There are many ways green building materials can be defined, especially when it comes to taking account of their environmental impact and social results. There are quite a few materials being used today, such as engineered lumber, natural earthen materials, biomass building panels, paints with low or non-existent volatile organic compounds inside them, as well as a number of other products manufactured all around the world by companies who focus on protecting the environment and workers all around.
As the years have been going forward, a lot of manufacturers have been getting on the bandwagon concerning green building materials. There is hardly a product today that is not capable of being replaced by a type of environmentally safe and sound alternative, as well as a variety of green materials that only get better and better as time goes by.
As the world is changing, many things about technology, science, health system, etc. are improved. New machines and gadgets are invented, the purpose of which is to make our lives better and easier. In recent years, a vast majority of different organisations and businesses have called for a more environment-friendly approach when it comes to developing new technologies, products, goods and other stuff. We should start changing ourselves first and the way we perceive things; then we should start changing our homes and our habits, making them less hazardous for nature.
With this said, there already are many ways to help protect nature that the average person can do, from using natural cleaning solutions to buying eco-friendly furniture. Everybody knows that standard cleaning products contain dangerous chemicals, that’s why many people use their environment-friendly alternatives. Another way is using eco building materials.
In the article below we have shown four eco building materials of the future. What do you think about that? Wouldn’t it be great if these materials are also durable and easy to clean? Personally, we would love it! Get reading and find out more about these materials.
Polyurethane Rigid Foam
This foam is plant-based. It is made from materials like kelp, hemp and bamboo. This foam material in different types for different applications. Ainacore, AinaFlow and Pacific Biofoam are produced by Malama Composites and the materials are used in furniture, wind turbine blades, surfboards and insulation. In fact this company is a big surfboard maker.
The advantages of this foam are its high heat and moisture resistance, protection against pests and mould, good acoustics. Another great side of the foam is that it insulates better, as it has a good thermal resistance as well.
Insulated Concrete Forms
This technology is approximately 60 years old. Back in the early years of its development people weren’t aware of its energy-saving properties. This is what breathes new life into the technology today. The structure of the concrete forms is sandwich-like. There are two insulation layers, in which concrete is poured. One of the biggest concrete forms makers, ARXX, approve of this idea. According to a study conducted by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, constructions made from this kind of concrete forms tend to be energy-saving. The report claims that the forms can save 20% more energy than that consumed in cold climates by wood-frame constructions.
Insulated concrete forms are used in building blocks and freestanding walls.
Econoblock is made from cardboard and waste paper. It has a high thermal insulation and it’s load-bearing and lightweight. It is the same as concrete block and performs to the same standards, only it is much more environment-friendly. The technology was invented during the early years of the 20th century but due to its high cost it couldn’t gain popularity or reach commercialisation. The reason for the high rates was the fact that this construction was originally made from cellulose. However, in 1980s waste paper was used as an alternative and so the idea of the Econoblock was revived. They also experimented with other mixture buildings and materials.
Rammed earth home
The advantage of this material, apart from it being environment-friendly, is that it is free and so far abundant. What’s more, it doesn’t have to be transported, as it is available on every job site. A great drawback is that it requires a specialist who knows how to build constructions using this material. It really is difficult to find craftsmen who can work with dirt.
We hope you find this information worthy. If you are environment-aware and you are planning to build a new construction, either a residential property or a commercial one, you can use some of these materials.
A few weeks ago I sat down with the new owners of EcoInhabit, a wonderful green building business located in Meaford, ON. Tim and Jan Singbeil are passionate about green building and even more than just building energy efficient homes, they are passionate about building healthy, low energy-consuming homes.
At the core of a healthy home is the use of construction materials that are durable, mould and pest resistant and help with the overall air quality. In this case, the preferred building product for Jan and Tim is Durisol blocks. I was really curious about Durisol and I’d wanted to write about it for a few years, but my biggest hesitation was the fact that Durisol, like any insulated concrete form, depends on concrete for its full benefit, and concrete isn’t exactly the green builder’s best friend with all that energy intensiveness built right in. So I looked at Tim and said, “Convince me that Durisol blocks are a green building material.”
Our conversation lasted for over two fascinating hours, and by the time I left, not only was I a believer in Durisol, I was a believer in “healthy buildings” — which is about so much more than constructing energy efficient buildings — it’s about constructing buildings that take some of the toxic burden off our already too chemically-laden bodies.
If you’re not familiar with Durisol Blocks, they are in the family of Insulated Concrete Forms (ICFs), however, ironically, ICF manufacturers don’t consider them a direct competitor — and truth be told, they’re not, because they do so much more than provide a sturdy, well-insulated building. An ICF built foundation has many advantages over a simple poured concrete or block concrete foundation. An ICF consists of a “brick”, like a concrete block, typically made out of styrofoam, and filled with concrete. The advantage of this building system is that it’s easy to assemble, it’s extremely sturdy, it uses less concrete than a traditional foundation, and includes insulation so no additional insulation is necessary. It’s also mould and pest resistant.
Durisol up close.
