Sustainable Building Materials

It is an exciting moment when you decide to start building a new home or extension, refurbish or decorate your existing house. Right from the start you dream about how it will look and feel. Then comes the moment to decide on the design concept and materials you would like to use. Statistics show that 40% of raw materials in the world are used in the construction industry. To produce and transport these materials, a lot of energy is used and CO2 released into the atmosphere, as well as local damage to the area of extraction. Therefore, it is important to consider using sustainable materials in your home project to reduce your impact on the environment.

Stacked Logs with green plant recycle symbol, natural wood background
Stacked logs from sustainably managed forest

Sustainable materials can be used not only on the structure of the house such as external walls, roof, etc, but also on furniture, finishes, decoration and home utensils. And the good news is your home does not need to be any less charming and beautiful and will tend to be more comfortable and healthy if sustainable materials are used.

But what are sustainable materials? The Cambridge Dictionary defines sustainable as something able to continue over a period of time; causing little or no damage to the environment and therefore able to continue for a long time. We will give you the top 10 characteristics of sustainable materials below so you understand this definition better and learn how to choose and use them in your home.

  1. Durable

It is important to choose materials that are strong and durable enough so you reduce replacement and consequently the waste of energy and raw materials to produce new items. This applies from structure, to finishes and utensils.

  1. Recyclable

You should favour products that are made of materials that you know will be recyclable at the end of the life of the product. This will avoid old, unwanted materials going to landfill and they will be used in another construction instead.

  1. Economical

The amount of materials used needs to be just enough to perform its purpose. Oversized structure, with thicker pillars than needed, or excess insulation for example, waste precious resources and do not add to structure stability or building performance.

  1. Locally produced

Locally produced and grown materials are not transported through long distances, meaning much less energy is used and CO2 emitted from transporting them to your home. They will also tend to be cheaper and you will favour the development of businesses in your country, city or community by buying them.

  1. Widely available

Materials that are available in great quantities and that grow faster than they are used will be available now and in the future. Taking bamboo as an example: it can grow 3-10 cm per day in temperate climates. It has many applications including structure, furniture and even textiles!

Bamboo is a sustainable material for structure, furniture, textiles applications
Bamboo is a sustainable material and can be used for structure, furniture and textiles
  1. Low waste

During the production and assembly on site of the majority of materials there is a certain amount of waste produced which can end up being sent to landfill or water streams. Look for products with efficient manufacturing processes, which reduce the amount of waste produced by moulding, trimming and finishing and recycle any waste or by-products. During construction try to use standardised sizes of building materials to reduce waste by trimming to fit.

  1. Reclaimed

Reclaimed materials are those that have been already used in a previous building and are reused in a new project. Examples are reclaimed bricks, wood flooring and furniture. These materials are normally in a good condition or may need a little repair. By using them you avoid waste and reduce the energy used in producing new materials.

  1. Low embodied energy

Materials that require less energy in their manufacturing process and on the extraction and transportation of the raw materials that compose them will have lower ecological impact. As an example, the production of iron is much more energy intensive than the processing of wood from sustainably managed sources. Consider that when choosing materials.

  1. High recycled content

Incorporating waste from industrial processes or other building constructions in the creation of new materials reduces the amount of waste produced, the demand for new materials and consequently the energy required to create materials since the energy used to recycle is usually a fraction of the energy needed to produce a new material. As an example, cement can include fly ash in its composition and grounded brick could be used as an aggregate for new masonry.

Old bricks can be used in new construction
Old bricks can be used in new construction
  1. Non toxic

Some materials can be very dangerous for your family as they release toxic volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which can cause serious allergic, respiratory and other more serious health problems. Be careful when choosing paints, adhesives, insulation etc. A house cannot be sustainable if it doesn’t create a healthy environment for its occupants.

Now that you know the main characteristics of these sustainable materials you can be more selective and make a more informed decision. We recommend you read this guide if you want to know more in-depth about sustainable materials. Also, have a look at the wrap guidance and read the green guide to specification for even more detailed information and guidance on sustainable products and practices in construction.

Choose sustainable materials for your home and Green It Yourself…Now!


Have more tips or doubts about sustainable materials? Please comment below! 

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