What You Need to Know About Sustainable Building Materials

What You Need to Know About Sustainable Building Materials

Sustainable building materials are becoming a popular choice for both consumers and real estate developers alike. This shift in material selection for new construction did not happen overnight. Historically, people commonly used whichever materials they could purchase as quickly and cheaply as possible.  Now, though, as millennial homebuyers prioritize the environment and sustainable sourcing of their materials, the building industry is facing a change. If you are interested in incorporating sustainable building materials into your next project, whether as a homebuyer or as a builder, read on to learn more about different options.

Construction tools

Getting to Know Your Sustainable Building Materials

For those who are new to sustainable building, it may seem overwhelming at first. However, you will be relieved to know that many sustainable building materials are a lot simpler, more familiar, and more readily attainable than you might have thought. As Kevin Forestell states in his 2020 write-up about Sustainable Building Materials, “What is interesting about many of these alternatives is that they are not brand new ideas.” Instead, sustainable building materials are often right in front of the consumer—it is just a matter of learning how to recognize these materials and how to utilize them most effectively during the construction process.

Global Importance of Sustainable Materials

Choosing a sustainable building material is an important change for us all to make. Globally, there is immense concern about rising atmospheric temperatures that will have an enormously detrimental effect on the upcoming generations. Furthermore, deforestation is increasing at a rapid rate, causing many animal and plant species to become endangered. Climate change is causing more extreme weather incidents across the globe, but it is not just a global issue.

Forest fire

Local Importance of Sustainable Materials

Locally, the city of Denver has experienced more extreme weather incidents this last year than ever before. These weather incidents include mudslides, wildfires, and raging temperatures. In fact, scientific bodies now consider Denver to be a “heat island,” meaning it is considerably hotter in the city than in the nearby regions and neighborhoods. City officials predict that temperatures will only continue to increase, causing more health problems for individuals with compromised immune systems, the elderly, and transient populations. Studies have also shown that the building industry is one of the leading contributors of carbon emissions, energy use, and material waste alike.

Beyond the environmental effects of unsustainable building, the industry is also currently suffering from material shortages that are causing severe delays throughout the building process. As a consumer, you may have noticed ever-lengthy shipping times for products. COVID-19 and political developments like Brexit have only exacerbated the problem.

Benefits

Sustainable building materials help to alleviate these issues at several levels. A sustainable building material is more locally available and sourced, which not only decreases shipping times but also decreases the carbon emissions produced by transportation vehicles during lengthy shipping processes. Furthermore, sustainable building materials are increasingly made from previously recycled materials during production; and they are also more likely to be recyclable on the consumer end after their initial use. This recyclability increases the products’ lifecycle. The increased durability of sustainable building materials also lengthens lifecycles. They are usually stronger and more durable, meaning they can last longer before requiring maintenance or replacement. Finally, sustainable building materials are sourced from resource-friendly businesses that take steps to incorporate sustainability into their own practices. For example, these businesses may have greener offices that incorporate renewable energy sources in their daily operations.

Types of Building Materials that are Sustainable

As mentioned above, you are probably already familiar with many building materials that are sustainable. It is simply a matter of learning how to recognize them in the moment and maximize their potential. Take a look at this list of sustainable materials that are great choices for construction projects—specifically those in the Denver climate.

Reclaimed Wood:

Reclaimed wood is most likely the first material that comes to mind when building a green home. According to Conserve Energy Future, “Reclaimed wood can be found in retired barns, excavation companies, home remodeling contractors and companies, salvage yards, and shipping crates and pallets.”

Recycled Steel and Ferrock:

Traditionally built homes can take more than 50 trees for construction. Incorporating recycled steel in the framing process rather than lumber can help to preserve the environment. Though it does take more energy to mine, heat, and bend the material into the desired product, there are methods available to reduce the amount of energy used. Furthermore, the durability and strength of the material offsets the energy used. Ferrock is also an interesting sustainable building material. It is made from the recycled waste of steel dust and silica. These recycled properties react with CO2 and form a sturdy material similar to concrete. 

Steel construction material

Recycled Plastic:

Plastic takes up a massive amount of space in landfills. Furthermore, for the plastic waste that ends up in water instead of landfills, it also causes drastic problems for marine species. By taking advantage of recycled plastic, homeowners and builders can reduce waste and help the environment. Did you know that you can use recycled plastic to make fences, picnic tables, roofs, cable pipes, and more? Take a look here to learn the many ways in which recycled plastic can be used for good.

Recycled Rubber:

There is both a natural and synthetic version of rubber. You can use natural rubber, which comes from rubber tree, in a sustainable manner by collecting the sap of the tree and monitoring the treatment of the bi-products. Manufacturers then recycle this natural rubber and reuse it in a number of ways that are helpful in the home-building process. Rubber can be a more sustainable choice for indoor flooring, outdoor flooring, and roof shingles.

Plant-Based Polyurethane Rigid Foam:

This material is made from bamboo, hemp, and other natural plants rather than toxic materials. The sturdy material is both heat and mold resistant, and you can use it for insulation and furniture.

Straw Bales:

You can use straw in framing because it acts as insulation and encourages a soundproofed environment. Straw also cools the house in summer while providing warm insulation in the winter. This is an important task for homes built in the fluctuating seasonal temperatures of Denver.

Cork:

Cork is a great sustainable material because it grows extremely quickly and can be harvested from trees that are still living. As deforestation becomes an increasing issue with effects on plant species, humans, and other animals, it should be a top priority to preserve as many trees as possible during the building process. The downside of cork is that it comes from the Mediterranean. The lengthy travel time will produce excess carbon during the shipment phase. However, the carbon emissions are offset by the durability of cork and the preservation of trees— which will ultimately help to reduce carbon more in the long run.

