a pile of bundled recycled plastic stacked on each other, with the words Recycle written above it in the picture

With society becoming increasingly environmentally conscious, more and more people are on the lookout for sustainable building materials to use in their projects. Not only do eco-friendly buildings significantly increase the resale value of a property in a forward-thinking market, but they can also help you save on maintenance and utility costs.

And more recently, the skyrocketing costs and long supply delays are throwing a wrench in homebuilding as an entire industry. So it may just be a perfect time to start exploring some of these alternatives for building your next home.

Here are some fantastic green and sustainable building materials that are transforming the construction industry.

Sustainable Building Materials

Curating this list of the top sustainable materials was quite a challenging task. There were just so many amazing materials that we couldn’t miss out on. Continue reading to find out the most incredible eco-friendly building materials that are revolutionizing the market.

1. Straw Bale

Straw bales are an incredible green building material made from the waste of the agricultural industry. Due to their high insulating properties, straw bales are generally placed in ceilings, walls, and attics to keep the temperature stable. In addition, as a renewable material, straw can be harvested and re-planted with minimal impact on the environment.

a man standing in a home being built with straw bale in the walls for insulation and structure.
Strawbale constructions are a fairly sustainable building method, from sourcing to energy efficiency. FairCompanies.com and Kirsten Dirksen did a great documentary on a straw bale build.

The straw material is generally sourced from farmers who burn off their straw after harvest. Instead of having the straw release its carbon back into the atmosphere when destroyed, repurposing this waste by-product into compressed wall and ceiling panels ensures that it retains its carbon content in the most environmental-friendly way possible.

Compressed straw has many sustainability benefits, such as being 100 percent biodegradable and 100 percent recyclable. Once straw panels have reached the end of their life, they can be mulched down and used as compost in gardens or recycled back into panels, ready to be used again.

2. Rammed Earth

Earth construction is one of the oldest and most durable techniques for building structures. It’s a cost-effective and popular solution to creating steadfast floors, walls, and foundations through natural materials like earth, chalk, lime, or gravel and then compacting them.

These days, rammed earth can be seen in luxury homes creating durable and dramatic walls which look very much like sedimentary rock. In addition, rammed earth walls or floors can be used as thermal storage. This allows the sun to warm them during the day and gradually release the warmth in the cool evenings.

a tan wall made out of rammed earth

The low-carbon techniques use forms where binder and soil are placed in layers, and then pressure is applied to create a durable and hard surface. And now, Watershed Materials uses this technique for Watershed Block, a substitute for conventional concrete masonry. Such blocks use waste materials from quarries to create low or even zero cement blocks that any mason can install.

3. Bamboo

Bamboo is hands down the best sustainable alternative to regular wood. Even though it appears very much like wood, bamboo is a member of the grass family. Since grass grows much faster than trees typically, this means that bamboo regenerates incredibly quickly compared to trees. As a matter of fact, bamboo is one of the most rapidly-growing plants on this planet – depending on the region and type of bamboo. In certain cases, bamboo can grow up to 3 feet per day!

a series of platforms, walkways, and handrails using bamboo as the main structural sustainable building product

For construction purposes, bamboo can be harvested up to every three years. On the other hand, trees can only be harvested every 20 – 50 years (depending on the species).

Bamboo is a sustainable alternative in various applications such as lumber, decking, countertops, trim & flooring, tiles, etc.

4. Wool Insulation

Sheep’s wool is a great alternative to chemical-laden insulation – its fibers form millions of tiny air pockets that trap air. Generally, you can see wool incorporated in the walls, attics, or ceilings.

a pair of hands with white gloves on them installing rockwool mineral wool insulation in between two studs in a wall
Close-up of worker hands in white gloves insulating rock wool insulation staff in wooden frame for future walls for cold barrier. Comfortable warm home, economy, construction and renovation concept.

Sheep’s wool can also increase energy efficiency and soundproof your home. It doesn’t degrade as quickly as other insulation materials such as straw. Last but not least, it can be harvested quite easily and regenerates quickly.

