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Using eco-friendly building materials, you can save energy, put fewer toxins into the environment and have less waste.
Green products can swap out things like traditional wood and even concrete. However, it can be hard to tell which building materials are actually eco friendly and which are just labeled ‘green’ for more sales. We’ve rounded up the best eco friendly building materials for construction on the market.
Why Use Green Building Materials
There are a lot of benefits of using green building materials including that they can reduce emissions into the environment, maintain heat so it takes less energy to maintain them, and they are non toxic.
But the benefits don’t stop there. Living in an environmentally friendly house means:
- Less maintenance and replacement costs
- Less unnatural chemicals
- Energy conservation
- Improved health
- Lower cost for some components and materials
- Improved indoor air quality that can improve occupant health
- Some cities even offer incentives, like tax benefits or subsidization, for green products and structures
Eco friendly building materials are just as durable as traditional materials and they help conserve the resources on earth. These alternatives also tend to be fire resistant, water-resistant and can reduce the pollution in landfills, thus reducing your carbon footprint and doing your part to protect our world resources.
What is The Most Eco-Friendly Way to Build a House?
The most eco friendly way to build a house is to use eco friendly building materials.
You can reduce your environmental impact on a structure in a variety of ways, including choosing materials from a local source or choosing materials that are designed to have a smaller environmental footprint.
The most eco friendly building materials are not only made from a local source but also will use limited water and resources to grow and manufacture the materials.
Every material will have some impact on the environment, but you can find some that are better than others.
We can only plant so many trees in our forests to offset running out of lumber, but using environmentally friendly materials that don’t require cutting down trees is more sustainable, plus increases efficiency in reducing pollution.
Additionally, just using one eco friendly building material will not automatically make your building green. It’s the combination of several entirely natural and sustainable materials together in the building construction that make a home green.
When looking at eco friendly building materials, consider a different sustainable material for different components of your house like the flooring, walls, ceiling, insulation and roof.
What Are the most Eco-Friendly Building Material Options?
If you’re looking at building a green, energy efficient house, there are plenty of eco friendly build materials that have been developed in recent years, so whether you aim to create a sustainable building, greenhouse, or lessen your environmental impact on buildings then you need to check out these eco friendly building materials.
These are some of the most popular eco friendly building materials and products.
AshCrete is an alternative to cement concrete materials that use fly ash. It is made of fly ash, borate and bottom ash, and is environmentally friendly.
- Has higher strength than regular cement due to its smaller pores
- Fly ash is a cost-effective material
- It lasts a long time
- Can take longer to prepare, making construction last a lot longer time
- Cement concrete alternative
Bamboo is one of the most sustainable building materials available because a bamboo plant can grow back so quickly. It’s a sustainable replacement for traditional wood or concrete for a green home. In some areas, it grows up to three feet a day.
- Bamboo has a high rate of self-generation
- Does not have to be replanted after harvest because it keeps spreading
- Available around the world on every continent except for Europe and Antarctica
- It’s durable and strong so that it works for flooring and cabinets
- Lightweight and easy to transport
- 100% biodegradable
- Needs treatment to resist insects
- Bamboo can rot and absorb water if untreated
- Wall panels
Clay brick is a natural resource made out of water and clay harvested from the earth. Just as in concrete bricks, clay bricks are made from the raw products mined and mixed with water.
It’s recyclable, environmentally friendly and non toxic and a replacement for stone. Clay can also be implemented on a roof.
- Helps with maintaining temperatures in a structure
- Can last a long time
- Less durable than concrete blocks
- Additional expensive of plaster finish
- Outdoor walls
Cob is a mixture of subsoil, water and organic material like longer straw. Cob houses can also stand for a really long time and they are an eco friendly material.
As alternatives for polyurethane and fiberglass, cob is entirely natural insulation.
- Cob is easy to use and can be shaped to whatever building or structure you like
- It is a natural insulation and thus energy-efficient
- Building a cob house is very labor intensive
Cork is another popular environmentally friendly building material for its sustainability and durability and is even very light, saving energy on shipping. It is harvested from the cork oak tree in the Mediterranean.
Consider cork for use in your flooring, ceiling and more as a substitute for wood.
- Fast-growing resource
- Flexible, yet can sustain pressure
- Cork can absorb noise and shock
- Naturally fire-resistant
- Will not absorb water or rot
- Extremely lightweight
- Cork is not widely available – the majority is found in the Mediterranean
- Shipping can add additional costs
- Can become more brittle over time
- Flooring tiles
- Wall panels
HempCrete is a concrete-like structure and is made when hemp fibers mixed with sand and lime can create bricks for building construction.
It’s a substitute for cement concrete and is still just as strong but takes much less energy to transport. You can also swap out wood or concrete for HempCrete.
- Hemp blocks are lightweight and easy to use
- Hemp is fast-growing and renewable
- It will not shrink or crack when dry
- Fire-resistant, pest-resistant, and provides insulating material
- Can take up to eight weeks to dry and needs to dry in mild weather
- Holds much less weight compared to concrete
- Substitute for concrete
Mycelium is made from a fungus that naturally grows underneath the earth. It’s a great building material because it can replace timber and foam in building homes and it’s light and easy to transport.
- Customizable material
- Water-resistant, mold-resistant and fire-resistant
- Cannot hold much weight, especially compared to timber
- Insulating homes
- Door cores
- Inside walls
Recycled plastic is a popular eco friendly solution and it can be made from recycled pellets of plastics like milk cartons. Plastic materials can take hundreds of years to decompose in a landfill, so by recycling them you can help clean up the planet from years of plastic.
You can purchase plastic building material from companies that recycle plastic for buildings.
