Today many people that are building or remodeling their houses choose to use eco-friendly building materials. An eco-friendly building material is one that increases the efficiency of energy used and reduces impact on human well-being and the environment.
There are many different materials that can be used that are eco-friendly; from foundation, to insulation, to interior and exterior wall finishes, flooring, and countertop materials.
Table of Contents
Categorization of Building Materials
Categorized based on Activity and Vendor Specific
- Civil materials
- Waterproofing and Chemical additives
- Paving, flooring, dado and similar finishes
- Paints, colors, white washing, distempering and wood finishes
- Wood work
- Roofing and ceiling
- Doors and windows
- Water supply and sanitary fittings
- Electrical works
- Fire fighting system
- Excavation work
- Road works
Evaluating Eco-friendly Materials
Why eco-friendly materials?
- Phenomenal growth in the construction industry that depends upon depletable resources.
- Production of building materials leads to irreversible environmental impacts.
- Using eco-friendly materials is the best way to build a eco-friendly building.
Stone quarrying leads to eroded hills, like this picture showing the site of makarana marble quarry, brick kilns in the fringes of the city lead to denudation of topsoil, dredging for sand damage the river biodiversity etc.
What is Eco-friendly material ?
Dictionary: describes a product that has been designed to do the least possible damage to the environment. US EPA – EPP program defines as: “products or services that have a lesser or reduced effect on human health and the environment when compared with competing products or services that serve the same purpose”
Thus we talk of two issues – one that it does the least possible environmental damage and two that it is a comparative scale as there are very few materials that are completely eco-friendly.
One more point to note when we talk of eco-friendly construction is that it consist of two parts – Material and Technique.
A material by itself can be eco-friendly, e.g. Bamboo.
Or Even conventional materials can become eco-friendly based on the construction technique that is used. e.g. rat trap bond developed by Lauri Baker, which require less number of bricks and are more heat insulating than normal walls and therefore eco-friendly.
Properties of Eco-Friendly Building Materials
The various properties of the Eco-friendly materials and techniques are –
Materials can be eco-friendly also if they can assist in reduction of the energy used in the building during operation and maintenance.
it is difficult to get a material that has all these properties, and it thus becomes a comparative assessment to identify eco-friendly materials.
Source of Material
a. Renewable source
Rapidly renewable sources e.g. wood from certified forests
b. Reuse of Waste
Salvaged products –e.g. old plumbing, door frames
Recycled contents – agriculture/ industrial waste e.g. Bagasse Board
Scalar total of energy input required to produce the product including transporting them to the building site
Aluminium and steel has the most embodied energy because to the high energy required to produce them. Compared to timber that requires very less energy for production.
Air Pollution– Use of materials with low VOC emissions e.g. Cement Paints
Water Pollution – Materials that prevent leaching.
Land Pollution– Materials that reuse waste that would otherwise have resulted in landfill. e.g. Flyash Bricks.
Reduce material use
These are energy efficient and also help reduce the dead load of a building. e.g. Ferrocement
Durability & Life Span
Material that are exceptionally durable, or require low maintenance e.g PVC pipes.
Materials can be eco-friendly based on how they perform. Use of certain material or techniques can reduce the amount of material required.
Durability – The longer the life of a material the lesser it is required to replace and thus reduces the quantity required to produce.
Materials that require less energy during construction e.g. precast slabs.
Materials that help reduce the cooling loads- e.g – aerated concrete blocks.
Products that conserve energy – e. g. CFL lamps.
Fixtures & equipments that help conserve water e.g. Dual flush cisterns
Reuse or Recycle as different product e.g. steel, aluminum.
Biodegradable – that decompose easily e.g wood or earthen materials.
