10 Hidden Gems: Surprisingly Eco-Friendly Building Materials You Didn’t Know Existed!

10 Hidden Gems: Surprisingly Eco-Friendly Building Materials You Didn't Know Existed!

Table of Contents

The construction industry significantly impacts the environment, from material extraction and processing to energy consumption during building use. Fortunately, sustainable building materials are brimming with innovative solutions that are good for the planet and can offer superior performance and aesthetics. 

Let’s delve into ten hidden gems you might not have known existed, exploring their benefits and challenges to empower you to make eco-conscious choices for your next building project.


1. Hempcrete: Nature’s Concrete

Made from a blend of hemp hurds (the inner woody core), lime, and water, hempcrete is a lightweight yet surprisingly strong building material. 

Benefits: Hemp is a fast-growing crop that absorbs carbon dioxide during its lifecycle, making hempcrete carbon-negative. It boasts excellent insulation properties, reducing energy consumption for heating and cooling.

Challenges: Hempcrete requires a longer drying time than traditional concrete and may only be suitable for load-bearing walls in some applications. Availability and cost can vary depending on location.


2. Mycelium: The Fungal Future of Building

Imagine building materials grown from mushrooms! Mycelium, the root network of fungi, can be cultivated into a biocomposite material with impressive strength and fire resistance. 

Benefits: Like hempcrete, mycelium is a carbon-negative material with fast growth rates. It’s lightweight, mold-resistant, and can be formed into various shapes for insulation or furniture.

Challenges: Mycelium is a relatively new material, and research on its long-term durability is ongoing. Production processes are still being optimized, and broader availability might take some time.

Steel With A Second Glance

3. Steel with a Second Glance

Steel is often considered an environmentally unfriendly material due to its energy-intensive production process. However, using recycled steel can significantly reduce its environmental impact. 

Benefits: Recycled steel offers exceptional strength and durability, making it ideal for structural components. It’s readily available and can be recycled multiple times without losing its properties.

Challenges: The initial steel production remains carbon-intensive, so using a high percentage of recycled content is crucial. Steel is also susceptible to rust if not adequately protected.


4. Cork: Beyond Wine Stoppers

Cork oak forests are vital in maintaining biodiversity. Cork, the bark of the cork oak, is a beautiful and surprisingly versatile building material. 

Benefits: Cork boasts excellent insulation properties, is naturally fire-retardant, and provides soundproofing. It’s lightweight, water-resistant, and has a unique visual appeal.

Challenges: While cork is a renewable resource, responsible sourcing is essential. Look for FSC-certified cork to ensure sustainable harvesting practices. The cost of cork can be higher than that of some traditional materials.


5. NewspaperWood: Giving Waste a Second Life

What happens to all those old newspapers? NewspaperWood combines recycled paper with resin to create a composite building material. 

Benefits: NewspaperWood is a cost-effective and readily available option that diverts waste from landfills. It’s lightweight, has good insulation properties, and can be used for walls, partitions, and furniture.

Challenges: NewspaperWood’s fire resistance can be lower than some other materials, requiring additional treatment in some cases. Moisture resistance is also a consideration, and appropriate applications must be chosen.


6. Bamboo: A Sustainable and Speedy Alternative

Bamboo is a fast-growing, renewable resource that can be harvested without harming the environment. Its strength and versatility make it a compelling option for sustainable construction. 

Benefits: Bamboo offers an excellent strength-to-weight ratio, making it suitable for structural applications. It’s naturally beautiful, has good insulation properties, and can be used for various building elements.

Challenges: Responsible sourcing is crucial, as some harvesting practices can harm bamboo forests. Proper treatment is necessary to protect bamboo from moisture and insects. The availability of high-quality bamboo products can vary depending on location.


7. Clay: Back to Basics with Earth

Clay has been used as a building material for millennia, and good reason. This readily available natural resource offers numerous benefits for sustainable construction. 

