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Local, Eco-Friendly Building Materials Shake Up Home Construction

Posted by Elizabeth Burton on

Local, Eco-Friendly Building Materials Shake Up Home Construction

eco-friendly building materials

"These days, people are looking for new methods and materials to build sustainable, environmentally-conscious housing." - Andrew Krosofsky, "What Are the Most Eco-Friendly Building Materials?," Green Matters

Locally sourced eco-friendly building materials offer consumers fairly affordable, much more sustainable alternatives to those that are shipped globally. They support human, community and planetary health by keeping money local, limiting emissions from far-distance shipping and creating “greener” spaces for people. Follow below to learn more about the benefits of locally sourced building materials and how they can encourage more designers towards green building. 

What is “Green Building?”

According to an EPA brief, “green building” refers to building in a way that is "environmentally responsible and resource-efficient throughout a building's life-cycle.” This cycle begins with siting -- which refers to the location planning and placement of a structure or series of structures. In the end, the cycle may culminate in renovation and/or deconstruction. In order for a building to be “green,” its environmental impacts must be considered and mitigated appropriately. This must be done throughout each period -- whether that period is the “design, construction, operation [or] maintenance” of the building. Today, green building is practiced in commercial, residential and public construction. The practice of “green building” -- explains the EPA -- “expands and complements the classical building design concerns of economy, utility, durability, and comfort.” It jointly focuses on sustainability and environmental responsibility. 

Seattle Climate Pledge Arena

"Green building is the practice of creating structures and using processes that are environmentally responsible and resource-efficient throughout a building's life-cycle from siting to design, construction, operation, maintenance, renovation and deconstruction." - Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), "Green Building: Basic Information,” Image from Image from “Amazon secures naming rights to future home of Seattle’s new NHL franchise, and calls it Climate Pledge Arena,” McLennan Design Website

An excellent upcoming example of “green building” can be seen in the design, maintenance and operation of the new Climate Pledge Arena in Seattle. Living Deep’s own Jason F. McLennan has been instrumental in composing and directing the arena’s sustainability plans. According to McLennan in a recent article published by the Kitsap Sun, it will be “the world’s first ILFI-certified zero carbon arena.” Not only will the building be constructed and maintained in a sustainable way, but so will all activities taking place inside the arena. McLennan explains that “‘everything that the fans, the attendees will see will be things that can either be recycled or they can be composted.” The Climate Pledge Arena is an example of optimal green building, as supported by a brief by the World Green Building Council. The Council notes that green buildings must “reduce or eliminate negative impacts” on the environment. In addition, however, they ideally “create positive impacts on our climate and natural environment.” They do so by “preserving precious natural resources and improving our quality of life.” Sustainability advocates like McLennan hope to see countless other projects engage in “green building” throughout the new decade. 

What Locally Sourced, Eco-Friendly Building Materials Mean for the Environment

locally sourced eco-friendly building materials

"Buying from local vendors and manufacturers cuts down on fuel emissions [because] it takes less fuel to transport goods than it would to transport them across the country or across continents.”  - The Opportunity Fund, “The Importance of Sourcing Locally"

Companies across industries have further leaned into the trend of “sourcing locally” as it has become more popular in recent years. Whether that sentiment arises from an anti-globalist “Buy America” perspective or a desire to support local communities and artisans, the effects remain the same. Buying products locally cuts down on fuel costs and emissions and reduces the likelihood of harmful labor practices common in some overseas manufacturers. Locally sourced materials might also be more likely to include recycled elements. They often support other local businesses by purchasing equipment from the region. Local companies may also be held better accountable given that their customers are close by and well invested in their business. The California-based organization Opportunity Fund -- which provides grants to “underserved small businesses owners” -- outlines how sourcing materials locally cares for the environment. In their brief “The Importance of Sourcing Locally,” the Opportunity Fund writes that “buying from local vendors and manufacturers cuts down on fuel emissions." This benefit occurs because "it takes less fuel to transport goods than it would to transport them across the country or across continents.” 

How Locally Sourced Building Materials Benefit the Consumer

locally sourced eco-friendly building materials

"If you buy locally-made products for your home, you are likely to save money (the consumer undoubtedly pays for the hefty costs of shipping/transporting global goods), and you are re-energizing your community by keeping your money local." - Shelley Little, "10 Reasons You Should Use Sustainable Building Materials," My Move

Shelley Little writes in her article “10 Reasons You Should Use Sustainable Building Materials” for My Move that local products benefit the consumer financially. Primarily, they do so by cutting down on the “hefty costs of shipping and transporting.” In her article “Regional Materials" for Buildings.com, Jennie Morton writes that this shipping cost can be enormous. This is particularly so for “raw materials that represent the most weight.” These generally include “brick, cement, steel, glass, wood and sheetrock.” These are the materials -- from a pure cost perspective -- that buyers should try most ardently to purchase locally. Furthermore, consumers are better able to assess the quality and safety of each material when it is sourced locally. Happily, writes Little, the consumer and their community also benefit from the reinvestment of “keeping money local.” The timeframe for construction might also be shortened when using local building materials. This is because replacements can quickly be made for flawed or broken pieces and new orders can be placed if estimates were short. However, the likelihood that materials will break, fracture or otherwise become damaged is lessened when the shipping distance is reduced anyway.