5. Solar Shingles

Solar roof shingles are small, custom shingles designed to blend in seamlessly with conventional roof tiles. Such shingles aren’t just aesthetically appealing; they function as durable roof tiles and solar panels. Thus, your roof will stay safe from the elements while still absorbing sunlight for energy consumption. One option that you can consider is Tesla Solar Tiles.

a drone video shot of a green colored house with tesla black solar roof tiles on top
Austin Flack did an awesome one year review video on Youtube, covering basically everything you’d want to know about the Tesla solar roof tile system.

6. Smart Glass

During winter, warm sunlight flowing through the window can seem to be the best thing in the world. However, during summers, the same sunlight can feel uncomfortable, invasive, and harsh. Plus, it can also increase your electricity bills due to heavy dependence on air conditioning.

Smart Glass windows offer a great solution to this problem. Smart windows or smart glass refers to glazing or glass whose light transmission properties change depending on heat or light is applied. In simple words, the glass becomes translucent during the summer to block certain wavelengths of the sun and transparent during winter to allow the warm rays to flow inside.

a traditional-looking tan commercial building with dark tinted glass in the windows

Windows that can change the glass translucency can result in annual cost savings in cooling and heating and avoid the hassle and cost of installing blinds or light screens. With smart glass, you can even prevent fabric fading as it blocks almost 99 percent of harmful ultraviolet rays.

7. Hempcrete

Hempcrete is a mixture of hemp fibers, lime, and sand. It is generally used for insulation and construction purposes. Hempcrete blocks are extremely lightweight and super easy to work with. In addition, since hemp is a fast-growing renewable resource, hempcrete is great for the environment.

a tan colored wall made of hemp and wood compacted together to create the structure

Hempcrete is a breathable material that doesn’t shrink. Thus, you don’t have to worry about crack lines once the blocks have dried. While hempcrete isn’t as strong as concrete, it is pest-resistant, fire-resistant, and a great insulator.

8. Timbercrete

Timbercrete is a mix of sand, cement, binders, sawmill waste, and a non-toxic deflocculating additive. The mixture is then converted into blocks, bricks, pavers, and panels that aren’t just used in commercial, residential, and industrial building projects but also landscaping design.

Timbercrete is around 2.5 times lighter than clay or concrete, which allows for easy transport. Moreover, its engineering diversity and application, together with the ability to be screwed or nailed just like timber.

a tan colored wall of a house using Timbercrete as the block construction
Photo Courtesy of Timbercrete

Unlike concrete and clay materials, Timbercrete offers better insulation. This means it can store thermal energy more efficiently and release it gradually, effectively reducing your air-conditioning and heating costs.

9. Plant-Based Polyurethane Rigid Foam

Plant-based rigid foam is usually used as furniture material and insulation. It is made with bamboo, hemp, and kelp, making it highly resistant to heat and moisture. In fact, its thermal resistance and insulation properties are even better than fiberglass.

A man on scaffolding installing polyurethane insulation in a wall of a house

Another advantage of plant-based polyurethane is that its excellent at protecting against pests and mold.

10. Cob

Have you ever thought about what those unusual organic-looking homes are made of? They are constructed with a cob material, a mixture of water, subsoil, fibrous organic material (usually longer straw) and in certain cases, lime. Fun fact – the oldest known cob structure is more than 10,000 years old!

a pair of a woman's dirty hands holding some dirt and cob material

Apart from being environmentally friendly, cob is a material that’s super easy to use. Because of its texture, it allows you to create any shape you can think of. It’s a natural insulator and highly energy-efficient. Consequently, houses built with cob require very little heating.

11. Cork

Cork is made from cork oak tree, which is one of the most eco-friendly and renewable resources. This amazing green material is used for building acoustic walls, flooring, and cork ceiling panels. So now when you open your next wine bottle, remember, there’s a better place for cork than the landfill.

a tree with cork stripped away from its trunk, exposing the raw wood underneath

Cork is highly resistant to moisture and any liquid. Because of its structure, cork is naturally good at noise reduction and can prevent sound and vibration transmission. As a result, cork harvesting can be an excellent tool in the fight against global warming.

