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7 Most Popular Green Building Materials

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The future of green construction is bright. Researchers are continually discovering material innovations, and construction companies make good use of them. Environmentalism has been a steady buzz, but the movement’s reach is extending to areas people have scarcely imagined.

More homeowners and renters want sustainable abodes, and business owners desire increased revenue from energy-saving buildings. Building certifications such as LEED, BREEAM and Green Globes grow in recognition as contractors dive into sustainability head-first. The construction industry is listening to the public’s concerns, and they’re rapidly adapting to address these points.

The energy-intensive materials of yesteryear have faded in favor among environmentalists, and the general public is following. Attractive and sustainable solutions swoop in to replace them. Though many ideas exist — some current and some old — the construction industry favors a few in particular. Here is a list of seven sustainable building materials construction companies often use.

1. Bamboo

Bamboo resists pests and disease, making it a stress-free option for building owners — no termites means fewer bills to pay. It’s more durable than concrete, providing a sturdy structure for frames and walls. Bamboo’s lightweight quality makes foreign transportation less fuel-intensive, although there are a few species native to North America. It also grows quickly, which allows for abundant harvesting — some types shoot up to three feet within 24 hours.

Green buildings often feature bamboo in flooring, walls and cabinets. In locations with limited access to steel, builders use it to reinforce concrete slabs, adding an extra layer of strength.

2. Reclaimed Wood

Rustic chic enthusiasts, this one is for you. Building with reclaimed wood involves reusing preexisting wood and restructuring it for a new purpose. If you’ve been to a vintage store, you’ve seen plenty of dressers and chests made of this material. Contractors find it equally convenient for construction projects, as it provides durability along with charm and low cost.

Reclaimed wood possesses a lower embodied energy than fresh wood because it doesn’t undergo the cutting and curing process. A percentage of lumber is always lost during cutting, but this can go towards creating engineered wood. Reclaimed wood also decreases deforestation and allows trees to grow to proper maturity before their eventual harvest.

You’ll most often find reclaimed wood in support beams, countertops, shelving and flooring.

3. Precast Concrete

Precast concrete slabs are recyclable — construction workers make them with locally mined or recycled materials. Their production requires less energy than pouring concrete on-site, and they offer fewer chances for structural cracks and errors. These slabs arrive at construction sites according to predetermined specifications, which saves a tremendous amount of time and energy. Efficiency is a requirement at many construction sites, and precast concrete fits the bill.

The strength of concrete slabs functions well in constructing bridges, underground infrastructure and pavement. Along with its toughness and fire resistance, it also absorbs sound, making it ideal for places like libraries and hospitals.

4. Cork

Now you can have the perfect home aesthetic to match your wine collection — who would’ve thought? Construction companies commonly use cork as a flooring solution, though it also works as insulation. It’s fire-resistant, impenetrable and liquid-proof, which saves the hassle of constant upkeep. It also has excellent thermal and acoustic absorption, making it for great blocking out sound and holding in heat.

Cork grows on trees that regenerate their bark, which leaves them healthy and ready for the next harvest. These trees primarily exist in the Mediterranean, which can make fossil fuel emissions higher. It makes up for this with its lightness, though, by reducing the energy needed for transport.

5. Steel

Metal is one of the most durable building materials of them all. You see it in towering skyscrapers, winding railroad tracks and sturdy bridges every day. The possibilities of this material are endless, and luckily, steel doesn’t require a ton of energy to produce. The carbon footprint of steelmaking has decreased by 37% since 1990, and engineers continually find ways to streamline the process.

Once a metal structure reaches the end of its purpose, builders can deconstruct it and recycle it for new initiatives. Steel is unique in its ability to be reused forever. Ninety-three percent of structural steel in the U.S. consists of recycled metal, which proves how versatile this material is.

6. Non-VOC Paint

Many paints and varnishes contain chemicals called volatile organic compounds, or VOCs. These are irritating at best and deadly at worst, and their concentration rises indoors. Before you give up your painting hobby for good, though, know that non-VOC paints exist. Developers are starting to use these inside green buildings instead of toxic paints. You’ll also find an abundance of low-VOC varnishes at your local department stores, but this label can be ambiguous. How much is “low” without a specific number?

Using non-toxic paint can even reduce the need to run the AC to cycle chemicals out of the air, which saves money and energy.

7. Wool

Sheep’s wool serves as a common substitute for more toxic insulation types. It grows faster than cotton — meaning higher production — and it doesn’t degrade like straw does. The most sustainable manufacturing processes come from New Zealand. Water efficiency, flock health and energy conservation are paramount on New Zealand sheep farms. The nation’s care and attention to detail has secured their position as a giant in the wool making industry.

Head to the nearest home goods store, and you’ll likely find a wool rug or two. It’s become a favorable solution for rugs and carpeting due to its ability to purify indoor air. Wool absorbs nasty particles and contaminants and prevents them from reentering the atmosphere, leaving you with cleaner oxygen.

Constructing Greener Futures Through Innovation

Green building materials prove their durability and efficiency in countless ways. More construction companies and consumers will reap the benefits of sustainable building as businesses make the switch. Soon, it’ll be commonplace to uphold eco-friendly initiatives in the comfort of your home.

Megan Ray Nichols is a science writer by day & an amateur astronomer by night (at least when the weather cooperates). Megan is the editor of Schooled By Science, a blog dedicated to making science understandable to those without a science degree. She also regularly contributes to Smart Data Collective, Real Clear Science, and Industry Today. Subscribe to Schooled By Science for the latest news.

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