Environmentally Friendly Building Materials

by Handsome Matt

After much thought and consideration, here is a brief list of building materials that I think are environmentally friendly and sustainable. A few might surprise you.

Glass – It’s easily reusable and recyclable. And with advances in technology, it’s become a well insulated material. As an added bonus, on sunny winter days, glass lets in sunlight helping to heat your home.

Wood- Trees grow, and are a an important part of the ecosystem. When we responsibly use trees, we can improve the health of the ecosystem. Beyond that, wood can also be reused in building projects, or recycled into other materials (like insulation, paper, or cardboard). And as long as new trees are planted for each tree cut down, then this is effectively a net loss of zero, when it comes to deforestation.

Cement- Yes, I know concrete is the third largest polluter in the world, but once you pour cement it’s there forever. It will last for thousands of years with almost no care (look at Rome! Many of their buildings were built out of concrete and some are still used a few thousand years later). Also, concrete has good thermal retention, meaning it can retain heat very well, helping to save energy costs. And if you do need to break up concrete, it can be used as aggregate material in other construction jobs.

Bricks- they’re made from clay, are reuseable, and look great. And they’re fairly fireproof, nice little bonus there as well.

Steel- Similar to concrete, once you make a steel beam, it’s good for a few hundred years, or longer. With steel, it’s greatest strength is it’s strength. One steel beam could replace quite a few wooden beams, and a home wouldn’t lose structural stability. Steel beams from demolition sites can be cleaned up, and used again no worries. Also, steel is fairly easy to recycle, and if worst comes to worst, over time it will rust away to nothing.

Dirt- rammed earth is becoming popular again, albeit very slowly. Everyone has dirt around them, and it can be used to build walls, floors, foundations, etc. Plus when it’s treated with a resin, it becomes as impervious to the elements as any other exterior building material. If you have a “dirt” floor, it will never, ever look dirty. Because it can’t, it’s dirt!

Shingles- Anything that will last 25 years in the harsh elements is a good environmental investment. A bit of pollution once and then done, outweighs small amounts of pollution over and over and over again. Also, depending on color choice shingles could help to keep a home warmer in winter, by absorbing heat and letting it radiate through the house, or they could reflect heat and keep a home cooler in the summer.

Tin Roof- Rusted! I don’t think so, but with a little care, a tin roof will stay on a home for generations. Same idea as shingles, little bit of pollution and then done and done!

Many of the products here, aren’t “green.” In fact they’re as far from what is considered green as possible. But this is where Conservance differs from the Green movement. If I can get a lifetime of use out of a product, then it’s a smart investment. If it can be easily reused, recycled, or broken down into other projects, then it’s a GREAT investment.

The idea being this: Anytime something is manufactured or made, pollution of some form occurs. For some of these products the initial pollution is higher than a “green” product. But for many green products, if I have to replace them every five years then their pollution levels are actually greater and more damaging over the long term.

To put it simply: Let’s say to build a concrete wall, 10 tons of CO2 were produced. That’s the only time that wall will be associated with pollution until the day it gets torn down, which could be hundreds of years in the future.

Now I decide to build another wall out of a green building material. It only ended up producing 5 tons of CO2. Initially more environmentally friendly. But if I have to replace it every five years, then I’m producing 5 tons of CO2 every five years. Even if I only have to replace it three times over the course of thirty years, it would have a price tag of 15 tons of CO2 associated with it.

And if that concrete wall doesn’t get torn down for 50 years, then over that time frame my “green” alternative has produced 50 tons of CO2. Not very green at all.