They say that protecting the planet begins at home. We have to think globally and act locally. But, you may wonder what you can do to mitigate the effects of climate change and the resulting environmental damage.
However, the problem is much bigger than me or you.
While the brunt of environmental damage is born by corporations and late action on the part of governments, each of us can work to reduce our collective carbon footprints by making informed decisions that support a sustainable lifestyle.
For example, we can choose to buy food from companies that use ethically sourced ingredients or practice sustainable agriculture. We can repurpose or recycle goods, and we can use eco-friendly building materials to construct our homes and commercial spaces.
What is Eco-Friendly Construction?
Environmentally friendly construction goes beyond using reclaimed wood or installing solar panels. Sure, these efforts can save money while reducing our individual carbon footprint. However, there is an emergence of green companies that are using technology and other innovations to manufacture or use building materials that are eco-friendly without sacrificing the end result.
Even if the finished projects aren’t directly beneficial to the environment, they don’t harm it, either.
Such materials are manufactured using sustainable resources, they are largely recyclable, and they produce lower carbon emissions than traditionally produced building materials.
- Recycled materials such as steel
- Recycled plastics
- Straw bales
- Reclaimed wood
As the idea of green building becomes more feasible and popular, leaders in the construction industry, manufacturers, architects, and others are prioritizing green construction materials and best practices in their design ideas and builds.
Like most emerging industry trends, there are advantages and drawbacks to building with green materials.
The Advantages of Using Eco-Friendly Building Materials
If you’ve ever heard of the heat island effect, you know that some building materials are bad for the planet. They also contribute to poor quality of life for people living in urban areas and over-developed suburbs.
For example, concrete and asphalt, which are made from petroleum, absorb heat, resulting in higher temperatures during the day and reduced nighttime cooling. They also contribute to air pollution while increasing energy consumption and costs.
Bamboo is an attractive, exotic, surprisingly durable, and versatile wood. Harvesting to build with bamboo and make bamboo products is very sustainable. It doesn’t make a very big environmental impact because bamboo forests grow fast and recover quickly.
You may associate straw with nursery rhymes, but building with bales of this material will provide you with a sturdy structure that’s well-insulated in colder weather and requires little cooling when the weather turns warm. There are structures built with straw and mud bricks that are still standing strong decades after being built. They’re easy to repair as well.
One of the most significant advantages of using sustainable building materials is that they have lower carbon emissions compared to traditional building materials. This means that the use of these materials can help to reduce the overall carbon footprint of a construction project.
For example, using bamboo as a building material can reduce carbon emissions by up to 70% compared to traditional building materials. That’s because it acts as both an above-ground (AGC)and below-ground (BGC) carbon-absorbing material; it also soaks up soil organic carbon (SOC). Just one bamboo plant can sequester 2 tons of carbon in seven years, which is double the carbon dioxide absorption of a hardwood tree. Bamboo absorbs 5 times the CO2 of pine wood.
Another advantage of eco-friendly building materials is that they are made from sustainable sources, which means they won’t deplete natural resources (remember the bamboo). They’re also low-maintenance and inexpensive to use.
On average, operating costs, such as lighting and utilities, account for up to 80% of maintenance and upkeep expenses. By using natural, renewable materials and a design that utilizes natural light, energy bills can be lowered by a substantial amount. Water conservation is another advantage of green building materials because they don’t pollute the environment, and less water is used to produce them.
There’s a hidden bonus, too. The government has added incentives for sustainable building investment and construction as part of the Inflation Reduction Act. Up until 2025, those who prioritize energy efficiency and sustainable construction are eligible for certain tax credits and rebates. That includes an investment credit of 30%.
Sustainable, green construction also improves indoor air quality. It truly creates a property you can be proud to own, and it’s healthier to live or work in.
However, there are some drawbacks to using eco-friendly construction materials that you should be aware of before you begin your next construction project.
The Downside of Using Sustainable Building Materials
To begin with, the price of using reclaimed wood may be higher than using new wood after you figure in the cost and time factor involved in sourcing and refinishing suitable material. Sustainable building materials may not be widely available in your area, which can drive up the cost.
They may not always be ideal for certain projects or climates, either. If you live in an area that has harsh winters or tropical storms, bamboo and straw may not cut it. Recycled steel is durable, but it only has so many applications for residential structures.
There’s also some specialized knowledge required to build with some of these materials if you want your structure to stand and live up to the potential benefits. If you don’t have the skills or ability to DIY, you may need to find a builder who works with eco-friendly construction materials.
Eco-friendly building materials offer several advantages over traditional building materials. For one thing, they’re kind to the environment both in the way they’re sourced and their ability to be recycled. Using them will help reduce your carbon footprint and reduce energy consumption.
Some of the disadvantages can be mitigated by finding innovative ways to use sustainable materials. Increasing supply by supporting eco-friendly companies through sustainable investment opportunities is a great way to make these materials more accessible and lower the cost of acquisition.