The Future of Sustainable Building Materials: What Does a Green Building Look Like ?
The Future of Sustainable Building Materials | Construction is one of the most energy-intensive industries in the world. In fact, buildings and construction accounted for 39% of energy-related carbon emissions globally in 2018. Much of these emissions stem from the types of materials used, with production of some building materials producing more emissions than others. For example, the manufacturing of steel, glass, and cement alone accounted for 11% of the energy-related carbon emissions in 2018.
As carbon-reduction (1) becomes increasingly important, it’s crucial that we turn to more sustainable building materials. Luckily, there has been much improvement in the “green building” sphere in the last decade, and innovation continues to push us toward a more sustainable construction industry in the future. This article will review several options for sustainable building materials, and will explain the benefits of each.
What Is a Green Building?
Green building materials are sustainable materials used for construction. While all sustainable materials differ in their eco-friendly benefits, they typically require low or no carbon to produce. For example, some materials may be produced using renewable energy sources, while others may simply be lower-energy than traditional materials like steel. It’s also important to ensure that the materials are sourced from a company that employs supply chain management to ensure their entire supply chain is sustainable, not just the actual manufacturing of the materials.
Green building materials must also be non-toxic, both during production and disposal. When these materials are used for construction or disposed of (are recycled, ideally!), they should not leach toxic chemicals into the surrounding environment.
A truly green building must not only use sustainable materials, but must also incorporate green design principles that allow the building to function with lower energy consumption. Green building design incorporates an incredibly wide array of practices, but usually includes:
- Efficient use of resources like energy and water
- Reliance on renewable energy sources
- Lack of waste and pollution
All green buildings differ in their design, especially since many are designed with different purposes in mind. For example, a home has different requirements than a commercial building. That said, all green buildings must make use of sustainable building materials.
Here are some examples of the most sustainable building materials.
1. Recycled and Upcycled Materials
Construction and demolition creates an enormous amount of waste every year. However, many materials from demolition can be salvaged and either recycled or reused. For example, concrete and masonry may be crushed into aggregates, creating a new building material often used for recycled concrete or sand and gravel. Another example is the re-use of materials like windows, doors, or flooring that are salvaged from demolition and used in new construction.
Recycling and reusing demolition materials is the best way to ensure your building materials are sustainable. Salvaged materials help avoid the need for production of new materials, thus reducing demand for raw materials and reducing carbon emissions from manufacturing.
2. Long-Lasting Materials
Similarly, long-lasting materials are more sustainable because they reduce the need for repair and replacement, and thus reduce the need for more resources. Durable materials should be used in every area of a green building, from the frame to the shingling. For example, some types of shingles like asphalt are more prone to cracking while others, like composite roofing shingles, are more durable. Not only do these more “fragile” materials require more frequent maintenance and replacement, they also may let air or water in, which interferes with green design choices. For example, if your shingles are letting hot air into the house, this can increase the amount of energy you must spend to keep the house cool.
3. Smart Glass
Windows are an extremely important aspect of green building design, as they are responsible for letting light (and heat) in, or letting heat out. Ensuring that windows are strategically placed to maximize energy efficiency is a crucial aspect of designing a sustainable building.
As with any energy-saving material, smart glass can help businesses and home-owners save on energy costs in addition to reducing their environmental impacts.
4. Insulated Framing
Another key aspect of energy conservation in buildings is the insulation. This helps keep heat (or cool) inside, which reduces the amount of energy that must be used to control the temperature of the building. There are several materials that may be used to create the framing of your building. For example, while wood framing may allow air to flow through small cracks, concrete framing (known as insulated concrete forms – 2) includes insulating between concrete walls that helps to reduce air flow through the frame. Not only does this increase energy efficiency, but it can actually make the building stronger as a whole.
5. Natural Insulation
Many types of insulation contain materials that are resource and carbon intensive, including plastics and chemicals. For example, Hemp insulation (3), which is made mainly of hemp, a plant material, is a promising eco-friendly alternative. First of all, hemp is a renewable material because it can simply be grown. Second, hemp plants require very low amounts of water (so they’re drought friendly) and are quite pest resilient, meaning that toxic pesticides may not be necessary to grow hemp. Finally, hemp insulation can easily be composted when its usefulness is past.
Another eco-friendly alternative to traditional insulation is cork insulation. Cork can be harvested from the bark of oak trees without killing the trees. This makes it a lower carbon option. Cork makes for great insulation because it is full of air, which provides thermal insulation. However, cork insulation can raise your home’s insurance prices.
Stone is a sustainable building material due to its low energy costs of production and its durability. Stone is produced naturally in the Earth, and there is a fairly abundant supply compared to other materials. Additionally, stone is recyclable and can be used in a variety of manners. This means that even after your building is demolished or deconstructed, the stone can be reused for everything from paving materials to decorative mosaics. This reduces the need to mine more raw materials and produce new building materials.
This list is in no way exhaustive of the many sustainable building materials that exist. Not only are there abundant choices today for building a green home, but innovation in this realm is continuous; it’s possible that the next big sustainable building material has yet to be invented! As environmental ethics spread into every area of our modern lives, it’s likely that newly constructed buildings will continue to take sustainability into account.
Name: Lena Milton
Author Bio: Lena Milton is a writer and editor who is passionate about sustainability. She is an environmentalist and a conscious consumer, and has a background in consumer protection, political science, and environmental studies.