Using sustainable materials in new construction is making a big difference. In 2020, 91% of homebuilders report using energy-efficient approaches while 69% do so for the majority of their projects.
When selecting green building materials, be sure to consider toxins. While selecting materials with low toxicity is important, it is also important to consider the embodied energy of a material. Embodied energy is the total of all the energy inputs over the lifetime of the material. Therefore, the lower the number, the greener the product. Some factors in determining embodied energy are where it comes from, if the procurement of the material is environmentally friendly, transportation distances, installation, and if it is recyclable.
An important aspect of this, in my opinion, is regional sourcing. Local materials not only have lower embodied energy, they are also better suited to regional climate conditions and help to support local economies. Although it is not always possible to use local materials, you should consider local options before expanding your search to include regional, then national, continental, and lastly, resources that come from abroad.
Common regional materials used in green built homes in the Northwest include ponderosa pine and western hemlock lumber as they are a readily available resource. Builders also use locally milled alder, fir, cedar and other native woods for finish wood, siding, framing and fencing. In terms of plumbing, notably, green builders prefer American Standard Toilets as they are one of the few plumbing manufacturers with products made entirely in the US.
Commonly recycled materials that become sustainable materials include:
- Reclaimed saw dust = composite flooring
- Shredded paper and cardboard = waterproof building sheathing
- Recycled glass = floors and countertops
- Crushed seashells = decorative tiles
- Denim, sand, newspapers, and cardboard = insulation
- Alternative decking materials
Drywall scraps = new drywall
- Additional recycled materials include fly ash from coal burning power plants, metal, concrete, bricks, and asphalt for fill material, residue from the manufacture of asphalt shingles for the making of porcelain tiles
- Less than 1% of carpet is recycled but 60% of carpet made here is a recyclable nylon that can be put back into carpet or raw materials.
- Concrete is one of the most environmentally friendly products around.
Lesser-known items that can be utilized:
- Pine from beetle infested forests
- Hand forged locally produced hardware
- Rubio Monocoat floor finish
- .5gpm flow restrictors for bathroom sinks
- Tight-knot cedar exterior trim
Aside from the variety of materials made from recycled content, reclaimed materials are also popular in green building. These can be greatly sought after and include rare items such as marble mantles, old growth hardwoods or antique fixtures.