How Eco-Friendly Building Materials Are Defined

eco-friendly building materials

"Compared to conventionally manufactured products or materials, eco-friendly products are designed to enhance one’s living space while respecting the natural environment." - Knauf Insulation, "4 Reasons to Consider Eco-Friendly Building Materials for Your New Home"

Local building materials may fall under the umbrella of eco-friendly due simply to the fact that they cut down on emissions produced during shipping. However, many local building materials are eco-friendly in other ways as well -- particularly those that are natural and are not treated with harmful chemicals. Knauf Insulation describes five primary criteria of eco-friendly building materials in their article “4 Reasons to Consider Eco-Friendly Building Materials for Your New Home.” These criteria demand that eco-friendly building materials come from renewable resources, reduce pollution and “demonstrate extensive durability or life span." They also require new materials be made from recycled materials and “contribute to energy efficiency.” These may include “earthen materials” like “brick, stone and sand” or grasses and woods. Fast-growing natural materials like bamboo are often preferred by builders focused on sustainability because they are swiftly renewable and are very durable. Choosing natural materials -- notes the company -- “saves money,” “improves indoor air quality,” “reduces exposure to toxins” and “improves well-being.”

What are the Most Eco-Friendly Building Materials on the Market Today?

Grasses

eco-friendly building materials

Grasses and stalked plants like bamboo and straw have become popular as modern building materials in recent years. This should come as no surprise as they were used frequently across the globe in construction projects of centuries past. In her article “11 green building materials” for Inhabit, Emily Peckenham writes that straw bales, grasscrete, hempcrete and bamboo have all emerged. Many of these eco-friendly building materials have unusual and unexpected implementations. Firstly, Peckenham writes that straw bale “building hearkens back to the days when homes were built from natural, locally-occurring materials” -- a recently renewed trend. Today, straw bales are placed within the frame of a house, taking over for “building materials such as concrete, wood, gypsum and plaster." Peckenham writes that straw bales can be a superior eco-friendly building material when used properly. When the bales are sealed appropriately, they “naturally provide very high levels of insulation for a hot or cold climate.” Because straw grows quickly, it is “not only affordable but sustainable.”

Peckenham also refers to grasscrete, which “reduces concrete usage overall” and provides “improved stormwater absorption and drainage.” According to the Grasscrete creator Stormwater360 in their brief about the product, “Grasscrete™...is a cellular reinforced concrete paving system." The system includes sets of "voids created by plastic void formers.” Grasscrete is installed on-site by “pouring concrete over these formers, which creates voids in the concrete.” Plants and/or stones are then placed in these voids. The company recommends installation of Grasscrete for various construction projects. The product is ideal for everything from residential builds to “parking areas, spillways, storm/drainage channels and river and sea defenses.” Grasscrete is currently distributed only by one company in the United States -- Sustainable Paving Systems.

Tree Products

eco-friendly building materials

Because wood is renewable to a certain extent, it is often included in lists of eco-friendly building materials. However, wood is not the only element from trees used in green building. According to Elemental Green in their article “Sustainable Building Materials,” bark siding has also become popular in home construction." It has increased in popularity as more involved in the industry engage in environmentally friendlier forestry practices. The Elemental Green article explains that "bark is actually a highly durable, attractive, economical, and sustainable option for siding and shingling” in homes. Bark is taken from trees that have already been cut down for other use, the leftovers of which would have been “discarded as debris.” Applying bark as an eco-friendly building material prevents usable parts of felled trees from being thrown away. It also "provides a highly sustainable alternative to traditional siding and shingling materials.” Bark siding is also incredibly durable, as it can “last 75 to 100 years without any painting, sealant, or regular maintenance.” 

Biocomposites

eco-friendly building materials

Hempcrete blocks are particularly popular biocomposite materials because they are so lightweight -- especially when compared to traditional concrete. Peckenham writes that the lightweight nature of hempcrete can “dramatically reduce the energy used to transport the blocks.” Both grasses and woody plants like hemp grow quickly and are considered renewable resources. According to an article by Green Building, “hempcrete is a unique building material, being a composite of a bio-fibre and a mineral binder (lime).” The two ingredients are combined with water and are then compressed to create “bonded cellulose insulation.” Because of its wide “range of desirable thermal, structural and moisture-handling properties,” hempcrete can be used “as roof, wall and/or slab insulation.” Two additional eco-friendly biocomposite building materials are outlined by Elemental Green in their article “Sustainable Building Materials for Home Construction.” 

The article endorses mushroom-based materials, the roots of which “can be used to make building materials that are stronger than concrete." The roots are also "more insulated than fiberglass and completely compostable.” Because the roots of mushrooms grow under the ground without light exposure, “no external energy source is needed for growth.” The second product recommended by Elemental Green is “Myco Board” which “looks and behaves like particleboard but contains no wood.” Myco Boards are less expensive, more durable and more lightweight than particleboard and are fully compostable. Many thoughtful builders are wary of particleboard because it can contain harmful chemicals that later off-gas within the home. However, Myco Board does not contain harmful chemicals -- like formaldehyde -- which is “all too common in pressed wood products.” 

Reclaimed Metals

eco-friendly building materials

Katie Pyzyk recommends considering reclaimed and recycled building materials in her article “5 of the world's most eco-friendly building materials” for Smart Cities Dive. Pyzyk writes that metals like steel and aluminum are typically considered “high embodied energy materials.” This is because they require so much energy during each cycle of production -- including mining, refining, manufacturing and shipping. However, writes Pyzyk, each time metal products are reused, their “embodied energy lowers and makes the material more sustainable.” This occurs because neither raw extraction nor disposal are required. Recycled metal is ideal because it is durable and rarely prone to “burning or warping” or to leaks or degradation. Thus, recycled metals can be used for “roofing, structural supports and building façades.” 

Each of these materials is sustainable and eco-friendly regardless of location -- so long as they are not shipped widely in heavy batches. However, each becomes even more sustainable when purchased locally. Purchasing sustainable, eco-friendly building materials locally also cuts down on cost and supports businesses in the area -- a win-win for everyone!


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