10 Most Sustainable Materials Used in Construction

By
RM
Rose Morrison
on June 9, 2022
Street of modern small houses. Barnhouse style houses. The houses are surrounded by green trees. Nature.

Addressing climate change requires everyone’s cooperation, including the world’s builders. Traditionally, contractors concerned themselves with structural stability and adherence to code. Now, they have one additional standard to meet: sustainability.

Making the building trade more eco-friendly requires innovative new techniques and technologies. What should savvy contractors seek to green their footprint? They can begin by considering using one of these 10 most sustainable materials used in construction.

 

1. Cross-Laminated Timber

House ceiling made from cross laminated timber

Sustainability begins when raw materials leave the earth. While lumber requires harvesting multiple trees, the right techniques can preserve this renewable resource. For example, proper reforestation techniques demand beginning mulching immediately after harvest to replenish the soil and ensure newly planted replacement trees have the nutrients they need to thrive.

Fortunately, technology has made this job easier. Specialized forestry mulchers can pulverize stumps without pulling them from the ground, transforming them into rich mulch for filling the remaining hole.

Cross-laminated timber makes the most of this renewable resource, making timber even greener. This material is made from successive layers of dimensional lumber laid perpendicular to each other. Manufacturers then use hydraulic presses and adhesive to cement each slab, making CLT sturdier than steel, pound for pound.

This stuff has one more sustainability advantage. When a steel-framed building sustains severe damage, there’s often no option but to start over by demolishing the entire structure. Conversely, workers can remove one section of a CLT structure, saving considerable time, energy and materials.

 

2. Hempcrete

Hempcrete blocks stacked as a wall

Credit: dezeen.com

Thanks to the 2018 Farm Bill, farmers can grow industrial hemp, a highly sustainable resource that replenishes itself in just over 100 days – much faster than trees. Better yet, this material is fire-resistant and easy to mix, requiring little more than lime, water, and the right mixer.

Because the raw material became legally available fairly recently, it’s still tricky to find this substance in some areas. However, it’s expected to become more popular shortly as manufacturers secure ready supplies of hemp.

 

3. SPDs, PDLCs and Electrochromic Windows

Interior, modern apartment with smart windows

Part of sustainable building design entails taking advantage of passive solar energy. Smart windows take this technique further using innovative technologies similar to those found in adaptive eyeglass lenses. They adjust their tint based on the outdoor temperature, turning darker on warm sunny days and then clear to allow for solar heating in winter.

However, unlike progressive eyeglasses, smart windows employ suspended particle devices, polymer dispersed liquid crystals or electrochromic materials. A chemical reaction occurs with sufficient light and heat levels, prompting the color-changing effects.

Another type of smart window serves as a solar panel. Although these are not widely available yet, manufacturers hope to have them ready for use soon.

 

4. Bamboo

Stack of bamboo laminate flooring samples close up

Bamboo is another fast-growing plant – some species shoot up a full meter per day. Best of all, this material makes lovely flooring and fencing.

Strand-woven bamboo is extremely durable, making it ideal for commercial applications. Additionally, this material rings in as less expensive than other flooring choices, which is a bonus in high inflationary times.

 

5. Plant-Based Polyurethane

thermal and hydro insulation with spray foam polyurethane at house construction site

Traditional polyurethane can’t be recycled, thanks to the polymer networks held together by chemical bonds that heat cannot break. However, newer, plant-based alternatives offer superior sustainability.

Some plant-based polyurethanes can be recycled. The trick is knowing what to buy – so purchasers should be sure their choice is biodegradable. Otherwise, it isn’t any more sustainable than materials made from petroleum.

 

6. Ferrock

Ferrock material on the ground

Credit: buildabroad.org

Ferrock is a concrete-like building material that makes excellent use of common construction scraps. It combines the waste steel dust from industrial processes with silica. It hardens when exposed to carbon dioxide, trapping this molecule inside and creating a carbon-neutral resource.

Ferrock is five times stronger than traditional concrete. While it’s perfect for patios, it’s unsuitable for large projects at the moment, thanks to its limited availability.

 

7. Sheep’s Wool

Sheep wool insulation in construction ceiling

Credit: homelogic.co.uk

Humans have used sheep’s wool to insulate their bodies since time immemorial. It’s also a sustainable alternative to traditional insulation materials.

This breathable material does double duty, absorbing volatile organic compounds instead of emitting potentially harmful chemicals into the air. The one drawback is the price. Sheep’s wool is considerably more expensive than some other insulation choices with higher R-values.

An R-value measures a material’s resistance to heat flow. Higher numbers mean the substance does a better job of maintaining a stable indoor temperature.

 

8. Recycled Steel

Steel at construction site

Steel is among the most frequently recycled materials in the world. It also offers incredible durability, making it a natural choice for decades for high-rise construction.

Here’s a sustainability measure that can positively affect a business’s bottom line. Scrap yards pay organizations for their donation of leftover materials.

 

9. Recycled Rubber

Close Rubber flooring background

Anything made from recycled materials improves its sustainability quotient. For example, recycling four tires slashes carbon emissions by the equivalent of 18 gallons of gasoline.

This material can make an excellent paving surface for playgrounds, as its pliability makes it a more forgiving surface than concrete. Builders can also incorporate granules into asphalt to construct new roads.

 

10. Reclaimed Wood

detail of stock wood pallet

This list begins and ends with wood. Reclaimed wood saves trees by reusing materials from old construction, making them new again.

Even small DIY home carpenters can take advantage of this resource. Many hardware stores give away used wood pallets for free – interested parties can load them up and use them to construct a doghouse or hanging planter.

 

The Most Sustainable Building Materials

Sustainability requires everyone’s contribution to make a meaningful difference in stopping the climate crisis. Builders can assist in this endeavor by selecting the right materials. Consult this list for the most sustainable building materials. The right decisions today lead to a greener tomorrow.

 

Rose Morrsion, Managing Editor of Renovated.com

“I aspire for readers to reflect more deeply on materials, their vitality, and how they endlessly shape our world and future.”

*This article is the work of the guest author shown above. The guest author is solely responsible for the accuracy and the legality of their content. The content of the article and the views expressed therein are solely those of this author and do not reflect the views of Matmatch or of any present or past employers, academic institutions, professional societies, or organizations the author is currently or was previously affiliated with.

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