Benefits: Clay is naturally fire-resistant and breathable, creating a healthy indoor environment. It provides excellent thermal mass, helping to regulate temperatures within buildings. Locally sourced clay minimizes transportation emissions.

Challenges: Sun-dried clay bricks can be weaker than fired bricks. Clay construction requires specific skills and expertise that may only be available in some regions.

Cross Laminated Timber

8. Cross-Laminated Timber (CLT): Engineered Wood for Strength

CLT is an engineered wood made from layers of solid wood planks glued together with their grains perpendicular to each other. This creates a solid and stable building material.

Benefits: CLT offers a superior strength-to-weight ratio to traditional lumber, allowing for innovative and efficient building designs. It’s a renewable resource with excellent insulation properties and can be prefabricated for faster construction times.

Challenges: The production process for CLT can be energy-intensive, so using FSC-certified wood is crucial for sustainability. CLT might only be readily available in some regions, and building codes may need to be updated to accommodate its use.

Waste Based Bricks

9. Waste-Based Bricks: Turning Trash into Treasure

Construction and demolition waste poses a significant environmental challenge. Innovative companies are transforming this waste into usable building materials like waste-based bricks. 

Benefits: Waste-based bricks divert waste from landfills, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and conserving resources. Depending on the waste composition, they can offer good strength and insulation properties.

Challenges: The availability and properties of waste-based bricks can vary depending on the local waste stream. Regulations and certifications for their use might still be evolving in some areas. The aesthetics may only be suitable for some applications.

10. Bendable Concrete: Rethinking Rigidity

Concrete is a ubiquitous building material, but its rigidity can limit design possibilities. Bendable concrete is a new material with the strength of traditional concrete but the ability to flex. 

Benefits: Bendable concrete allows for more creative and curved architectural designs. It can reduce the need for additional structural components, leading to a more efficient building process.

Challenges: Bendable concrete is still under development, and its long-term performance and durability require further testing. It might also be more expensive and unavailable than traditional concrete.

Choosing the Right Eco-Friendly Material for Your Needs

There’s no single “best” eco-friendly building material. The ideal choice depends on your project requirements, local availability, budget, and aesthetic preferences. Consider these factors when making your selection:

  • Material properties: Strength, insulation, fire resistance, and durability are all crucial factors to consider.
  • Environmental impact: Look for materials with low embodied energy (energy used to produce the material), recycled content, and sustainable sourcing practices.
  • Life cycle analysis: Consider the entire life cycle of the material, from extraction and processing to disposal or potential for reuse.
  • Cost: Eco-friendly materials can sometimes have a higher upfront cost, but potential savings on energy bills and lower maintenance needs can offset the initial investment.
Building A Sustainable Future One Project At A Time

Final Thoughts: Building a Sustainable Future, One Project at a Time

By embracing innovative and eco-friendly building materials, we can create homes and buildings that are beautiful and functional and contribute to a healthier planet. The hidden gems explored in this blog offer a glimpse into the exciting future of sustainable construction. So, next time you embark on a building project, consider these options and take a step towards a more sustainable future, one brick (or bamboo stalk) at a time.


Q. Are eco-friendly materials always more expensive?

A. While some eco-friendly materials might have a higher upfront cost, potential savings on energy bills and lower maintenance needs can balance it out.

Q. How can I ensure my chosen material is truly sustainable?

A. Look for wood certifications like FSC or research the company’s sourcing practices. Consider the material’s life cycle—is it made from recycled content, and can it be reused or recycled at the end of its lifespan?

Q. Where can I find more information about these materials?

A. Many sustainable building material companies have informative websites. Non-profit organizations like the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) offer valuable resources on sustainable practices.

Q. What if these new materials aren’t available in my area?

A. Don’t despair! Explore locally sourced options like clay bricks or recycled materials. Talk to architects and builders familiar with sustainable construction practices in your region.

Q. I’m interested in using recycled materials in my project. Where do I start?

A. Research companies specializing in recycled building materials like waste-based bricks or newspaperwood. Salvaged materials can also be a great option, offering unique aesthetics for specific applications.

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