Bamboo:

Like cork, bamboo is extremely durable and regenerative. It regrows at a rapid pace and requires no human effort to replant after harvest. Because it grows on almost every continent, it is a great choice for Denver homes. Incorporating bamboo will help prevent local deforestation and provide strong fortitude against the seasons.

Bamboo

Clay Bricks:

Clay bricks are not only recyclable and very eco-conscious, but they are also a great choice for the Denver climate. Clay bricks help to control extreme temperatures by protecting the home against heat during the summer months, while also drawing much-needed heat inside during the cold winter months.

Terrazzo:

Terrazzo is a style of flooring that incorporates small bits of marble and granite within either concrete or resin to set it. These floors can last for up to 40 years when cared for properly. Terrazzo floors are a great option for the environment and for the health and wellbeing of the residents who live inside the home. This is because terrazzo is a non-toxic sustainable building material and does not contain any volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that lead to various health effects.

Characteristics of Sustainable Building Materials

The list above provides a wide range of materials that you can use throughout the building process. While they all have their differences, they also have a few key characteristics in common that define all sustainable building materials. Unlike traditional materials, sustainable building materials all have the following qualities:

Locally Available and Sourced

The transportation sector is a huge contributor to environmental decline and carbon emissions. It makes sense, then, that a large portion of a material’s impact on the environment is due to lengthy shipping distances. By choosing a locally available and sourced material instead, you will drastically lessen the material’s impact on the environment— while also supporting local community and business.

Easily Processed Through Recycling

Sustainable materials are more recyclable for the consumer. Consumers may need to research the proper methods and locations to recycle certain items; however, forward-thinking and preparation can help make this process go smoothly. Recycling is an important step to take because it increases a material’s lifespan and decreases the overall footprint. Manufacturers also create products from alreayd-recycled materials.

Recycling sign

Durable

You can use durable materials longer before replacing or repairing them. Sustainable building materials are higher quality and more durable than non-sustainable building materials. Therefore, they will require less maintenance and take less from the environment over time. 

Environmentally Friendly Manufacturing Process

Lastly, you should source all sustainable building materials from businesses that also implement environmentally friendly manufacturing into their own business practices. They may prioritize toxic-free materials in their warehouses, take extra steps to properly manage the byproducts of their manufacturing process, or even use renewable energy throughout their business day. By choosing to purchase only from environmentally friendly manufacturers, you can help to create long-term, systemic change throughout the entire industry.

How they Benefit New Construction Homes

Sustainable materials can help new construction homes achieve LEED certification, which is the most widely accepted green building certification standard across the world. Read below to learn why sustainable materials have such a benefit on new construction homes.

Resource-Friendly Manufacturing:

Because of the innovative and conscious steps taken during the manufacturing process, sustainable materials last longer, need less maintenance, and require lower quantities of resources to function than traditional materials. These qualities will have a positive benefit on new construction homes by making them sturdier and easier for homeowners to maintain at a lower cost.

Energy Efficiency:

As you read through the different examples of sustainable building materials, you may have noticed that many of them help protect homes from the heat during the summer and from the cold during the winter. By encouraging a home’s natural ability to regulate itself, there will be less need for excessive air conditioning or blasting of heat as the seasons change. Overall, sustainable building materials increase energy efficiency and lead to lower utility costs for new construction homes.

Energy efficient and cost saving lightbulb

Reduced Carbon Footprint:

Sustainable building materials are a great choice for homeowners who are conscious about their home’s carbon footprint. These materials produce fewer carbon emissions when sourced, manufactured, shipped, and installed. Furthermore, the use of sustainable materials helps to prevent deforestation. Because trees remove carbon dioxide from the air, your new construction home will have a lowered carbon footprint if it preserves trees.

Less Toxic Conditions for Construction Workers:

A new construction home that utilizes sustainable building materials will create fewer toxic conditions for construction workers. This is because many traditional materials emit Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs). VOCS can cause many different health effects, such as migraines, asthma, eye strain, allergies, and other respiratory illnesses. Some traditional materials also possess carcinogens. These toxic emissions are strongest during the installation stage when the toxins are the most condensed, which creates negative conditions for the construction workers responsible for handling the materials at this stage. Sustainable materials, on the other hand, will help keep construction workers safe during the building stage of your new construction home— and they will also help keep your family safer once you have moved in.

Their Impact on the Denver Housing Market

The Denver housing market is suffering from a severe shortage in attainably priced single-family homes that are healthy for homeowners and for the environment. In fact, the number of single-family homes within the mid-range price bracket is at an all-time low in Denver—and the multi-family market and luxury market are dealing with a similar situation with their inventory.

As Denver faces more extreme weather events and the Heat Island effect, it is more important than ever for homebuyers and industry professionals to reconsider the way we build homes. New construction homes that incorporate sustainable building materials will not only help alleviate the inventory issues that Denver is facing, but they will also help alleviate environmental issues.

Start the Sustainable Building Revolution

redT Homes is the only full-service real estate development company in Denver that is dedicated to building to a LEED Gold or higher standard for all new construction. redT’s innovative single-family homes, called LiteHomes, are all LEED Gold or higher certified, Indoor airPlus certified, ENERGY STAR certified, and Zero Energy Ready Home certified through the Department of Energy. These homes are attainably priced for the average homebuyer in Denver, and they make healthy living a possibility for the community.

With a team of Certified Green Professionals and in-house departments specializing in land acquisition, zoning and planning, architecture, construction, marketing, new construction, and traditional brokerage services, redT is on a mission to Build a Greener Colorado.

Your next sustainability-built home is within your reach. Contact us today!