Live Long and Prosper: Sustainable Building Materials

Our global environment has taken a huge hit this week with the fires raging through the Amazon. Gut wrenching photos of the blazing forest have filled news cycles all week long. Instead of wringing your hands and thinking of all the things you can’t control, allow us to shed some light on ways you can help the environment by starting at home. While over half of deforestation is attributed to farming/livestock and mining and drilling, building and development take their fair share of the blame. Luckily, there’s more than one way to skin a cat and even more sustainable building materials than that! 

Wood Alternatives

Since we’ve got trees on the brain, let’s first look at materials that can replace using wood frames to build your house:

Bamboo: Top of most lists, this deceptively thick and sturdy plant makes for excellent building material. Yes, that lucky bamboo that you adorned your living room and office with last year is strong enough to hold up a house. What makes this one of the best, most sustainable building materials is not only its strength – even though it’s incredibly light weight, but how rapidly it reproduces while also needing substantially less water than other plans. Bamboo isn’t just great for house frames and decorating either. It’s replacing cotton products and can even be engineered into stunning click-lock floors for any room in your house.

Hempcrete: Taking a strong second, this cousin of Mary Jane is as equally remarkable a building material as bamboo. Made from the fibers of hemp, this sustainable beauty is mixed with lime and densely packed into blocks that fill in the frame. Light-weight and strong as well, this material also works double-time by also being an excellent insulator. It helps control moisture better than any insulation and is completely natural. Similar to bamboo, hemp needs very little water to grow, grows quickly, and it also detoxifies soil as it grows, making it a great rotation crop.

Recycled Plastic: A little newer to the scene, this material can replace concrete by using recycled plastics and trash. These landfill finds are finely ground up to create a concrete-like substance. But instead of mining and creating more pollution to manufacture concrete, this alternative uses materials already made; meaning not only does it cut back on carbon emissions, but it also helps clear the landfills. Brings a whole new meaning to the saying “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” 

Rammed Earth: Talk about natural. This process is quite literally the packing of dirt into wooden frames. Okay, yes. We’re trying to avoid wood. But buildings made with rammed earth can be packed into bamboo or rebar frames. This method not only utilizes an abundant natural resource, but it lasts an incredibly long time and is as safe as any other material.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

If you’re still attached to the idea of using a solid, trusted building material like steel or wood, you can always opt for repurposed or recycled steel and wood. Similar to the way recycled plastics help cut down on carbon emissions from manufacturing, converting 6 cars from the junkyard will yield enough steel to build a 2,000 square foot home. Reclaiming wood saves the need to cut down more trees, but any piece you consider using will need to be thoroughly inspected before being used to ensure the integrity of the wood – while not as high as brand new wood – is up to the task. 

There are still many other things you can do to help alleviate the strains of climate change on the earth. Switching to reusable coffee and water thermoses, grocery and produce bags, food wraps and storage, as well as switching to non-toxic eco-friendly house and hygiene supplies are small scale changes that can produce a big impact. Converting your home’s energy to green and renewable sources such as solar and geothermal, and drought-proofing your yard are bigger ways you can make your home for environmentally friendly. Science and technology will continue to advance. And we’ll be there right along with it implementing these new discoveries to make the earth a better place for all of us. 

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