5 green building materials for your home
Photo via Gerard Metal Roofing.
In the quest to design more sustainable homes, many builders focus on solutions that create renewable power on site. By installing solar panels, for example, you can build properties with zero net-energy consumption.
However, you can also limit a home’s environmental impact by using green building materials during the construction process. This approach doesn’t necessarily create renewable energy, but it helps to reduce the home’s carbon footprint.
Yet what constitutes a “green” building material?
There exist many different definitions, but two of the most important include:
1. Energy Efficiency
You want to use materials that limit heat transfer. Doing so ensures that cooled homes stay cool and warmed homes stay warm. Preventing energy loss is not only better for the environment, but it’s also cheaper for homeowners.
2. Sustainable Manufacturing
You also want to select materials with as small of an environmental impact as possible. This means using resources made from recycled products. The more durable these components are, the less frequently you’ll have to replace them. Again, this is good for the environment and pocketbooks.
What materials fit these green building criteria?
Below are five of the most popular eco-friendly solutions worth considering:
1. Recycled Metal
Many builders choose wooden beams when designing frames and supports. However, there’s a growing movement to use metal beams instead, since they're significantly stronger and more durable than traditional lumber.
However, creating metal beams from scratch is an energy-intensive activity. This is why eco-friendly builders increasingly prefer using components made from recycled scrap. Not only do these rescued materials avoid clogging landfills, but they also consume up to 75 percent less energy during the manufacturing process.
2. Plastic Compost Lumber
Made from recycled plastic bags mixed with wooden fibers, plastic compost lumber is far more durable than traditional treated lumber. This compound gives a second life to discarded plastics and wood components that might otherwise languish in dumps.
Although this material is a bit more expensive than conventional wood, the investment is worth it when factoring in the cost of upgrading and replacing less-durable solutions.
3. Passive Cooling and Heating Shades
There exist countless products that can help limit the amount of warm sunlight coming into a building (or the amount of heated air escaping). Once installed, these solutions dramatically reduce the money and energy needed to regulate internal temperatures throughout the year.
Tinted glass and low-emissivity windows are popular examples. They offer many of the same benefits you’d receive from double-paned windows. Yet instead of trapping a pocket of compressed air, they limit the amount of UV radiation that can pass — without blocking light from the visible portion of the spectrum.
If you're looking for solutions with a little more flexibility (and lower installation costs), consider perforated or fabric sunshades. These can be adjusted to your liking, just as you would with ordinary blinds.
4. Structural Insulated Panels
Structural insulated panels (SIPs) are made using a layer of insulated foam that is sandwiched in between cement, plywood or strand board. Green builders increasingly prefer using SIPs over fiberglass alternatives — even those with higher insulation ratings. This is because structural insulated panels provide a superior building envelope, helping to block thermal transfer and air infiltration.
Used correctly, SIPs can reduce a building’s energy consumption by up to 50 percent, making it extremely environmentally friendly. They’re also greener to produce, requiring far less energy and fewer resources than many other building alternatives. The fact that many SIPs solutions are also fire-resistant is simply icing on the cake.
5. Tankless Water Heaters
Conventional furnaces heat and store water around the clock — regardless of demand. These tanks must constantly regulate temperatures, even during prolonged periods of inactivity.
Tankless water heaters use a slightly different approach:
These more-efficient tanks only apply heat when water flows through the system. When homeowners need hot water, the apparatus instantly heats the desired water, on demand.
However, the overall flow rate of tankless water heaters is lower than traditional furnaces. You can expect anywhere between 2 to 5 gallons per minute. This is enough to do a laundry load ortake a shower — but usually not both at the same time.
Fortunately, tankless water heaters are affordable and compact enough that you can install a dedicated system at each point of use (POU). Doing so allows you to run multiple appliances throughout the home simultaneously, andstill benefit from lower monthly heating bills.
Tankless water heaters pay for themselves in other ways, as well. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, they typically last five to 10 years longer than storage water heaters, meaning you save money on maintenance and repairs.
Why Green Construction Is Becoming More Cost-Effective
Many of the eco-friendly materials mentioned above didn’t exist 10 or 20 years ago. As recently as 2009, for example, only 2 percent of new homes used SIPs.
Cost is one reason behind these slow adoption rates, but thanks to economies of scale and improved manufacturing processes, green building components are now on par with many conventional construction materials. When you consider their higher durability and smaller carbon footprints, green building materials are much cheaper in the long run — financially and environmentally.
Damon Henrikson works as director of marketing at Accurate Perforating Company. Damon brings over 10 years of experience in the manufacturing industry and over 5 years of experience specifically within the perforated metal space. Based out of Chicago, IL Accurate Perforating produces a variety of metal products for commercial use.
Guest Blogger These columns are the work of our guest bloggers who want to share their expert green opinions on a range of topics.