Building Materials for an Eco-Friendly Home Design

A dining room with a recycled wood ceiling. (Image:  Jeremy Levine  via  flickr  CC BY 2.0 )
A dining room with a recycled wood ceiling. (Image: Jeremy Levine via flickr CC BY 2.0 )

Although the concept of eco-friendly living has been around for decades, the trend gained tremendous momentum with the dawn of the 21st century. Homeowners and builders are no longer interested in using the cheapest materials available. Instead, many would prefer to use resources that are renewable, reusable, or recyclable.

Wood

Wood has been a traditional building material in the United States and many other countries for centuries. Many different types of wood exist, although some are limited in choice due to geographic location or regional availability.

Bamboo

Another material that has seen centuries of use, bamboo is a highly renewable building material that is attractive, durable, and easy to install. Some of the natural properties of live bamboo, including a 35 percent higher oxygen emission rate and 40 percent more CO2 absorption than other trees, make it a great eco-friendly building option.

Bamboo flooring in a living room. (Image: Jeremy Levine via flickr CC BY 2.0 )

Bamboo flooring in a living room. (Image: Jeremy Levine via flickr CC BY 2.0 )

Cotton insulation

One of the biggest threats facing traditional fiberglass insulation is the growing popularity of cotton insulation. Not only does it require less energy to produce, but it’s also made from recycled bits and scraps of old denim jeans and cotton sheets. This material offers benefits to the environment as well as the health of homeowners and construction workers.

Ecological concrete

Concrete isn’t exactly known for its eco-friendly properties, but a recent mixture, known as ecological concrete, is capable of capturing and storing CO2 emissions. Although its use is still quite limited, it remains a popular option for those who want to utilize as many green materials as possible.

Aluminum

Suitable for everything from exterior siding to the hardware on your doors, windows, and cabinets, aluminum is a versatile and eco-friendly building material. Parts made with fabricated aluminum contain at least 80 percent recycled materials, so you know you’re doing your part to preserve the environment and reuse the materials that are already available.

Aluminum framing for residential construction. (Image: Jeremy Levine via flickr CC BY 2.0 )

Aluminum framing for residential construction. (Image: Jeremy Levine via flickr CC BY 2.0 )

Ceramics

Many people are immediately reminded of the pottery courses they took in college when talking about ceramics, but the material has a valuable usage in home construction. Not only is it great for tiling in the kitchen, bathroom, or any other room, but some regions also use ceramic as an eco-friendly roofing material.

Polystyrene foam

Structural insulated panels, or SIPs, are seeing an increased application in both residential and commercial construction. Made of a solid piece of polystyrene foam that is set into a fixed wooden frame, this material is excellent when framing or insulating walls, floors and roofs.

Low-VOC paint

Different types of paint are known for their hazardous properties. Lead paint, which used to be a popular option, was taken off the market due to serious health concerns. As an alternative, many builders and homeowners are embracing low-VOC — volatile organic compound — paint. These materials are typically odor-free and made without any hazardous chemicals for maximum sustainability and environmental friendliness.

Cellulose insulation

Cellulose is also slowly replacing fiberglass as the preferred insulation of eco-conscious homeowners and builders. Similar in appearance and texture to cotton insulation, cellulose is comprised of recycled newspaper, cardboard, and other paper products.

Mud and clay

We don’t often see homes built out of mud and clay anymore, but these homes were popular among some of the earliest Native American communities across U.S. and Mexico. With more people making the transition to off-grid living, earthships — which feature the use of mud, clay, dirt, sand, and other natural materials — are growing in popularity.

We don’t often see homes built out of mud and clay anymore, but these homes were popular among some of the earliest Native American communities across U.S. and Mexico. (Image: Jeremy Levine via flickr CC BY 2.0 )

We don’t often see homes built out of mud and clay anymore, but these homes were popular among some of the earliest Native American communities across U.S. and Mexico. (Image: Jeremy Levine via flickr CC BY 2.0 )

LEED-Certified building materials

All this interest in recycled and eco-friendly building materials has prompted several new standards and regulations within the construction industry, including the dawn of LEED certification. Currently in its fourth incantation, the LEED program provides a foundation for healthy living through green construction.

LEED certification is so popular that it is now available for residential homes, commercial buildings, and even entire communities. It’s a program that is constantly changing and evolving, but it always provides online resources and access to relevant, up-to-date information.

How to pick the best materials for your home

While this is not meant to be an all-inclusive guide to eco-friendly building materials, it does offer valuable insight into some of the most common options on the market today. Feel free to mix-and-match these solutions with any others you might find to build the eco-friendly home of your dreams.

Megan-Ray-Nichols

This article was written by Megan Ray Nichols. If you enjoyed this article, please visit her page Schooled by Science.

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