Green Building Materials
By Nathan Guss|5 min|August 2023
Do you want to go green as you build or repair a home? Check out these commonly used eco-friendly building materials.
After a summer marked by extreme weather, the importance of embracing environmentally conscious home construction has never been clearer. Here are some of the best green building materials.
What makes building materials green?
Eco-friendly construction materials come from renewable natural resources and offer many advantages:
- Energy efficiency
- Lower carbon footprint
- Improved indoor air quality
- Reduced construction waste
- Heating and electricity savings
Hemp, often conflated with its notorious cannabaceae family cousin cannabis, is emerging as a remarkable solution for sustainable construction. Unlike its psychoactive counterpart, hemp contains almost no THC (less than 0.3%). So don’t worry—living in a home built with hemp won’t give you the munchies!
Using hemp as a building material offers a range of ecological and practical advantages. The plant is primarily used in hempcrete, hemp blocks, and hemp panels. Hemp’s rapid growth makes it a renewable resource that can be sustainably harvested. Its outstanding carbon-capturing properties sequester significant amounts of CO2 during its growth cycle. Furthermore, hemp cultivation aids in soil regeneration and decontamination, which enhances land health. Hemp-based construction materials have excellent insulation values for energy-efficient buildings. Furthermore, their natural hygroscopic properties make them highly effective at regulating moisture within buildings. This prevents mould growth and maintains a comfortable indoor environment.
It turns out that one of the three little pigs was into green building. Yes, straw bales are a versatile eco-friendly building material. They are made of compacted straw—typically a byproduct of cereal crop harvesting (wheat, barley, or rice). Many builders use stacked straw bales to create walls for energy-efficient, sustainable structures.
The bales’ insulating properties create a warm living space and reduce energy consumption for heating and cooling. Straw bale buildings often exceed conventional energy efficiency standards, and their inherent fire-retardant and sound-dampening characteristics add to their appeal. Moreover, straw bales are an agricultural byproduct that repurposes what would otherwise be discarded. This reduces waste and the need for additional materials. If you buy locally, you can minimize transportation and support local farmers. Although straw bale construction may not protect you from the fabled big, bad wolf (go with a brick house for that!), it can be an eco-friendly approach to building that balances affordability, energy efficiency, and sustainable resource use.
What building material is more Canadian than wood? It also happens that construction is undergoing a remarkable transformation: timber is challenging the reign of steel and concrete.
Central to the allure of timber is its environmental prowess. Unlike concrete and steel, which are notorious for their greenhouse gas emissions, wood serves as a carbon sink, absorbing carbon dioxide and mitigating the material’s environmental impact. However, the ecological benefits go beyond carbon sequestration—efficient assembly and reduced on-site waste add to its sustainability. Furthermore, many Canadians can source wood from a nearby forest.
Another wood product is a major player in green construction: cellulose. Cellulose is derived from recycled paper products and is used as insulation. It comes in two main forms: blown cellulose and sprayed cellulose. Prior to reaching the market, cellulose undergoes treatments to enhance its resistance to corrosion, fire, and mould. Recognized for its moisture control capabilities and fire resistance, it also boasts soundproofing qualities and can help cut costs.
Cellulose’s advantages also lie in its positive environmental impact. Made from recycled paper fibres, cellulose insulation curbs the need for new materials, effectively reducing waste and conserving resources. The impressive thermal performance of cellulose substantially heightens a building’s energy efficiency. This leads to decreased energy consumption and a diminished carbon footprint. Moreover, cellulose has a lower embodied energy compared to traditional insulation materials. In other words, there is less energy consumption during its production, which further decreases its environmental impact.
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