Types of Eco-friendly Building Materials
Conventional Eco-friendly materials
- Bamboo, Bamboo Based Particle Board & Ply Board, Bamboo Matting
- Bricks sun dried
- Precast cement concrete blocks, lintels, slab. Structural and non-structural modular elements
- Calcined Phosphogypsum Wall Panels
- Calcium silicate boards and Tiles
- Cellular Lightweight Concrete Blocks
- Cement Paint
- Clay roofing tiles
- Water, polyurethane and acrylic based chemical admixtures for corrosion removal, rust prevention, water proofing
- Epoxy Resin System, Flooring, sealants, adhesives and admixtures
- Ferro-cement boards for door and window shutters
- Ferro-cement Roofing Channels
- Fly-ash Sand Lime Bricks and Paver Blocks
- Gypsum Board, Tiles, Plaster, Blocks, gypsum plaster fibre jute/sisal and glass fibre composites
- Laminated Wood Plastic Components
- Marble Mosaic Tiles
- MDF Boards and Mouldings
- Micro Concrete Roofing Tiles
- Particle Boards
- Polymerised waterproof compound
- Portland Pozzolana Cement Fly-ash / Calcined Clay Based
- Portland Slag Cement
- RCC Door Frames
- Ready Mix Cement Concrete
- Rubber Wood Finger Joint Board
- Stone dust
- Waterproof compound, adhesive, Polymer, Powder
Potential Eco-friendly materials & techniques
- Bagasse Board – BMTPC
- Bricks from Coal Washery Rejects -CBRI, Roorkee
- Building Blocks From Mine Waste – SERC
- Burnt Clay FlyAsh Bricks – CBRI, Roorkee
- Coir Cement Board – CBRI, Roorkee
- Compressed Earth Blocks – BMTPC
- EPS Composites and Door Shutters -CBRI, Roorkee
- Fibre Fly Ash Cement Boards -BMTPC
- Fibre Reinforced Concrete Precast Elements, Wall panels, Blocks, Manhole Covers – SERC
- Fibrous Gypsum Plaster Boards – CBRI, Roorkee
- Fly Ash Cellular Concrete, Fly Ash Cement Brick, Blocks – BMTPC
- Fly Ash Lime Cellular Concrete – CBRI, Roorkee
- Flyash Lime Gypsum Brick – BMTPC
- Insulating Bricks from Rice Husk Ash- Central Glass and Ceramic Research Institute, Kolkata
- Jute Fibre Polyester -BMTPC
- Non Erodible Mud Plaster – CBRI, Roorkee
- Polytiles – CBRI, Roorkee
- Timber from trees such as Poplar, Rubber, Eucalyptus – BMTPC
- Precast walling roofing components – CBRI, Roorkee
- Prefab Brick Panel System – CBRI, Roorkee
Recommended eco-friendly alternatives
1. Structural System –
Alternatives to Cement Concrete (plain / reinforced) – cement, sand, aggregate, steel
Base Materials for R.C.C. and Steel Systems
a. Pozzolana Material content (Fly-ash / Slag / Calcinated Clay) attained through use of Blended Portland Cement (BPC) and /or direct addition of pozzolana material
b. Sand and aggregate from pulverized debris and /or sintered fly-ash for concrete and mortar
c. Recycled steel forms and reinforcement bars
a. Ferro cement and
b. Pre-cast components for columns, beams, slabs, lofts, balconies, roofs etc.
c. Ready Mix Concrete
d. Use Resinous curing agents
Alternatives to Fired clay bricks, cement concrete blocks, stone
a. Use of Fly ash + sand + lime bricks / blocks
b. Pulverized debris + cement bricks / blocks,
c. Industrial waste based bricks / blocks,
d. Aerated lightweight BPC concrete blocks,
e. Phospho-Gypsum based blocks
f. Lato blocks (laterite + cement)
a. Sand from pulverized debris and / or sintered flyash
b. Pozzolana Material content
4. Plastering – Alternatives to Cement, sand, plaster of paris, gypsum
a. Calcium Silicate Plaster
b. Cement Plaster
c. Use of Fiber reinforced clay plaster
d. Phospho-Gypsum Plaster
e. Non-erodable Mud Plaster
f. Use Resinous curing agents
5. Roofing and ceiling– Alternatives to Ferrous / non-ferrous sheets, tiles, thatch
a. Fibre Reinforced Polymer Plastics instead of PVC and Foam PVC, Polycarbonates, acrylics & plastics
b. Micro Concrete Roofing Tiles
c. Bamboo Matt Corrugated Roofing Sheets
6. Flooring, paving and road work –Alternatives to wood, stone, ceramics, concrete
a. Fly ash / industrial waste / pulverized debris blocks in BPC
b. Lime-pozzolana concrete paving blocks for all outdoor paving.
c. Bedding sand from pulverized debris
7. Tiles for interiors
a. Terrazzo floor for terraces and semi covered areas
b. Ceramic tiles (non-vitrified)
c. Mosaic Tiles/ Terrazzo Flooring
d. Cement Tiles
e. Phospho-Gypsum Tiles
f. Bamboo Board Flooring
8. Windows, Doors and openings –
Steel, aluminum, timber, glass, R.C.C., PVC, Stone
a. Ferro cement and Pre-cast R.C.C. lintel, chajja and jalis
b. Masonry bond combinations for jali work
Alternatives to Timber and Aluminum / Steel frames
b. Pre-cast R.C.C. Frames/ Frameless Doors
c. Bamboo Reinforced Concrete Frames
d. Hollow recycled steel channels and recycled Aluminium Channels and Components
Shutters and Panels – alternatives to timber, plywood, glass, aluminum
a. Red Mud based Composite door shutters,
b. Laminated Hollow Composite Shutters
c. Other wood alternatives
Alternatives for Aluminum, brass, PVC, G.I., S.S.
a. Use unplasticised PVC or HDPE products
b. Where applicable use products with recycled aluminum and brass components
10. Water supply, Sanitary and Plumbing System
a. R.C.C., uPVC, G.I., C.I. pipes instead of lead, A.C. pipes
b. Where applicable use products with recycled aluminum and brass components for fittings, fixtures and accessories
c. Use Polymer Plastic (Random) hot / cold water system instead of G.I.
d. Manholes and covers – use Pre-cast cement concrete and high strength unplasticised PVC instead of C.I.