12. Enviroboards

Fire-resistant Enviroboards are made up of sawdust, fiber cloth, and magnesium. They are usually used for roof lining, underlay systems, and wall lining. Eco-friendly fire board products are more robust than conventional boards. Plus, their water-resistant nature prevents them from warping over time.

a stack of white insulation enviroboards with a black background
Photo courtesy of Enviroboards

Because of its green manufacturing – natural dying and curing process, Enviroboards don’t release extra carbon emissions.

All in all, Enviroboards are a robust and versatile product suitable for several uses in refurbishment and construction projects.

13. Mycelium

Mycelium is the vegetative part of a fungus that runs below the ground. It is a solid, environmental-friendly material that’s resistant to water, fire, and mold.

two mycelium mushrooms growing from the forest floor

After it has been dried, mycelium can be used as a building material. It has customizable properties and can substitute timber, plastics, or foams for applications. Mycelium is generally used for door cores, furnishing, flooring, and insulation.

14. Clay Brick

Clay brick is a natural material made using water and clay from the earth. It is eco-friendly, recyclable, and doesn’t release any harmful chemicals when in the landfill.

a pile of red and brown colored bricks

Moreover, clay brick is an energy-efficient and sustainable building material. During summer, it keeps your house cool, and during winters, it traps heat for a longer period.

15. Recycled Plastic

Several companies are using a carbon-neutral, non-toxic manufacturing process to make construction materials out of recycled plastics, reusing old material results in a 95 percent decrease in greenhouse gas emissions as compared to concrete blocks.

a pile of bundled recycled plastic stacked on each other, with the words Recycle written above it in the picture

A mix of virgin and recycled plastic can be used to create polymeric timbers, which can be used to make picnic tables, fences, and other similar structures. In addition, plastic from two-liter bottles can be spun into fiber to produce carpets. Last but not least, reused plastic can be used to make products like PVC windows, PVC manholes, cable pipes, floors, and roofs.

16. Reclaimed or Recycled Wood

Using recycled wood is one of the best ways to save trees and cut down the amount of lumber in landfills. You can obtain reclaimed wood from excavation companies, retired barns, home remodeling companies and contractors, shipping crates, and salvage yards.

Reclaimed wood is an excellent material for cabinetry, natural-looking flooring, exposed beams, and structural framing.

an old rundown barn with faded red colored siding

One potential drawback of reclaimed or recycled wood is its possible lack of strength. Thus, make sure to assess the integrity of each piece and choose the one that’s most suitable for a specific project.

17. Ferrock

The best way to describe ferrock is as a largely iron-rich ferrous rock. It’s made with recycled material such as waste steel dust and silica from ground-up glass. When it comes to building homes, ferrock is generally used as a substitute for cement. The best thing about ferrock is that it traps and absorbs carbon dioxide as part of its drying and hardening process.

a couple of shovels sticking in a pile of ferrous material dirt

Ferrock is currently being used to build structures exposed to seawater as its incredibly resilient, strong, and hard. As a matter of fact, ferrock is five times stronger than Portland cement, yet it weighs 10 to 25 percent less than a structure made of bricks.

18. Shipping Containers

Shipping containers are an excellent example of some truly top-quality waste in our society. There are hundreds and thousands of containers all over the globe, and they are generally only used for shipping purposes for about 15 to 20 years, after which they’re disposed of off even though they are still in excellent condition.

a lot of stacked old shipping containers sitting on the ground

Such containers aren’t just spacious – they are incredibly durable, reasonably inexpensive, and environment-friendly (as they are reclaimed material). Thus, it doesn’t come as a surprise that these very durable containers are paving their way into the green construction scene.

Shipping containers have been used to build stores, houses, emergency shelters, artist studios, hotels, schools, apartment buildings, labs, and almost anything else you can think of.

Conclusion

When selecting the appropriate products for your construction needs, make sure you opt for durable and sustainable building materials. Having sustainable construction products won’t just help you in conservation but will also help you cut down costs and save the planet.

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