- Significantly reduces waste
- Not fire-proof – plastic can burn hot and fast
Rubber is both natural and synthetic, with natural rubber made from a rubber tree and synthetic rubber is made through a chemical process. Natural rubber is more eco friendly, but synthetic rubber can also be recycled for outdoor floor tiles, playgrounds, and more.
- Soft and easy to walk on, even barefoot
- Lasts for a long time and is very durable
- Rubber either has to be harvested from specific trees or recycled, and both methods take a while to source
- Outdoor tiles
- Sports fields and tracks
Recycled metals like recycled steel can be good for roof panels. You can also combine different recycled metals like steel and aluminum for an interesting look. But, steel is the most recycled material in the world, even more than plastic, paper, aluminum and glass combined.
- It’s a strong material and durable
- Steel requires less energy to heat a steel home
- Can be combined with other metals like aluminum
- Steel is not fireproof and can fall apart at high heats
Recycled materials can make a great eco friendly material as well. Recycled wood is one of the most common eco friendly building materials available.
You can use salvaged wood from old construction projects or demolition jobs to keep material out of a landfill and give any building an antique look.
- Wood is easy to get
- Wood is easy to use – simple installation
- It can be more expensive to purchase recycled wood because it takes a lot to reclaim it
- Natural-looking flooring
- Exposed beams
Sheep’s wool is a natural building material as a replacement for fiberglass or polyurethane spray foam. Plus, wool is a renewable source and can regrow quickly. It’s great for heating and cooling, saving you on energy bills and reducing your environmental impact.
Wool has also been shown to improve indoor air quality because it reduces chemicals and other properties in the air.
- Energy-efficient insulator
- Easy to get and renewable; wool is available almost everywhere
- Will not degrade as quickly as other natural insulations
- Helpful for heating and cooling your home
- Can cost a lot to use
Straw bales may remind you of the tale of the three little pigs, but you can build a sturdy house out of straw.
Plus, straw is widely available and makes great thermal insulation to conserve energy in your building and environmentally friendly. It’s a great replacement for concrete, wood, plaster, fiberglass or stone.
- Easy to access and renewable source
- Easy installation
- Thermal benefits
- Not ideal for areas prone to earthquakes which can cause cracks in the plaster or the structure to fail
- Wall panels
- Attic insulations
Timber Crete is a concrete substitute made of sawdust and concrete combined. Timber Crete is a more eco friendly material than regular concrete because the sawdust replaces the products in concrete that require the most energy.
- Easier to use than brick, clay or concrete
- Long lasting
- More costly up front than concrete
- Concrete-like walls
There are too many materials to cover all in one article; however, the ones here can get you started. In addition, you should look at other eco friendly materials for your build including:
- Recycled glass
- Natural paint
- Low, or zero VOC (Volatile Organic Compounds) paint
- Non toxic stains
- Green roofs made with living plant material in the roof
- Reclaimed wood siding
- Smart glass
- Soybean foam spray insulation
Check out our recent article if you are interested in a review of eco-friendly wooden flooring solutions.
How Can I Build a Home That is Eco-Friendly from Recycled Materials?
It’s time to create a more sustainable future through an eco friendly construction industry that will benefit our planet and nature while conserving energy. However, how you go about building a green home that benefits the environment is entirely up to you.
One way to build a home from recycled materials is to simply substitute natural material for traditional construction materials. For instance, swap things like AshCrete for cement concrete, sheep’s wool for insulation panels, straw bales for fiberglass, and recycled steel for roofing.
Making these swaps will make your home construction more green and conserve energy in your home and reduce waste in our landfills. Reduce your carbon footprint with environmentally friendly building alternatives.
Additionally, think about other components of your house like using quality doors and windows to maintain air flow, and placing windows strategically to bring in natural light.
Or, use green faucets, lightbulbs, and quality insulation.
One eco friendly home can make a big difference, but in the future eco friendly cities can change the construction industry for good and help save our earth.
When building with alternative building material, it’s natural to have a few questions. We’re so accustomed to using traditional cement and timber lumber in our homes construction that the transition to sustainable cities will have a learning curve.
Here are the answers to some of the most common ones about green construction.
Which eco-friendly building materials are the cheapest?
The best budget and eco friendly build materials for green construction are bamboo, recycled wood and straw bales.
Which eco-friendly building material gives the best insulation?
Eco friendly alternatives for insulation include recycled plastic, cellulose, and sheep’s wool.
Are cob houses legal?
Cob houses do not fall under building codes in the U.S., but they are not illegal to build. You can legally build cob houses.
Are cob houses waterproof?
Cob houses are built with soil as the base material, so they are safe, fireproof, and waterproof. They are very resistant to weather and can last a long time.
How long do cob houses last?
Cob houses can last for years, and the oldest cob house built is over 10,000 years old. Realistically, they could last forever as long as they are properly maintained.
Are clay bricks fireproof?
Clay bricks are often used in fireplaces, pizza ovens and kilns because they are fire resistant. Clay bricks are fired at around 20,000 degrees F, so they are non-combustible.
Do straw bale houses rot?
Straw bale houses can rot if they are not properly built and taken care of. Straw can decompose when exposed to air and water, so if you build your house to remove air pockets then it will not decompose.
How long do straw bale houses last?
A straw bale home can last for at least 100 years. They are also less expensive to build, healthier, and eco friendly. However, they do need attention to avoid pests and take a good amount of maintenance to prevent water damage and decomposition.
Can bamboo be used for a wall?
Bamboo is a great eco friendly building material for a wall, floor, and furniture. You can even DIY a bamboo wall for your home.