Green Building Materials

green building materialsA green building is one that is built using processes that are environmentally responsible and resource efficient. North America, Europe and Japan consume more than 25 percent of the world’s annual 4.5 billion cubic meters of wood production. According to the Natural Resource Defense Council the rainforests will be gone by 2050. Building materials considered green include rapidly renewable plant materials such as bamboo and straw, or lumber from forests certified to be sustainably managed. Other materials are recycled stone and recycled metal.

Green Building – Foundations

Foundations should be insulated, preferably from the outside to reduce the risk of condensation. An insulated foundation becomes part of the building’s thermal envelope.
Some of the best practices include:

  • Build forms from plywood or aluminum. Initial costs may be higher, but they can be used again.
  • Reuse forms as much as possible. Keep material out of landfills
  • Use insulated concrete forms. Polystyrene blocks are stacked to create a foundation wall and concrete is poured into the void for rigidity. Many companies make insulated concrete forms from recycled woodchips or polystyrene.
  • Insulate foundation walls and slabs with rigid foam.
  • Specify a minimum of 15 percent fly ash in the concrete. It is a by-product of coal fired energy plants. It makes concrete water-resistant.

Green Building – Insulation

A green building starts with reducing the heating/cooling needs of the building as much as possible. Insulation is the key to energy conservation, which is the cornerstone of a green building.

  • Aim for insulation that is 50 percent better than the recommendations of the Department of Energy.
  • Use insulation that completely fills walls and ceiling cavities to reduce and eliminate air leaks.
  • Avoid fiberglass batt insulation that contains formaldehyde and cellulose that contains ammonium sulfate.
  • Supplement batts with a layer of rigid foam insulation on the exterior of the building.
  • Seal all wall penetrations such as wires or pipes or electrical outlets. Use expansion foam that uses HFC not CFC.
  • Use insulation with 75 percent recycled content such as loose fill cellulose.
  • Insulate crawl spaces between floor joists.

Green Building – Plumbing

Heating water accounts for as much as 30 percent of the energy consumption in a home.
Wasted water adds up to tens of gallons per day and thousands of gallons per year. The potential for plumbing fixtures to save water is greater than ever.

  • Insulate hot water pipes with foam.
  • Toilets consume more water than any other fixture in a building. Install high efficiency toilets.
  • Install flow reducers on faucets
  • Install automatic infrared faucets
  • When building, install a greywater recovery system. Municipalities are fast approving the use of grey water for watering trees and shrubs.

Interior Finishes

This category includes flooring and walls. Choosing the right interior finishes has a large impact on indoor air quality for years to come.

  • Use wood products from recycled wood.
  • Specify wood that is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)
  • Use paint and adhesives with no volatile organic compounds (VOC).
  • Use recycled rubber floor tiles.
  • Use only FSC wood products. They are not available everywhere.

Siding and Decking

A green material for siding is fiber cement siding in panel form or lap siding. It is fire resistant and long lasting. From the siding point of view, it does several things:

  • Makes the building more weather resistant
  • Makes it less likely to burn down
  • Makes it durable
  • Provides character
  • Avoid vinyl siding that gives off VOC when heated. It has been linked to cancer.
  • Use only cedar or redwood shingles that are FSC certified.
  • Use recyclable products for building decks. At the end of its life, it should be reused.

Windows and Doors

In a green building windows rank second only to the heating system in complexity. Heating, cooling and lighting consume 67 percent of all the electricity that is generated.

  • Invest in high performance glass
  • Choose multi-pane designs filled with argon and krypton rather than air to minimize heat loss.
  • Install high solar gain windows on south-facing walls to reduce energy costs.
  • Wind will push on a building. On a cold, windy site, windows and doors should be on the leeward side of the building.
  • Use awnings to shade windows in the summer.


The greenest of buildings will have green plants growing on the roof. This allows for the absorption of carbon dioxide and release of oxygen into the air by the green plants.

  • If you need to have shingles on a roof, use concrete or clay tiles in mild climates. They last a lifetime and require little maintenance.
  • Use only recycled metal roofing, if necessary. Avoid copper and lead.
  • It is possible to get recycled content asphalt shingles that contain waste paper and reclaimed slag material.

Solar Installation

Combining green building principles with active solar systems can result in a “zero energy” building, one that produces as much energy as it consumes. Using green building materials allows for LEED certification. Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) is an internationally recognized building certification system. This system will be used more in the years to come.

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Green Writer

About Green Writer

Green activist who hopes that one day our world will be completely free of pollution and that people will live in peace and harmony.
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