A few weeks ago, we were approached about doing a blog post on using sustainable and green building materials as the demand and selection of such materials continues to increase. However, many of these materials have yet to reach the mainstream with many people unaware of the options available to them. The goal of this blog post is to provide a basic, introductory overview of not only sustainable building products available, but also incorporating other green products into your home.
Sustainable and Green Building Materials
Green vs Sustainable
The first step is to distinguish between the terms “green” and “sustainable.” While these are often used interchangeably, they actually have different meanings. Generally, all sustainable products are green, but not all green products are sustainable.
Green products and materials are those that have characteristics such as:
- Energy efficient (reduced energy)
- Renewable energy (e.g., solar)
- Renewable resources (e.g., bamboo, recycled materials)
- Low impact on the environment
- Low impact on health (e.g., low VOC paint)
What makes green products sustainable has to do with how they are developed, produced, harvested, etc and how that process impacts the future. Sustainable products are not just produced in a way that is friendly to and protects the environment but is done in a manner that assures future generations will have the ability to do the same.
For instance, wood lumber is generally considered a green product because trees are a renewable resource. However, if lumber manufacturers are harvesting forests in a way that will wipe them completely out, then it is not a sustainable practice. The key is to harvest the lumber in a way that will allow the forests to continue to flourish and provide a continual supply of trees for harvesting.
An example of what many consider a green product, but is not a sustainable product are compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs). Compared to traditional incandescent bulbs, CFL bulbs require less wattage to produce the same amount of light making them much more energy efficient. CFL bulbs also should last up to 10 times longer than traditional incandescent bulbs. These benefits appear to great and would seemingly make CFL bulbs a green product. However, CFL bulbs are not sustainable for a couple of reasons: they cost more to produce and they contain mercury, which is both hazardous to the environment and your health.
Another common example is that of bamboo. Bamboo is also considered a green product due to it being a highly renewable resource. However, the majority of bamboo is harvested and manufactured in countries such as China, which require shipment of long distances using lots of fossil fuels. This example highlights another factor in making a product sustainable and that is that it can be locally harvested or produced.
Examples of Green and Sustainable Building Materials
Now that we have discussed some of the characteristics that make a product or material a green or sustainable product, let’s provide some examples of the products and materials available in the marketplace that you should consider utilizing in your home. The infographic at the end of this post provides some useful information that we will expand on below.
Recycled materials are great sustainable building materials, especially if they are locally sourced. Examples of recycled materials include reclaimed wood, recycled metal, and recycled glass. Reclaimed wood can be used in a variety of ways such as furniture, sliding barn doors, flooring, wall paneling, on ceilings, and much more. Recycled metal, such as steel, can be used as support beams, while other recycled metals can be used for decorative art pieces or as paneling on an accent wall or ceiling. Like wood and metal, recycled glass has found many popular uses as a sustainable building material. Common applications for recycled glass include tile and countertops. Not only are these recycled materials a green, sustainable product, but they can add great character to your home.
Energy efficient products or those products that assist in reducing energy uses are excellent green products to implement in your home. There are several of these types of products available. In fact, many common building products have a green alternative version. Some examples of these products include:
- Tankless water heaters
- Low-E, energy efficient windows
- Low volatile organic compound (VOC) paint
- Window film and sunscreens to reduce heat entering through windows
- Energy efficient appliances
- Bamboo flooring
- Spray foam insulation
- Plastic composite lumber
- LED lighting
Structural insulated panels (SIPs) can be a good building material to consider when building a new home. SIPs are panels that have a foam core inside the structural facings. One way to picture an SIP is to think of an Oreo cooking with cream filling (foam core) sandwiched in between the two cookies (structural facings). In lieu of traditional wood frame construction, SIPs are manufactured at a facility in a controlled environment and delivered to the job site. The panels are then installed to form the exterior walls of the home. The insulated foam core provides insulation and energy efficiency helping reduce heating and cooling costs.
Solar panels are another energy-saving product can be considered either when building your home or adding to an existing home. Often times, you can find local, state, or federal rebates on solar panel installations.
For those who like the idea of incorporating solar into their home, but prefer not having large solar panels mounted on their roofs, a potentially exciting new product in the solar category are solar roof tiles from Tesla. Instead of large solar panels, solar roof tiles are exactly that, roof tiles. Tesla’s solar roof tiles are made of tempered glass and will be offered in four different styles of tile. The benefit of Tesla’s solar roof tiles is they have the appearance of regular roof tiles, allowing them to blend right into your home design. As Tesla’s solar roof tiles are a new product, it may take some time to see some real-world usage and reviews.
The market for green and sustainable products continues to grow every day. New advances in technology both help introduce new products and reduce costs of existing products allowing them to become more accessible and mainstream. A great example of this is LED lighting. The number of LED lighting products has exploded in the past few years while the costs of many of the LED products, such as light bulbs, has been decreasing.
If you are building a new home or looking to make changes to your existing home, take the time to look into some of the available green and sustainable building materials and products available. You may be surprised what all is available. What makes these types of products so interesting is the fact you find a mix of cutting-edge technology and repurposed, reclaimed, and recycled products.
Infographic courtesy of Accurate Perforating Company