We no longer need to settle for building materials that contribute to higher greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, more sustainable options have been used for decades and are being refined and implemented by architects and builders in a growing number of countries.
Some countries are taking the lead by offering incentives, ratings and certifications to encourage builders to use the latest carbon emission-reducing materials in public spaces. Residential home builders are joining in.
Although some organic materials are not without challenges – including requiring extensive testing to meet building codes – the benefits they offer far outweigh the obstacles as we work toward a sustainable carbon-neutral planet.
Wood has always been a staple in construction in many parts of the world. Its ability to substantially reduce emissions both during construction and afterwards is a big plus. Projects constructed with wood can be completed in one-quarter of the time it takes to build with concrete. Ready-to-assemble prefab wood beams and panel kits reduce waste, dust, noise, and amount of water needed.
Mass timber is thick, engineered wood, strengthened with adhesives, fasteners or lamination for load-bearing capability. Lighter in weight than concrete and steel, mass timber is an environmentally friendly substitute for carbon-intensive materials and building systems. Mass timber is already being used in many multi-family buildings. Stronger than wood, mass timber is also more fireproof, and an effective alternative to concrete and steel. Mass timber is quickly gaining popularity in Canada and the United States.
Bark siding makes the most of the whole tree. Instead of discarding the bark or turning it into mulch, it can be used to beautify a home for long-term sustainability. It doesn’t warp or need to be sealed and it requires less maintenance than traditional siding.
A durable and sustainable building material, reclaimed wood adds character to your home while doing its part to preserve the environment.
You’ll discover beautiful reclaimed wood flooring, trim, cabinetry, fireplace mantels, wood panels, porch posts and more at your local salvaged materials store.
Straw bales, used for centuries in home construction, are making a comeback in new home building. Their high R-value insulation will give your space a cozy feeling and are a reliable choice for keeping your home warmer in winter and cooler in the summer.
Strong enough to withstand an earthquake, another benefit of straw bales is their fire resistance and soundproofing capabilities. They are ecologically responsible with no off-gassing or hazardous materials involved. Straw bales do better in less humid conditions and need a protective coating such as plaster to prevent them from becoming wet.
Bamboo is an attractive and sustainable option for flooring, trim and tiles, and increasingly as a building material for homes. Surprisingly strong, bamboo has the same strength ratio as steel and a very high tensile strength in comparison to concrete. It’s a reliable building material in countries that experience hurricanes and earthquakes.
Bamboo’s quicker harvesting time of every three years, and fast regeneration time, make it a more sustainable alternative to wood.
Completely recyclable, bamboo creates much less waste than wood, drywall and concrete.
Hempcrete is a sustainable, durable and fireproof building material made of hemp, lime powder and other natural ingredients. It is an effective insulation option for walls and under the roof.
Hempcrete’s natural components result in fewer off-gassing problems. Effective at withstanding earthquakes and high levels of humidity, hempcrete provides good insulation and helps reduce energy bills. It also repels rodents and is breathable.
A strong mixture of cellulose, cement, sand and binders, Timbercrete is a durable material developed in Australia. Made from timber waste products, it is fire resistant, has higher rates of insulation than traditional blocks, and also has good acoustic qualities. It benefits the environment by trapping the carbon that would normally become a greenhouse gas.
Similar to concrete blocks, it needs to be sealed to be completely waterproof. Timbercrete comes in a natural color, is also available in custom colors, and can be painted to suit your home’s design.
Timbercrete is also great for outdoor structures such as barns, sheds, and garages and for borders, retaining walls and pavers in the garden.
Rammed earth is an ancient technique, famously used to build the Great Wall of China. Depending on the climate and building codes in your area, rammed earth could be a feasible energy-saving alternative to construct your new home. Using the earth that is already on your property, your carbon footprint will be lower right from the start, with the reduced need to transport materials.
To make walls, layer the soil and other binding agents in frames, and apply pressure to get durable, thick and firm walls. Highly absorbent, rammed earth is effective at maintaining a stable temperature, even in extreme heat and cold. It retains the heat of the sun to provide warmth on cooler evenings. You can add insulation if needed in colder climates.
Rammed earth is also an effective sound insulator, is fireproof, and water-resistant when properly sealed. Low maintenance rammed walls can be left in their natural color to complement the local environment or you can apply plaster and paint. Now, for more convenience, there are ready-made blocks produced in the same eco-friendly way.
Mycelium, made from the roots of mushrooms, is emerging as a popular choice in home building materials such as composite boards. It is not only organic and stylish but also very sturdy. Stronger than concrete, mycelium provides insulation values greater than those of traditional fiberglass. This natural option won’t give off harmful toxins or gasses. Part of its value to the environment is that it requires no lighting to grow and is compostable.
Wool is a natural for home insulation and is now available in rolls and batts. It does the job of keeping your home warm in the extreme cold and cools your home in the heat of summer. Flame resistant, it also stands up in damp conditions. It is good for the environment from the production stage to the end of its life when you can compost it. Make sure you choose a wool insulation product from a responsible source that does not use mulesing, a dated and cruel method used in sheep farming.
Install dual-purpose solar tiles, a great source of renewable energy, on top of your existing roof or as a new roof to protect your home. Check your local municipality for incentives to install solar tiles and panels. You can decrease your energy bill, and if you have energy to spare, you can sell it.
There are so many new products being developed to build homes in a more sustainable way, from smart windows to recycled plastic blocks. Even if you select only one of these methods or products, you will be doing your part to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions for a healthier planet.