Sustainable From the Bottom Up: Green Materials for an Entire Building [infographic]

Solar panels integrated into home's roof - Sustainable from the ground up

 

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Happy Feet: Eco-Friendly Alternatives

Bamboo

Best for: 

  • Bedrooms, kitchens, living rooms

Pros: 

  • Matures in less than five years
  • Available in caramel and blond-colored planks
  • Lasts as long as traditional hardwood

Cons:

  • Not a local material, most imported from Asia

Cost Per Square Foot: 

  • $4 to $8

Cork

Best for: 

  • Family rooms, living rooms

Pros: 

  • Naturally resistant to rot and fire
  • Mutes sound
  • Fast recovery from dents
  • Minimal manufacturing waste
  • Extremely durable (properly maintained floors last 40+ years)

Cons

  • Not ideal for basements or bathrooms, standing water can damage cork
  • Not ideal over radiant floor heating as it’s a natural insulator

Cost Per Square Foot: 

  • $3 to $7

FSC-Certified Wood

Best for: 

  • Dining rooms, living rooms, kitchens

Pros: 

  • Wood certified by the Forest Stewardship Council:
    • Encourages ecologically and socially responsible forestry
    • Preserves biodiversity
    • Respects the rights of workers and indigenous communities

Cons:

  • FSC-certified companies may sell noncertified wood. Check lumber for the FSC logo

Cost Per Square Foot: 

  • $3 to $6

Natural-Fiber Carpet

Best for: 

  • Bedroom, stairs, living rooms

Pros: 

  • Coir, jute, and sisal fibers are biodegradable, nontoxic and renewable
  • Look for products with Green Label Plus certification from the Carpet & Rug Institute to ensure the lowest chemical emissions

Cons: 

  • Traps dust mites and can aggravate asthma or allergies

Cost Per Square Foot:

  • $4+

If These Walls Could Talk: Wall Options

Blocks made out of recycled materials

  • Such as waste sludge ash from power stations
  • Look like and are used in the same way as normal blocks

Non-fired bricks

  • Dried naturally
  • Mainly used for internal, non-load-bearing walls
  • Breathable
  • Good source of insulation

Recycled/re-used bricks

  • Greatly reduces the energy involved in manufacturing

Fried honeycomb clay blocks

  • Used to create a single skin wall
  • Naturally insulating
  • Quick to assemble
  • Breathable

Insulation Options

Cellulose

  • Made of shredded newspapers and fire retardant, damp cellulose
  • Comparable price and product to fiberglass

Mineral Wool

  • Made of basalt rock and recycled slag
  • Sound-absorbing
  • Resistant to pests and fire

Cotton

  • Made of old denim and other recycled cotton
  • Low chemical content

Agricultural products

  • Corn, soybean oil, or sugar cane
  • Available in rigid boards or spray foam

Fiberglass

  • Eco-friendly versions available
  • Up to 40 percent of the spun glass is made of recycled material
  • Some are enclosed in bags to prevent airborne fiber concerns

Sheep’s wool

  • Made from sheared wool that is fluffed and treated with pest control additives
  • Good option for those concerned about health issues

Cement

  • Mixed with water and frothed with air
  • Permanent
  • Extremely fire-resistant
  • Pest and mold resistant

Greensulate

  • Made from mushroom fibers
  • Fibers are blended with agricultural by-products
  • Custom-made fit for walls

Pick Up a Brush: What to Look for

  • Latex paint
  • ZERO VOC CONTENT 0%: VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) contribute to atmospheric pollution.
  • Milk paint

Read labels

  • The lower the VOCs, the safer and healthier the paint
  • Low-VOC paint contains less than 50 g/L before tinting
  • Zero-VOC paint has less than 5 g/L before tinting

Check VOC levels with manufacturer

  • Ask if your paint can be tinted with no- or low-VOC colorants

Consider milk paints

  • Synthetic-free milk paints use raw, organic ingredients and are zero-VOC even after tinting
  • Require preparation (add water and mix) and some knowledge to use

Go latex over alkyd

  • Most oil-based alkyd paints contain far more VOCs than water-based latex paint
  • Most stains contain VOCs above 50 g/L

Go light over dark

  • Lighter colors use less tinting which lowers the VOCs

Go flat over glossy

  • The flatter the sheen, the lower the VOCs

The Roof Over Your Head: Green Roof

  • Covered with some type of living vegetation

Intensive

  • Permanent
  • Thickest and heaviest option
  • Requires the most maintenance
  • Support large variety of plants

Extensive

Trays

  • Non-permanent
  • Containers, or trays filled with vegetated material
  • Less expensive option

Pros: 

  • Aesthetically pleasing
  • Reduces, absorbs, and filters rainwater runoff
  • Provides extra layer of insulation
  • Can act as a vegetable garden
  • Extends the life of a roof and/or building

Cons: 

  • High initial upfront costs
  • Requires additional design and engineering review
  • Can be high-maintenance
  • Can not be retrofitted

Solar Roof

  • Solar system seamlessly integrated into the roof

Pros: 

  • Shingles can be integrated in roof design and harness the sun’s energy for power
  • Can be installed new and retrofitted
  • Available in a number of styles and from several manufacturers

Cons: 

  • More expensive than both standard solar panels and standard roofing

Conclusion

Whether you’re buying a new home or looking to remodel, sustainable replacements can positively influence the health of your family and the environment.

Sources: www.apartmenttherapy.com, www.sustainablebuildingresource.co.uk, www.oldhouseweb.com, ecoliving.scotiabank.com

For more information on eco-friendly materials, visit our Green Building Materials page»


image: Solar Trade Association

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