Take a look at one of the major cities in the world (New York, Sydney, Hong Kong, etc.). Have you ever wondered just how many natural resources were used to turn those locations into the thriving urban centers that they are today? How much wood and metal and glass are needed to construct a single skyscraper? How many mountains were leveled to make the gravel and produce the delicately cut stone of the local park? There’s no denying it, construction can be an environmentally wasteful business. However, companies and individuals around the world are working hard to make everything just a little more green, and their hard work has begun to produce high-quality, sustainable building materials that are not only eco-friendly, but stylish and durable as well. Here are a few building materials of the future that you may find interesting.
1. Engineered/remanufactured wood. Although less expensive than natural wood, engineered wood is just as strong and often just as beautiful. It is made from recycled wood products or byproducts (such as sawdust) and mixed with specific bonding agents to produce a solid wooden board that can be tailored to match specific wood grains, giving it the appearance of real wood. These boards are perfect for construction, because they are lightweight, have no natural flaws, and deteriorate much slower than natural wood. They’re also 100% sustainable.
2. Recycled Steel. Of course, why bother with wood at all when you can use steel? Recycled steel can replace the wooden beams in your home, resulting in a structure that is much more durable and far more ecologically sound than the average wooden-frame home. This is because the average home requires approximately 50 trees worth of lumber, but a recycled steel home would only need the metal from six scrapped automobiles (according to the Steel Recycling Institute). The material can also be used in industrial production; factories can cut costs without cutting safety or efficiency by constructing devices such as automated labeling machines from recycled steel. This helps preserve the environment, because in addition to cutting down on landfill waste, the process used to recycle steel is 75% more energy-efficient than the process used to make new steel.
3. St. Astier Natural Hydraulic Lime. A healthy, chemical-free alternative to stucco and cement, St. Astier Natural Hydraulic Lime looks amazing, is made from sustainable resources, requires less production energy than cement, and resists shrinking and cracking, and even absorbs greenhouse emissions. When used in place of cement or stucco, it offers a delightful old world look, while helping ease new world concerns about the environment.
4. Straw bales. The story of the Three Little Pigs doesn’t give too much credit to the hog who builds his house out of straw. However, in reality, straw bales are durable, inexpensive, and great insulators. If they’re kept dry they can last for thousands of years (as evidenced from archaeological finds), and they bond easily with stucco and plaster. Best of all, the straw bales are a byproduct of grain manufacturing that are usually burned rather than recycled. Construction is simple: just stack the bales and cover them to keep them dry, and then go from there.
5. Plant-based polyurethane rigid foam. Often, people see plant-based construction materials as non-environmentally friendly. However, many organic materials are completely sustainable (bamboo tends to grow at a rate of about two feet per day). Plant-based polyurethane rigid foam is made from materials such a hemp, bamboo, and even sea kelp. The result is an insulating material that is heat and moisture resistant, resists mold and pest infestations, and completely free of toxic chemicals.
Who knows? Maybe the major cities of the future will be built from sustainable resources. You might even see skyscrapers built from straw bales towering over the landscape (lets just hope that no one does any huffing or puffing).