manner which allows open spaces between concrete shapes. These open spaces allow for grass and other vegetation to grow. This allows for less concrete being used and improves the overall absorption and drainage of stormwater. 

Rammed Earth: 

Rammed earth is exactly what it sounds like. Dirt is tamped down tightly into a wooden form, rebar or bamboo can be incorporated to increase its strength and durability. Rammed earth has been used by human civilizations for generations and is considered to be very durable. Today mechanical tampers are used to decrease the amount of labor required to create a study wall.

Hempcrete: 

Hempcrete is material that is created by mixing the woody inner fibers of the hemp plant with lime. Once the hemp fibers bind to the lime the resulting Hempcrete is incredibly lightweight and strong and it is also a fast-growing plant which makes it an ideal sustainable building material.

Bamboo:

Bamboo has been used in the construction of homes for millennia. It has incredible tensile strength, is lightweight, and fast-growing. Again, another ideal sustainable building material. It continues to be a great alternative for concrete and rebar, especially in difficult to reach geographical locations.

Recycled Plastic:

Scientists are continually making advancements in the use of recycled plastics and trash as an additive to concrete. The use of plastic and trash in concrete reduces greenhouse gas emission and reduces the total weight of the concrete. An additional benefit is that less plastic is being sent to landfills.

Wood:

Wood continues to be the preferred sustainable building material of choice for the majority of builders. It is slow growing but absorbs CO2 as it grows which assists in decreasing greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere. If forests are properly managed, the use of wood is an extremely sustainable material.

Mycelium: 

Mycelium is a sustainable building material that is comprised of the root structure of fungi and mushrooms. It grows around a composite of natural materials such as straw or a mold. Once dried they become strong lightweight bricks. 

Ferrock: 

Ferrock is created by using recycled steel dust from steel companies. As ferrock dries and hardens it absorbs and traps carbon dioxide making it a carbon neutral substance. Once dried it is considerably strong and considered to be stronger than concrete. 

Ashecrete:

Ashecrete is a concrete alternative that uses fly ash (a byproduct of burning coal) instead of traditional cement. 97% of the traditional components in concrete can be replaced with recycled material. Although decreasing total carbon dioxide released from the production of concrete, the burning of coal also releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Timbercrete: 

Timbercrete is created by mixing sawdust and concrete. The resulting timbercrete is lighter and has fewer traditional concrete components. This decreases the total carbon emission for transportation and utilizes the formally wasted product of sawdust. 

Recycled Plastic Building Blocks: 

Plastic Building Blocks are created by compressing recycled or reclaimed plastic into building blocks. ByFusion is creating these building blocks to decrease total plastic waste and to provide a new cheap sustainable building option. They are stated to be 95%  lower in greenhouse gas emissions compared to a concrete block.

Recycled Glass Countertops: 

IceStone is currently producing countertops created with recycled glass. The glass makes up 70% of the countertop by weight. Glass countertops are considerably more sustainable when compared to traditional granite countertops.

Are You Ready for Sustainable Material?

There is a wide variety of sustainable materials that can be used in every aspect of your current or future home. Unfortunately, the majority of sustainable materials currently have a greater upfront cost compared to traditional materials. Despite the price point at this time, the cost of these materials is continually dropping to meet popular demand. As demand for sustainable continues to increase the price of these materials will continue to fall. Regardless of the price difference, all of us can incorporate aspects of sustainable living in our lives.

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Tyler Farr
 

Tyler is an energetic nature enthusiast who is currently considering moving into a tiny house. Tyler and his wife enjoy hiking, mountain biking, camping, and doing anything in the great outdoors. He hopes that the articles he writes will help others learn how important it is to take care of the environment.

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