What makes a building material green?
There’s a long list of attributes for green building materials but for us it boils down to what the materials are made of, its impact on indoor air quality, and the durability of the material.
What is the material made of?
This is really the biggest factor when considering green building materials. Resource extraction often has a major environmental impact, think mining, logging and manufacturing. Because of this, green building materials often have one or more of the following characteristics:
- Incorporate recycled content
- Made with salvaged products
- Made from renewable and/or natural resources
- Sustainably harvested (wood or bio-based products)
- Have low embodied energy because of transportation and the energy required to produce the material
- Locally made with local resources
Impact on indoor air quality
We spend a great deal of our time indoors. Working, playing, cooking, sleeping, living and breathing. Because we spend so much time inside, the quality of the indoor air we breathe is extremely important.
Everything from our furniture to the paint on the walls has the potential to contaminant the air. Choosing zero-VOC paint, adhesives, and finishes will protect the indoor air quality in your home. Additionally, it’s important to consider the potential for materials to harbor dust and allergens.
There are two prongs to consider when thinking about green building materials and durability. One is the durability of the material itself. How long will the material last? Will it stand up to the test of time or will it need to be replaced in a few years? The other consideration, which may be harder to answer, is whether the design itself is enduring and functional. If the design will quickly become outdated, the durability of the material itself becomes less important.
Why You Should Consider Green Building Materials
Put simply, green building materials make your home healthier. On a broader level, choosing green building materials also means you’ll have a smaller carbon footprint.
The most personal, pressing reason to use green building materials is indoor air quality. The air quality in homes is, on average, 2-5 times worse than outdoor air. That is crazy!
Chemical pollutants build up in the indoor air we breathe, off-gassing from things like adhesives, insulation, carpet, paint, and more. Choosing the right materials can greatly reduce those chemicals.
The best-case scenario would be to select green building materials AND ensure adequate ventilation throughout the house.
Nearly 40 percent of the energy consumed in the United States goes to directly or indirectly operating buildings. If you add embodied carbon—the energy and emissions from materials and construction—that number grows to nearly 50%.
A few ways to reduce that number:
- Consider materials that have low embodied carbon, such as heavy timber, cork flooring, and wool or recycled insulation, rather than steel, concrete, and foam insulation.
- Select locally sourced materials, thus reducing emissions incurred during transportation.
- Choose materials made with high recycled content.
A few of our favorites
This list of materials is in no way exhaustive and it is specific to Bellingham, Washington. With green building materials location matters. For example, Paperstone is one of our favorite countertop materials. It’s made in Washington, from recycled materials, using non-toxic binders. It’s an awesome option for folks in the PNW, however if you live further afield the impact of transportation really changes how green it is.
Our favorite green countertops are made from eco-friendly materials such as sustainably harvest hardwoods, natural quartz, and recyclable materials. They are food safe, strong, durable and made without harmful binders or finishes.
- Paperstone– Paperstone is a composite of recycled paper and non-petroleum resin. It is a strong, durable material that is great for folks that enjoy a well patinaed kitchen countertop or bathroom vanity.
- Quartz– Quartz countertops are an engineered product, made from natural stone quartz, polymers, and resins. Pure quartz is one of the most abundant natural resources on Earth, so it’s extremely accessible to people all over the globe at a minimal cost. Quartz is both extremely durable and recyclable. Additionally, quartz countertops are super low maintenance and easy to clean. We’re partial to Caesarstone.
- Butcher block- Butcher block is classic and adds warmth and texture. It is a great choice for tabletops, kitchen counters and islands. It’s important to consider where, and with what, butcher blocks are made. Two key questions to consider: Was the material sustainably and locally harvested? And, was it manufactured with food grade, formaldehyde-free adhesives?
There are so many tile options! Start by choosing a company that uses recycled content; works to conserve water and electricity; and has a manufacturing plant near you.
- Recycled content—Tile made with recycled content tile incorporates recycled material. The options abound, but include mining waste, glass bottles, old windshields, and more. Not only does this make use of material that would otherwise go to the landfill, but recycled content ceramic, porcelain, and glass tiles are just as durable, if not more so, than “virgin” alternatives.
- Use Local Materials—If possible, purchase locally made tile. Reducing shipping impacts is good for the environment and your budget.
- Use a Low Toxic Grout Sealer—Grout can be a breeding ground for potentially dangerous mold and mildew. Apply a sealer to eliminate potential moisture problems. Make sure the sealer is low VOC to protect indoor air quality.
- A few of our favorite tile suppliers—
Our favorite flooring options include cork, wood, linoleum and bamboo. They’re made from renewable, reclaimed or sustainably harvested sources and responsibly manufactured. Toxic adhesives and finishes have no place in your home! These flooring options are healthy for you and for the environment.
- Cork– Cork is a super green option. It is a renewable and carefully protected resource. It’s hypoallergenic; fire, insect and moisture resistance and low maintenance. It is worth noting that cork is grown overseas. Amorim cork flooring is a new to us product that gets great reviews.
- Wood– Ecologically speaking, wood can be the best or the worst of materials. When sustainably harvested it can be the ideal flooring material. It’s durable and milling can be simple and require little energy. However, if the material is not harvest sustainably environmentally destructive. Consider the following if you’re considering wood flooring:
- FSC Certified-This is kind of like wood’s equivalent to organic. The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is an independent agency that provides certification, or approval, to wood that’s been harvested in a responsible manner.
- Local species- Consider local species to minimize transportation-related energy and support the local economy.
- Hardness- Have you noticed how often durability has come up? One of the most important factors when choosing finishes is durability, which reduces landfill inputs. The forestry industry uses the Janka scale to measure the resistance of wood species denting and wear. The higher the number the harder the wood.
- Linoleum– We really love Marmoleum, a brand name for linoleum. It is a natural flooring product made of linseed oil, pine rosin, wood flour, limestone, pigments and jute. Because of that, it’s biodegradable. It comes in more than 100 colors, is extremely durable and low maintenance, and it’s made with 72% renewable materials!
Our hope is that this overview gets you thinking about green building materials and that you’ll consider them for your project. There are so many facets to selecting finish materials, ranging from indoor air quality to aesthetics to durability. If, after reading this, you’re itching to see learn more about green materials we’d suggest checking out the Green Home Solutions website or visiting their showroom in Seattle.