Move to Green

MATT LEEGreen building materials are shaping the future of construction.   

By Matt Lee

A rapidly growing trend in building design is the move towards green building materials and sustainable architecture. The “Green Movement” has spread throughout consumer’s lives, affecting everything from their choice of clothing to what food they eat. Thanks to an increased awareness of environmental concerns, more people than ever are opting for more green lifestyle choices. The same trend is happening in architecture.

A huge driving force behind the increase in green building comes from an economic standpoint. Green buildings are more energy-efficient and, therefore, cost less to maintain. The World Green Building Council  found that nearly 40 percent of green building owners will see a 15 percent or more savings in building maintenance and energy costs within the next five years. While it would be foolish to say environmental concerns are not important, it is hard to argue against the fact that the potential for significant savings alone is a top reason why more and more green commercial buildings and retrofits are popping up.

There is some concern that green materials are too expensive, especially considering that budgets are always a primary factor in decisions related to new construction or a remodel. However, a surprising number of green materials are equivalent to or only fractionally more expensive than non-green materials. Even if one type of material is slightly more expensive than a traditional non-green choice, the savings end right there. Green materials are an investment, and while some choices might require a bit more investment up front, the overall savings in energy and ongoing maintenance costs can make it worth every penny.

Here are just five examples of green building materials that will be more common in new construction and green remodels:

• Smarter concrete products – Concrete is one of the most extensively used building materials but there is some disagreement over how green it is. However, compared to many other building products, concrete remains one of the more sustainable products, especially when considering many recent innovations that reduce the environmental impact of concrete.

The main issue with concrete is the amount of energy it takes and the amount of CO2 that is released in the production of cement, the main ingredient in concrete. Realizing the potential environmental impact of cement but at the same time acknowledging the importance of this key material to the construction industry, worldwide cement producers are working hard to reduce energy use and other environmental impacts of cement and concrete.

Concrete is used extensively in building foundations, structural elements and walls. With many concrete systems, a significant amount of concrete is used to meet project requirements. For walls in particular, a more efficient option that also gives a building more energy efficiency is the use of insulating concrete blocks. These walls systems are more insulating, noise reducing, extremely durable and faster to install. However, their internal grid of concrete requires up to 50 percent less concrete than other concrete wall systems.

• Bamboo as a wood alternative – Wood is another very common building material that many have qualms with when it comes to the green movement. While the majority of wood companies use only new growth, responsibly maintained forests for their products, there is little doubt that the time it takes for a tree to grow large enough for harvest is significant.

A much better alternative is bamboo. Bamboo is beautiful and surprisingly strong, despite being very lightweight. There are now plenty of bamboo products on the market, including bamboo plywood. Bamboo is extremely fast growing compared to trees and far more sustainable. This is one product that will become much more common in interior design.

• Recycled or recyclable metals – Steel and aluminum are eco-friendly products because they have a fairly neutral effect on the environment (i.e. no chemical leaching) and are essentially 100 percent recyclable. Most metal roofing products, for example, use a significant amount of recycled materials. A secondary benefit of metals is that construction waste can be recycled and, therefore, doesn’t contribute to waste streams that must be disposed of in landfills.

• Recycled plastic and composites – Similarly to metals, recycled plastic and composites materials are also a better choice than traditional materials. Plastics are one material that many instantly associate with a negative effect on the environment. Recycled plastic materials, such as decking or outdoor flooring, will offer a durable alternative to new plastic products while also helping to alleviate plastic pollution in landfills. Composite materials will also be more commonly seen being made of a combination of recycled plastic and recycled wood fiber.

• Low-E windows – A common theme in green buildings are big, beautiful windows to allow for natural lighting in an effort to reduce the energy cost of operating artificial lighting during the day. Expansive panes of glass certainly help with this aspect of building design, but many building owners are quite aware that glass isn’t exactly an insulating product. This means that glass often has a poor insulating effect, allowing for energy to more easily flow into and out of a building compared to an opaque wall assembly.

Low-E (Emissivity) windows are a term used to describe windows that have been treated with a special coating (metallic oxide in some cases). These windows can be found with soft or hard coating options. Soft coatings are layered between two panes of glass while hard coatings are coated on just the exterior of the window. These types of windows are an excellent investment as they can reduce radiant heat gain or loss through the glass by upwards of 50 percent.

Sustainable architecture design and the use of green buildings materials as a whole will continue to cause a positive effect on building design and construction. The move towards eco-conscious building is not only beneficial to our environment, but can significantly increase energy savings for the life of our buildings. That is more than enough reason to consider green building materials.

Matt Lee from Innovative Building Materials is a green design and digital marketing expert. Innovative Building Materials is a website that covers various construction topics and design concepts with a focus on sustainable and stylish building materials.


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