Alternative Eco-friendly Building Construction Materials
article by Kiara
Building is, by and large, done in an unsustainable manner. The amount of concrete we use in buildings is staggeringly high - concrete is the second most consumed substance on the planet, after water. The cement industry is one of the biggest contributors to carbon emissions on the planet. And concrete is just one of the many less-than-eco-friendly substances we use in construction.
Concrete and steel production account for as much as 16% of global greenhouse gas emissions (with concrete responsible for 1-2% more emissions than steel). Deforestation - clearcutting old-growth forests for timber used in construction? It still happens.
We want to bring about change in the construction industry - and one way of doing that is by making consumers more conscious of other building material choices that are available. To that end, we’re going to discuss eco-conscious materials that you can use throughout your building to reduce your carbon footprint.
Let’s get started.
Eco-conscious materials for frames and walls
Bamboo construction has a lot going for it. Its strength is similar to hardwoods, but it takes far less time to grow. There’s a reason pandas eat this stuff by the ton - bamboo is everywhere, and it grows like a weed.
Bamboo is so strong that it’s used as scaffolding for skyscrapers in Hong Kong.
There are, however, a few problems with bamboo. It’s prone to rot, so it needs to be kept dry throughout its lifespan. Rot is particularly dangerous when it occurs in bamboo, as bamboo is quite thin, and even a little rot can seriously reduce its strength.
Bamboo must also be treated so insects don’t destroy it.
There are a whole host of materials that fall under this category, including recycled wood and concrete. There isn’t much to say here beyond the obvious. By using recycled materials, you’re sparing them from going to the dump, and you’re reducing the amount of wood and concrete that needs to be harvested or manufactured.
Rammed earth has been used for thousands of years, and it’s gaining popularity as a building material. It’s made of subsoil, leaving topsoil for agricultural use. The subsoil should have a certain combination of sand, gravel, clay, and stabilizer. It’s then poured into a frame or mold.
This is one of the most sustainable building techniques because it uses local soil. This can seriously reduce transportation costs (and carbon emissions).
Eco-conscious materials for insulation
When it comes to insulation, the less-is-more philosophy rarely holds weight.
With insulation, more-is-more - to a certain degree. Heavily insulated homes coupled with energy recovery ventilation (ERV) can dramatically lower heat transfer. Heating and cooling are the biggest costs for a home, so the less heat transfer, the better.
That said, there are some forms of insulation that are more environmentally friendly than others. As long as you can meet the R-values that are required for Passive House and similar standards, opting for eco-conscious materials is best.
Eco-conscious insulating materials include sheep’s wool, cellulose rigid foam, denim, and ThermaCork. Which one is best for you will depend on where you live, and the skill of builders near you.
Eco-conscious roofing materials
There are many types of roofing material that can be considered eco-friendly. You’ll want to opt for one with a long lifespan.
For that reason (and many others), asphalt is not the way to go. Here are a few alternatives:
Want a sustainable, long-lasting roof that can help limit heat transfer - or increase solar gain in cold climates? A metal roof may be the way to go.
There are a variety of different metal roofing materials available - find a metal roof that’s mostly made out of recycled materials. Metal roofing is 100% recyclable, which means the material will continue to be used long after the roof itself is gone.
While the materials used to make solar tiles won’t be considered sustainable until we find a way to send rockets powered with renewable energy to harvest rare minerals from deep space asteroids, we couldn’t write this article without including them here.
Solar tiles generate renewable energy. Renewable energy cuts your carbon footprint. That makes solar tiles worthwhile.
Reclaimed slate or clay tiles
While slate needs to be quarry-mined - a carbon intensive process - reclaimed slate is simply recycled slate. That makes it a perfectly eco-friendly option - it’s carbon neutral, in a sense, as the slate has already been mined. This applies to clay tiles as well.We hope this has stirred your imagination - there are a lot of wonderful eco-conscious building materials on the market! You can build green - and together, we’ll build a greener world.
Kiara is a part of the marketing team at Quik-Therm Insulation, a Canadian owned and operated development and design insulation technology company. Quik-Therm’s philosophy and passion is to create physics-based building envelope solutions that are environmentally responsible, require fewer components, install faster, and cost less.
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