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House & Home

Green Guide to 8 Common Construction Materials

Posted April 18, 2015

Are you planning to build, remodel, or renovate a house this year … or maybe even just daydreaming about it? If that's the case, then you will want to read through this listing of eight of today's commonly used construction materials and the most environmentally friendly ways in which to utilize them. Discuss this guide with your general contractor and ask for his or her specific recommendations in order to make your new home efficient, gorgeous and green.

  1. Concrete is a mixture of cement, aggregate, and water. Traditionally used for supports, walls, floors, and exterior structures (driveways, patios, and walkways), this material is becoming more and more popular in home construction for such diverse purposes as countertops and fencing. It is durable and resistant to climate, pests, and natural disasters. However, its manufacture results in a high rate of greenhouse gas emissions. Seek out concrete made with recycled content or energy-efficient, non-toxic autoclaved aerated concrete (AAC).
  2. Lumber is cut from softwood or hardwood trees such as pine or maple respectively, depending on the intended use in construction. Lumber may be used as paneling, sheathing, siding, or subflooring, or for more decorative work like trim, molding, and cabinets. Wood for building and decor should be obtained from a sustainable, responsible managed source, as certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). A current trend is the use of salvaged or reclaimed wood.
  3. Brick has been traditionally made from clay or mud, formed into blocks and fired, for centuries. In recent years, concrete bricks have begun to play an important role in construction. Bricks are simply stacked or joined with the help of mortar for exterior walls, fireplaces, and paths. Because production of brick involves non-renewable resources, it is recommended to ask your general contractor to use salvaged brick if possible.
  4. Stone is a natural material quarried from the earth. It can be utilized for supports, flooring, walls, or outdoor hardscaping, or cut into tiles. Although we seem to have a great deal of stone, it is actually classed as a non-renewable resource. Repurposed stone is the most environmentally friendly choice.
  5. Aluminum is a lightweight metal that nevertheless is surprisingly strong. To illustrate, it may weigh up to 65 percent less than steel equal to it in strength. Aluminum is useful for construction support, walls, doors, window frames, roof covers, stairs, and HVAC systems. Although the production process is energy-intensive and produces a great deal of pollution, once it has been produced, virtually 100 percent of aluminum can be recycled, over and over again.
  6. Steel is made from iron, smelted, purified, and alloyed with carbon. This strong, durable metal is used for supports and frames. The energy-intensive production process creates a large amount of pollution. Find recycled steel or substitute another material.
  7. Drywall is a sort of sandwich made up of heavy sheets of paper containing a layer of gypsum plaster in between. Also known as plasterboard or gypsum board, drywall construction serves as a faster alternative to traditional lath and plaster building for interior walls, partitions, and ceilings. Many types of drywall off-gas harmful chemicals. Request that your contractor use non-synthetic drywall boards made with natural fixative agents.
  8. Glass is made up of several minerals, with silica as its main component, mixed with limestone, soda ash, and occasionally other ingredients. These are melded together using very high heat. Glass is used for windowpanes, skylights, doors, and translucent bricks. Glass production uses a high amount of energy and non-renewable resources. Recycled and energy-efficient glass is best.

Laura Firszt writes for networx.com.

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