Choosing Sustainable Building Materials

 
Sustainable Building Materials / Sustainability

As we focus more and more on the eco-friendliness and sustainability of our resources, it’s natural for homeowners to begin to look at the environmental impact of building materials when planning their next project. Fortunately, there are a number of products on the market right now that are sustainable, eco-friendly, and even affordable!

Here is what you need to know when planning your home project!

What are sustainable building materials?

There are many considerations when determining the sustainability of a building material. Here are a few of the most common:

• Uses renewable materials that replenish themselves quickly

• Production or fabrication of the building material generates less waste

• Final product is more durable and needs less frequent replacement and / or repair

Bamboo

Due to Bamboo’s incredible rate of growth (Which can be as high as 3 feet in a 24 hour period), Bamboo is considered by many to be one of the most sustainable raw building materials. In addition, Bamboo is a grass, not a wood, so harvesting Bamboo for use in building materials can be done without killing the plant. This means that new Bamboo plants don’t need to be planted, fields don’t need to be rotated, and the next harvest can occur that much sooner.

What are the benefits of Bamboo as a building material? Bamboo has a high strength-to-weight ratio, so it’s extremely durable and doesn’t require replacement very often as well, making it perfect for flooring and work surfaces like countertops! It’s also light, which makes it cheaper to transport and easier to work with.

Where can you find it? Some building products that you can currently find on the market that use Bamboo include flooring, cabinetry, countertops, and wall coverings, among others.

Are there any disadvantages of Bamboo products? While Bamboo is a great product, it is susceptible to water and moisture damage where it can swell and buckle. While many building materials react poorly to contact with water, it is recommended to not use Bamboo products where they are likely to get wet.

Cork

A naturally occurring resource, Cork is actually the bark of the Quercus suber tree. Because the bark layer alone is harvested from a living tree, the tree is not harmed during the process and can continue to produce bark (cork). Similar to Bamboo, one of the sustainability benefits of cork is that the plan isn’t killed, allowing it to produce multiple harvests over the course of years.

What are the benefits of Cork as a building material? Cork is a very interesting product, as it is both flexible and resilient. It naturally offers noise and shock absorption and it’s nearly impermeable so it doesn’t absorb moisture or rot.

Where can you find it? Due to Corks resilience and shock absorption properties, you will commonly find cork used in flooring and sub flooring where the material really shines. As cork has a very unique look and is very easy to work with, you can often see it used in finished products as well, such as wall coverings and home decor.

Are there any disadvantages of Cork products? Over time, cork does become more brittle, which can make it unsuitable for some applications. Also, cork is sometimes treated or coated during the fabrication process, which can alter some characteristics of the raw material.

Hemp Concrete

A combination of hemp fibers, natural glue, and some water, hemp concrete is a great option for some wall structures. Hemp is also C02 negative, which means that it actually absorbs more CO2 than is released through the production or application of hemp concrete!

What are the benefits of Hemp Concrete? A sturdy product that provides excellent thermal and acoustic properties, hemp concrete is also fire resistant and low maintenance! While not ideal for load bearing solutions, Hemp Concrete is often used for insulated interior walls or when renovating stone construction.

Where can you find it? Hemp concrete is most commonly used in interior walls, particularly where acoustic or thermal insulation is desired.

Are there any disadvantages of Hemp Concrete? As Hemp Concrete is not as strong as traditional concrete, it cannot be used for load-bearing applications. Hemp Concrete can also rot if kept wet, which prevents its use in foundations and in cases where it could potentially wick moisture from other materials.

Reclaimed Wood or Metal

The most Eco-friendly materials are going to be the ones that already exist. Many options exist for reclaiming materials, such as direct purchase from a property owner prior to demolition and even dedicated stores and suppliers.

What are the benefits of Reclaimed Wood or Metal? In cases where you can repurpose or reuse reclaimed wood or metal, you’re not only avoiding the production and purchase of new building materials, but you’re preventing your new find from winding up in a landfill. The Environmental savings can be particularly high for materials like aluminum and steel, which have a very high environmental footprint due to the energy required to mine the ore, refine the raw materials, and produce the finished product.

Where can I find it? Almost all building materials can be reclaimed, whether you’re looking for doors or shutters, fireplaces or tile, these materials not only reduce the carbon footprint of your project, but they add a unique feature that makes your home different.

Are there any disadvantages of Reclaimed Wood or Metal? As these products have previously been used, you do have to inspect them carefully for signs of damage that aren’t going to clean off. Look specifically for signs of rust, rot, insect damage, or breakage. You also may find yourself in a situation where you find the perfect tile but can’t find enough of it to tile the entire backsplash. In cases like this, you can always use what you found as an accent instead!

There are a lot of options when it comes to sustainable building materials and these are just a few of them. Hopefully we got you thinking about how you can make use of some Eco-friendly materials in your next home project!

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*This story originally appeared in the October 2020 issue of Connections Magazine, as part of a monthly contribution made by Disaster Blaster, Inc. Please check out the current issue of Connections Magazine for this month's story!

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