In a time where everyone is conscious of their carbon footprint, it’s no surprise the fastest growing trend in building and renovating is the use of sustainable or recycled materials. Once upon a time, the use of such materials would force builders and designers to choose between a higher cost or a loss of quality.
However thanks to a booming industry and greater demand, we are seeing new green materials hitting the market every day.
Composite decking was developed to ease the demand on the timber industry and is made up of wood fibres, plastic and binding agents meaning that, dependant on the brand, roughly 95% of the materials used in production are recycled. The result: a material that is heavier, stronger and denser than wood.
Although composite decking is more expensive than traditional timber, it will cost less in the long run as it lasts longer, does not need sanding or resurfacing and requires no maintenance! It is more resistant to extreme weather exposure, easily installed, doesn’t splinter and allows fixtures to be hidden from view.
Although composite decking is technically not a new material (developed in the 1990’s), the look and feel of composite decking has come a long way. While it used to look and feel like plastic, innovation has allowed the material to come in a range of colours, sizes and finishes to mimic your favourite wood.
Recycled plastic was once reserved for billboards and fitness equipment but has been making waves in the construction world. Adding plastics to concrete allows it to maintain its density but reduces the weight.
In its simplest form, recycled plastic can be moulded into bricks providing a quick and easy material that is being used to build schools, disaster relief accommodation and medical clinics in communities. Concrete is responsible for 7-10% of global CO2 emissions and it takes an average of 300 years for plastic to completely degrade.
Combining these two products to reduce landfill and concrete use makes complete sustainable sense. Although many recycled plastic products are still a work in progress, keep an eye out for this green material to hit mainstream building.
Another material that is not a new concept but is being used more and more in both building and design. Bamboo grows in abundance in Asia, Australia, North and South America and some parts of Africa.
Bamboo is the fastest growing wood plant and can be harvested after just 4 years compared to 30 years for timber. This growth cycle makes it much more sustainable than even recycled timber timber and does not damage its growth site like timber does.
The abundance and growth rate of bamboo makes it a very attractive material for developers who need to build quickly and cheaply especially in rural areas. Bamboo is lightweight but rivals steel in its strength to weight ratio. This makes it attractive choice for framing structures not just flooring.
One of the coolest future building concepts is the use of mycelium mushrooms as a replacement for traditional insulation materials. This mushroom is known for growing despite having no light. A couple of budding entrepreneurs from New York have been trialling the use of mycelium to insulate tiny houses.
The use of this natural product has been found to improve air quality, yields no toxic waste, uses little energy to make and can naturally kill termites while growing. Some insulation has been found to be harmful to humans, use a lot of energy and require a large amount to completely insulate a home. This material hasn’t hit the market just yet but we’re expecting big things.
If you’re familiar with the Three Little Pigs fable you would know the big bad wolf blow the straw house down. But that was the 1800’s and straw houses are stronger than ever. Straw is what is lefty when you remove the edible grain from the plant, so you’re already recycling a natural product when you build with straw.
When a straw bale house has lived its life, it is 100% biodegradable and is a low-energy material. The actual straw bales are also cheap but you’ll need to consider labour costs when using this material. Straw houses are also completely fire proof when finished and are no more susceptible to termites or fire ants than normal timber.
It also provides natural insulation and is easy to mould into beautiful architectural shapes. One of the most sustainable products on the market at the moment, if you’re serious about going green straw is the way to go.
With so many innovative sustainable products on the market, there really is no excuse to use an unsustainable product. If there is no green alternative, chose a material with the lowest carbon footprint. The construction industry is responsible for 44% of total CO2 emissions in the US alone and its time we reduce out footprint.