How to Build a Home From Sustainable Yet Overlooked Materials

How to Build a Home From Sustainable Yet Overlooked Materials

How to Build a Home From Sustainable Yet Overlooked Materials

Building a home from sustainable materials can significantly reduce its environmental impact. While materials like recycled wood, bamboo and cork are becoming popular, some equally eco-friendly options remain overlooked. With a little creativity and an open mind, you can build a beautiful and sustainable home using these underutilized materials.

Research Sustainable Building Materials

Before beginning construction, it’s important to thoroughly research potential building materials. Focus on options that are:

  • Renewable – Materials that can be easily replenished, like fast-growing bamboo or cork harvested from tree bark.

  • Recycled/Upcycled – Reusing old materials, like reclaimed wood, gives them new life.

  • Natural – Materials derived from plants and minerals have less processing and chemicals.

  • Responsibly Sourced – Choosing materials harvested in eco-friendly ways supports sustainable industries.

  • Locally Available – Using local materials reduces transportation emissions and supports the community.

  • Low-VOC – Materials with low off-gassing of volatile organic compounds promote healthy indoor air.

  • Low Embodied Energy – Materials requiring less energy to produce have a smaller carbon footprint.

Talk to green builders in your area for recommendations on sustainable materials available nearby. Consult online resources like the Healthy Building Network for in-depth research.

Consider Alternative Construction Methods

Incorporating alternative construction techniques can further reduce your home’s environmental impact:

  • Insulating concrete forms (ICFs) – Stackable foam forms filled with concrete provide insulation and structure in one.

  • Structural insulated panels (SIPs) – Prefabricated panels made of rigid foam insulation sandwiched between wood sheathing provide structure, insulation and air sealing.

  • Rainscreen construction – A layered exterior wall system allows moisture to drain away, preventing rot and mold.

  • Hempcrete – Mixes of hemp, lime and water create a natural insulating concrete alternative for walls.

Be sure to hire a contractor experienced in these methods to ensure proper installation.

Choose Unique Wall Materials

For a unique look and feel, consider using these eco-friendly wall materials:

Straw Bales

Plastered straw bale walls provide natural insulation and interesting texture. Ensure bales are sourced responsibly and protected from moisture.

Adobe Blocks

Blocks made from natural clay, sand and straw make breathable, thermal mass walls. They should be properly sealed for durability.

Rammed Earth

Compacted subsoil creates natural, sculptural walls embedded with local materials like seashells or stones. Proper drainage and footings are key.

Recycled Denim Insulation

Upcycling old denim into insulation keeps textile waste out of landfills. It’s treated with fire retardants for safety.


The breathable, insulating qualities of hempcrete make excellent interior and exterior walls. The material absorbs CO2 as it dries.

Carefully weigh the pros, cons and installation considerations of each option for your climate and home design.

Utilize Alternative Roofing Materials

For an eco-friendly and visually striking roof, look beyond traditional asphalt shingles:

Metal Roofing

Durable, lightweight and recyclable metal roofing comes in many styles. It can be harvested from old structures or made from recycled material.

Green Roofs

Planting vegetation on rooftops provides insulation, absorbs stormwater and creates habitat. Lightweight soil and plants are critical for proper construction.

Cool Roofs

Highly reflective roofing materials like white thermoplastic membrane minimize solar heat gain, reducing energy consumption.

Recycled Composite Shingles

Shingles made from recycled plastic, rubber, wood fiber and more provide durability with less environmental impact than asphalt.

Beyond Shingles

Consider creative options like recycled terracotta tiles or slate salvaged from deconstruction projects.

Proper installation is key to maximize longevity and prevent leaks.

Choose Responsibly Sourced, Renewable Materials

Prioritize natural, responsibly harvested materials from renewable sources:

  • Bamboo – A rapidly renewable alternative to traditional hardwoods for flooring, cabinets and more. Ensure it’s responsibly harvested.

  • Natural linoleum – Made from renewable cork, pine rosin and flax, it’s an eco-friendly flooring option. Avoid petroleum-based vinyl versions.

  • Wool – Sustainably produced wool makes excellent insulation with natural fire resistance and noise absorption.

  • Reclaimed wood – Salvaged from old barns, docks and buildings, reclaimed wood gives a sense of history. Verify it’s lead-free.

  • Sustainably harvested wood – Seek FSC certification to ensure new wood comes from responsibly managed forests.

Choosing materials with third-party eco-certifications provides greater accountability.

Get Creative With Unique Accents

Add character and eco-friendly style with unique accents:

  • Moss walls – Vertical gardens made from moss require no soil and little maintenance.

  • Mushroom insulation – Derived from agricultural waste, mycelium is a renewable insulator.

  • Ferrock – A composite of recycled materials and iron can replace concrete in countertops and walls.

  • Seaweed insulation – Made from kelp, this renewable alternative is fire-resistant and diffuses moisture.

  • Paper composite lighting – Layers of recycled paper or cardboard create sculptural pendant lights.

Consult designers to properly incorporate these unconventional elements into your plans.

Building sustainably allows endless possibilities for creativity and innovation. With careful selection of optimal materials and skilled craftsmanship, you can create a truly one-of-a-kind home with a light touch on the earth.