How to Source More Sustainable Building Materials

How to Source More Sustainable Building Materials

Sustainable building costs less, heightens the beauty of a structure and lessens the burden of greenhouse gas emissions on the environment. More architects, homeowners and design professionals are turning toward environmentally friendly options when it comes to homebuilding. Green construction proves sustainable in numerous ways, from solar-paneled rooftops to greywater recycling systems.

While many people are making green additions to their existing homes, others are building theirs from the bottom up. When constructing buildings, it's worth considering what materials are best for sustaining the environment. What are the most affordable options, and where can construction professionals obtain them? 

Those who've recently joined the sustainability movement may not realize all the nitty-gritty details of what makes certain materials preferable over others, but the advantages are undeniable.


1. Research Material Innovations

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image © unsplash

Design professionals find it more crucial than ever to do in-depth research about the materials they choose. Sustainability is on the rise, but not all items are created equally — some provide more benefits than others. Which ones offer the best ROI and environmental impact versus ones that only claim to be green?

Innovations in technology and construction have led to the development of creative alternatives to standard building materials. Some are prototypes still in the works, while others already exist for widespread use:

  • Hydro ceramic walls: Hydrogel causes humidity and water to evaporate, which cools the surrounding area and reduces air conditioning costs. This mechanism is created by forming hydrogel into spheres and inserting them into clay ceramic tiles, which are then layered with fabric. The fabric, hydrogel and ceramic tiles work together within interior walls to reduce the room temperature by up to 5 degrees Celsius.

  • Transparent wood: Scientists have created transparent wood by removing lignin from the cellular walls and imbuing the wood with acrylic. This stops light from scattering, creating a translucent product that allows it to pass through.

  • Bamboo-reinforced concrete: Bamboo is sturdy, light and can hold up better than brick depending on the construction methods. Many builders in developing countries reinforce their concrete with bamboo instead of steel. They view it as a durable alternative.

  • Cigarette butt bricks: Some individuals have begun using cigarette butts when creating bricks to lessen the baking time, which in turn reduces energy consumed. This idea also gives a proper home to discarded butts, which create 1.2 million tons of waste a year. Infusing them into brick or asphalt seals in or destroys the toxins, so there's no risk to physical health by employing this method.


2. Plan During Preconstruction

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image © unsplash

Preconstruction planning sets a solid strategy for obtaining supplies, determining costs and analyzing site logistics. Site logistics are the backbone of every construction project — they determine the number of resources on-site at any time. If certain materials take longer to ship in, construction managers plan around this to avoid falling behind schedule.

Similarly, they analyze and approve material usage before ordering anything. Shipping in supplies only to find they won't serve well for a project can delay work for weeks. Factors like cost, function and constructability must come to the forefront before finalizing decisions. Thankfully, many green building materials — such as reclaimed wood or precast concrete — have lower costs. 

LEED-certified buildings produce 20% fewer maintenance costs than standard constructions, and the ROI can increase by 10%. Home and business owners spend less time and money on repairs, which adds up to huge returns over a building's lifetime.

3. Assess the Lifecycle of Materials

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image © unsplash

Every material contains embodied energy, which is the sum of all energy it uses from sourcing and extraction to end-of-life management. Specific steps within the lifecycle — such as usage and distribution — may be more eco-friendly than others. For example, metal and wood require a lot of resources when it comes to mining and harvesting, but their embodied energy levels decrease when they're recycled or reused.

The longer a material serves its purpose, the less burden it has on the environment. Reclaimed wood is well-known for its handmade look and sustainable characteristics. Designers use it mainly for cabinetry, furniture and structural building. Recycled glass makes for attractive and durable floor tiles, and reclaimed metal is both strong and flexible. It can function in its current form or be recycled for a different purpose. 


4. Consider Climate and Environmental Impact

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image © unsplash

Some materials work better in certain environments than others, so it's always crucial for a builder to know what their supplies can withstand. Bamboo and reclaimed wood are both great eco-friendly options, but they're susceptible to insects and rot without proper treatment. Wood rot can happen anywhere, but it's more likely to develop in humid, hot environments where moisture is harder to control.

Though every sustainable building material has its range of benefits, there isn't one yet that hits every single point of consideration. It may be necessary for builders to sacrifice lessened fossil fuel consumption for durability or sustainable harvesting practices for cost. Cork is fire resistant, recyclable and waterproof, but it also ships from the Mediterranean, which can contribute to greenhouse gas emissions. Weighing the environmental impact of each material within the grand scheme of construction allows for a comprehensive analysis.


5. Building Eco-Friendly Structures

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image © unsplash

The total sum of environmental impact is the most important thing to consider with any green construction project. Incorporating a few sustainable materials makes a difference, but more significant results come from ensuring the entire building satisfies conservation standards. Does it use less energy when powering the central heating and air? Is the structure positioned to allow for natural or solar-powered lighting instead of relying on artificial sources?

Making the most of green construction requires handling it the right way. When done with care and attention to detail, it improves societal health, makes for more solid homes and expends fewer resources.

This post was written by Holly Welles. She is a real estate writer and the editor behind The Estate Update. She’s passionate about the ways in which the industry is changing and loves to stay on top of millennial market trends. You can find more of Holly's thoughts on Twitter @HollyAWelles.

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