Renewable timber from plantations with species having not more than 10 year cycle or timber from a government certified forest / plantation or timber from salvaged wood
Plywood should be phenol bonded and not urea bonded
Use of MDF Board
Instead of Plywood:
Bamboo Ply/Mat Board/ Fibre Reinforced Polymer Board,/ Bagasse Board /Coir Composite Board /Bamboo mat Veneer Composite/ Finger Jointed Plantation Timber Board / Recycled Laminated Tube Board / Aluminium-Foil+Paper+Plastic Composite Board.
e. Use of Mica Laminates and Veneer on Composite boards instead of natural timber.
12. Water proofing chemicals, additives, sealants and adhesives
a. Use of water based chemicals instead of solvent based.
b. Epoxy resins instead of tar felt / pitch
13. Painting, Polishing, Priming and similar surface finishing
a. Use of Cement Paint / Epoxy Resin Paint for external surfaces
b. Use of Water based paints, enamels, primers and polishes
Faswal is a great alternative to traditional foundation materials. It uses waste materials from wood mixed with cement to create a strong and durable foundation material. Faswal can be used instead of cinder blocks and is excellent for bottom foundation and wall construction. It is naturally strong, fire and wind and sound resistant, and has excellent insulating factors.
Two great choices for insulation are straw bale and cotton. Straw bale is used for many reasons; it is generally less expensive than other forms of insulation and has great insulating factors. It is very durable and can easily support a lot of weight; additional supports are not usually needed, which cuts down on the use of treated lumber
Cotton insulation is a good alternative to fiber glass insulation. This type of insulation is derived from natural cotton fibers that are recycled into insulation. It is very convenient and comes in a similar batting shape as traditional insulation. It is also very easy and safe to install and has a high fire rating and wonderful sound insulating qualities.
Earth plaster and milk paints are excellent eco-friendly choices for building materials. Earth plaster is made out of mud and can be used as an interior or exterior finish. You can manipulate the plaster to create various finishes; including curves, angles, and clean finished walls. It does not need to be painted, as it comes in a variety of colors that are natural to the mud.
Milk paints are made up of milk earth and pigments from the earth in a variety of colors. Milk paints provide for a wide variety of colors without the use of harsh chemicals that are found in traditional house paints.
There are some great choices for eco-friendly flooring; cork flooring, bamboo, and recycled wood flooring are all excellent options. Cork flooring is a great alternative to wood; it is environmentally friendly; it only uses the bark from the tree and does not kill the tree as a result from harvest. The bark is a great renewable resource as it grows back completely within nine years. Cork flooring is very comfortable, durable, and insulating, and can last for many years.
Bamboo is another great choice for a renewable resource. Bamboo is not a wood at all, but rather a grass that only takes three years to fully mature. When processed, bamboo can have an attractive appearance similar to wood flooring. It is a very strong and durable type of flooring and performs very much like a traditional hardwood floor.
If you are determined to have wood floors, recycled wood flooring is a great option. This type of flooring often uses hardwood that would otherwise never be used again. The wood may be taken from demolition sites or trees that were torn down but never used. It is often cheaper to prepare recycled wood instead of new wood product and is just as beautiful and durable as new wood.
There are even materials for countertops that are eco-friendly. Two great choices are recycled glass/cast concrete and recycled plastic. Recycled glass/cast concrete uses both recycled glass and concrete with recycled materials in it. The glass used in this material can not be broken down any further, so it is a good fit for countertop construction. It can also be used in the bathroom and surrounding fireplaces.
Recycled plastic is another good option for countertops. You can obtain many different styles using different types of recycled plastic. It can also be used in bathrooms and other places around the home. It is very durable and can stand up to heat, depending on how it is manufactured, and is very water resistant.
There are many different eco-friendly building materials available on the market today. You can virtually build and furnish an entire home from only eco-friendly materials. Eco-friendly materials are not only good for the Earth, but are equally good for your wallet. Many of the building materials that are eco-friendly have great insulating factors or are cheaper to produce than traditional materials.