Renewable Materials Trending in Construction

Evelyn Long

Sep 3, 2020

renewable materials in construction

With climate change deadlines looming, everyone is looking for ways to reduce their carbon footprint and their negative impact on the environment. That trend is impacting every single industry, from retail and food production to construction. Renewable materials in construction are trending, but they’re still working their way into the mainstream.

What Are Renewable Materials?

Renewable building supplies can fall into two possible categories — recyclable or rapidly renewable. We’re all fairly familiar with the concept of recycling, but what many people miss is that most of our traditional building materials are recyclable, either partially or in their entirety. 

Things like concrete and asphalt get broken down into small pieces for use as aggregate in new pours of both materials. Metal, plastic and glass all get recycled entirely, with little or no waste. Recycling one ton of scrap steel prevents 4.3 tons of CO2 from contributing to climate change. 

The other option is to start investing in rapidly renewable materials. These are more sustainable options that regenerate in 10 years or less. Oak, which has always been popular as a building material, takes anywhere from 40-80 years to reach maturity. Materials like bamboo and cork are ready to harvest in less than a decade. 

It also includes items sourced from things like agricultural waste. This can consist of materials left over from harvesting things like wheat, sugarcane and coconuts. 

The Most Eco-Friendly Building Materials

With everyone focusing on reducing their carbon footprint, what are the most eco-friendly building materials currently available for construction professionals?

Bamboo

Bamboo is one of the fastest-growing building materials on the planet. While a field of trees takes decades to harvest, bamboo grows incredibly fast. Some species can grow more than 3 feet in 24 hours. While traditional timber farms are harvested and then replanted, bamboo can continue to grow, eliminating waste and making the most out of cultivated land. 

Cork

Cork is another natural material that is nearly infinitely sustainable. You don’t have to cut down a tree to harvest cork — simply collect the bark from the living tree, which will grow back in time. Its ability to absorb both sound and impact makes it a popular choice for floor tiles and soundproofing. 

Recycled Materials

Using recycled materials in your projects can help reduce both costs and carbon footprints. Buildings are demolished every single day. Instead of hauling the components off to a landfill, consider reprocessing them. This reduces the amount of CO2 and other greenhouse gases released during production and construction. 

Sheep’s Wool

When we hear sheep’s wool, we usually picture comfy sweaters and warm, fuzzy blankets, but there are a growing number of applications for this renewable resource as a type of home insulation. This is another nearly infinitely renewable. Sheep need shearing at least once a year, and their wool — while it is a little more expensive — creates a renewable and eco-friendly form of insulation.

Precast Concrete

Instead of pouring concrete in place, which is more traditionally accepted, switch to precast concrete. Precast options get poured and cured in a climate-controlled factory, which eliminates costly weather delays. It also reduces expenses and limits the amount of time you need to spend on-site, which helps to lessen your environmental impact. Precast concrete forms are becoming increasingly popular as a renewable and eco-friendly construction option. 

Plant-Based Plastics

Rigid polyurethane foam is a common material used for insulating and reinforcing home and building construction. It’s also not recyclable in its traditional form.

The renewable solution is to switch to plant-based polyurethane. It provides the same sort of rigid insulation as the original, but it’s made from things like hemp, bamboo or even kelp. These plants grow quickly and are much more renewable than the petroleum we use for the more traditional version. 

New Construction Embraces Renewable Materials

The construction industry will continue to shape cities and suburbs for decades to come. The biggest change we can make for the future is to use renewable construction materials.

People will always need new homes and buildings, but they also want to reduce their impact on the world around them. Switching to these renewable materials is the first step toward making the entire construction industry more sustainable.

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