What Makes a Building Material Eco-Friendly? 6 Factors


Environmentally conscious designers, builders and homeowners turn to eco-friendly building materials to reduce their carbon footprint and conserve precious natural resources. 

A mix of newly developed and traditional materials are gaining popularity as global environmental efforts ramp up to preserve the environment for future generations. 

Discover environmentally friendly alternatives to traditional construction materials and what makes them sustainable.

What Makes a Building Material Eco-Friendly?

Eco-friendly building materials have a low environmental impact, making them suitable for sustainable or green construction. Ideally, they are resource-efficient, recyclable, affordable, nontoxic and easy to use. 

The construction sector is one of the most significant contributors to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, accounting for nearly 37% of energy and process-related CO2 emissions.

Factors That Make a Building Material Eco-Friendly

Several factors make building materials eco-friendly. Here are some of them:

  • Sustainability: An eco-friendly building material should be suitable for long-term usage. It should have a low environmental impact and be widely available for future repairs and home improvement projects.
  • Durability: Buildings and infrastructure must be safe for occupants and the environment. Eco-friendly building materials must be durable to prolong the useful life cycle of structures and offset their initial building costs and disposal. Durable materials enable builders to reduce overall construction consumption and make structures built to last.
  • Cost-effectiveness: Cost is one of the primary considerations when building a house or an office building. Eco-friendly building materials are cost-effective and sustainable in the long run. Reused, recycled and reclaimed materials make for environmentally sound and cost-effective materials for construction use.
  • Sourced locally: Responsibly sourced raw materials locally contribute to a positive environmental impact. Locally sourced eco-friendly building materials, construction equipment and labor reduce transportation costs and carbon emissions.
  • Toxic-free: Eco-friendly building materials should be nontoxic to promote environmental and public health. Harmful chemicals that compromise health and safety have no place in an eco-friendly construction site.
  • Recyclability: Recycled building materials are more environmentally sound than nonrenewable and recyclable ones. Recycled glass, steel, plastics and reclaimed wood are some of the most eco-friendly construction materials.

The Most Eco-Friendly Building Materials

The following eco-friendly materials can be useful for the construction industry. 

1. Wood

Wood is a renewable material. Green construction firms source wood from suppliers that responsibly harvest timber from sustainable forests, giving the trees enough time to grow until they’re ready for use again. Wood is also durable, making it long-lasting and ideal for solid structures.

Wood is classified into two varieties — hardwood and softwood. Softwood accounts for over 70% of timber production, making it widely available for construction use. It’s also more environmentally friendly than hardwood, but both absorb CO2. Reclaimed lumber offsets carbon emissions associated with construction, significantly reducing deforestation and waste.

2. Cork

Cork is making a comeback in the construction industry thanks to its many eco-friendly characteristics. Cork can be harvested manually multiple times from the cork oak tree without harming the tree itself. Farmers use hand tools to remove the mature bark from the tree multiple times during its lifespan.

Aside from being an environmentally sound choice, cork has some fantastic benefits when used as a building material. Its honeycomb composition makes it ideal for soundproofing, reducing noise pollution in modern homes and buildings. 

Cork is also fire-resistant and durable, making it suitable for insulation and floorboards. Soft and spongy, cork adds an ergonomic touch to floors as it absorbs the force from footfalls and retains its original shape after being compressed by heavy appliances and furniture.

3. Stone

Stone structures are eco-friendly buildings because they are low maintenance and durable. Stone houses require little to zero use of paint, and cleaning them may require only a few household materials and manual effort. They are also incredibly long-lasting. Old stone houses make a compelling argument with their impressive longevity and durability.

Structures built with stone elements are aesthetically pleasing. They offer a rustic look to different parts of a home or building, from tabletops and wall accents to pillars and floor tiles. A natural material, stone has no harmful chemicals that can leach into soil or affect the air quality in your home. On top of that, stone is naturally fire-resistant, giving homeowners peace of mind during natural disasters or fire-related emergencies.

4. Reused Steel

Anything reused, recycled or reclaimed has additional eco-friendly benefits for the discerning homeowner. For one, they don’t use other raw materials from nature. Two, they are given a new lease on life as additional building materials. Lastly, they have various applications at construction sites.

Reused steel from demolished buildings is an excellent example of second-life construction materials. After collection, it retains all its original properties, such as tensile strength and durability. Reused steel is also considerably cheaper than newly manufactured steel, reducing construction costs. Up to 90% of structural steel is recycled, making it one of the most recycled materials and ranking higher than plastic, paper, aluminum and glass combined.

5. Bamboo

Technically classified as a type of grass, bamboo has surprisingly significant building advantages for the environmentally conscious builder and homeowner. Bamboo plants are biodegradable and typically reach their complete height between six to nine months. Plantations typically harvest them three to four years later when the plants reach maturity and become robust and durable.

Another incredible fact about bamboo is its robustness. It has greater tensile strength than steel and can withstand higher compressive stresses than concrete. Many cultures worldwide use bamboo as their primary building material for huts and other light structures. If you choose to use bamboo for your home construction, you’d be happy to know that transportation costs are much lower thanks to the lightweight plant’s hollow construction.

6. Recycled Glass and Plastic

Glass is another recyclable material often used in sustainable construction. Building contractors mix it with fly ash to create a concrete-like mixture used in blocks and other building materials. You can also use excess glass from your building project to make countertops and backsplash for the kitchen area, bathroom tiles and unique accent walls from amber and green-colored glass.

On the other hand, plastic has a terrible reputation when discarded. However, recycled plastic has many uses in the construction industry. Many builders use materials like bricks, panels and planks made from recycled plastic to supplement lightweight structures. They’re easy to install and produce lower carbon emissions than virgin concrete.

7. Clay Bricks

Artisans use natural materials from the earth, like clay and water, to make clay bricks used in sustainable construction. Clay bricks make an excellent eco-friendly alternative to concrete when used on walls and other parts of a structure. They are ideal for the environment because clay releases no toxic chemicals that can compromise soil, air and water quality at job sites.

Clay also has a few advantages aside from being a natural material. Homes and buildings built using clay bricks are energy-efficient, retaining heat during colder months and keeping structures cooler during summer. Contractors can also request custom-sized clay bricks to make construction quicker and more efficient, saving time and money during the building phase.

Benefits of Using Eco-Friendly Building Materials

Using eco-friendly building materials has significant advantages for builders, homeowners and the environment. Here’s a quick rundown of several of them:

  • Energy conservation
  • Reduced environmental impact
  • Lower maintenance and replacement costs
  • Improved aesthetics
  • Design flexibility
  • Promotes sustainability and responsible use of materials
  • Healthier environment for occupants
  • Improved structural integrity and longevity
  • End-of-life recyclability

Going Green in the Construction Industry

The building sector is an essential part of the global economy. Switching to renewable and sustainable materials is a step in the right direction. Eco-friendly materials ensure that the next generations have better, greener buildings to live and work in.

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