Durisol blocks, however, go beyond ICFs. They are completely petroleum free being made from 80% recycled soft wood waste that would otherwise end up in landfill and 20% concrete. They kind of look like a concrete brick, only the holes are filled with concrete, once the forms are set in place. Imagine putting a house together like constructing with Lego blocks, and are intended to be for contractors and DIYers alike. Tim told me that learning to build with Durisol can be a bit tricky in the beginning, but that once you get the hang of fitting the blocks together, the process is pretty straightforward.*
Construction: similar to lego blocks, it means that there is no thermal bridging — heat can’t escape through the wood studs which happens in a traditional stick-built home. Buildings are solid and durable. Unlike polystyrene ICFs, which are insulated on the interior and exterior of the concrete, Durisol blocks are insulated with recycled mineral wool on the external side of the block only, allowing the other benefits of Durisol to work.
Thermal mass: because insulation is on the exterior side of the building block, the concrete within the block is able to act as a significant thermal mass which means it can regulate heating, cooling and relative humidity within a building.
In order to perform the way they were intended, Durisol works best without a vapor barrier between the finished walls and the blocks, which means that a breathable finishing coating such as American Clay or limestone are excellent complementary materials to use. There have been studies done showing the benefits of Durisol, but adding a vapor barrier prevents the walls from doing their job. The concrete won’t be able to act as a thermal mass the way it’s intended, and relative humidity won’t be regulated.
Healthy air: Durisol blocks are made with benign materials so there is no off-gassing of any harmful toxins. Further, when built with a breathable wall finish, the structure acts as an extensive relative humidity regulator because of its hygroscopic qualities. For further information on the benefits of breathing walls, Durisol has developed this comprehensive report.
Mould, pest and vermin resistance. Because these blocks are made with 20% cement, they are mould, pest and vermin resistant. Home air stays healthy. Termites aren’t an issue. Neither are hurricanes for that matter. These blocks are so sturdy when filled with concrete, they are “severe weather” proof.
R-value. Durisol makes several different blocks, narrower ones with no insulation that are good for interior walls, and thicker ones with insulation for exterior walls. The smallest block with no insulation has an R-value of 8. The thermal blocks, that is, those containing recycled mineral wool insulation, range in R value between 14 and 28. Unlike a traditional stick-built home, there is no thermal bridging in Durisol homes. For more detailed information on the block’s thermal performance, read here.
What about the concrete issue? So yes, concrete is used in the building of a Durisol-built home. However, because of the other positive properties of Durisol-built homes, and that the concrete industry is constantly working on lowering its carbon footprint, it can be considered a cost of building for the time-being. Whether or not building with concrete is sustainable, well, that’s a whole different question. The sustainability of a building method implies that it can be repeated infinitely without decreasing or degrading future populations’ needs.
Oh, and if you’re wondering if this is some new-fangled green building material, the answer is no. Durisol has been around since 1953, so its buildings have a proven track-record.
Tim and Jan have convinced me of Durisol’s “green” properties, provided the blocks are used they way they are meant, and not just for energy efficiency, but in the construction of a healthy home. Thanks so much for speaking with me Tim and Jan!
For more information on Tim and Jan Singbeil’s company, visit EcoInhabit’s website.
*In an earlier version of this article I explained that Durisol was not a DIY product and that specialists were needed to build properly with it. However, Tim emailed me to let me know that, in fact, Durisol is made for home installment and only on occasion is his building team called in to help with construction involving Durisol.
I was at a presentation, hosted by Upper Canada Forest Products, to hear about the features of Accoya wood. This is a wood product which looks really interesting specifically for any outdoor use. Matt Roberts is the Technical Sales Manager for the Americas for Accoya, and he presented on this product.
The product was introduced in 2007 in The Netherlands. Accoya is a pressure-treated wood, however, it is treated with non-toxic ingredients, and it will last 50 years or more when exposed to outdoor weather elements. The entire wood piece is treated with an acetylation process so that every fiber of the wood is exposed to the acetylation process, not just the outside layer. What that means is that cut ends exposed to harsh weather will stand up just as well as the rest of the wood. The treatment process used actually changes the molecular structure of the wood and makes it more durable. Unlike traditional pressure-treated wood, however, it is completely non-toxic. The chemical used is acetic anhydride, a derivative of acetic acid, which is the base of vinegar. In fact, Matt told us that the wood gives off a faint vinegar smell when it’s being worked with.
Durability: It has an above ground outdoor guarantee of 50 years and a below ground and fresh water guarantee of 25 years. This is a pretty amazing guarantee for a wood product that will be exposed to all the weather elements.
Stability: Because the acetylation process keeps wood from bonding with water, it is hardly affected by the changes in temperature or humidity. In fact, at the beginning of the presentation, Matt put a piece of Accoya and an untreated piece of wood in a small tank of water and measured their ability to absorb moisture over the length of the presentation (about an hour). At the end there was a significant amount of swelling observed in the untreated wood, and barely any in the Accoya wood. Note the measurement was performed by a — I kid you not — “swellometer.”
Insect resistance:, Termites and other insects will stay away from it if there are alternative food choices (ie., other available wood sources), for it to eat.
Finish: The wood comes “rough hewn” and needs to be finished and sanded. Stain and paint last longer on Accoya than on regular untreated wood because of its stability. There is no contracting or expanding, which means paint and stain don’t wear as quickly.
Type of wood used: The wood used is a soft wood called Radiata Pine. It acetylates well which is why Accoya has started out with this wood. Although once it has been treated with this procedure the wood becomes 50% harder than in its original condition.
Decking made from Accoya
FSC certified: The wood used for this treatment is sourced out of well-managed, FSC-certified forests in Chile and New Zealand and treated at the main facility in The Netherlands. Eventually, the company will be licensing out the technology to wood treatment facilities worldwide to make logging, milling and manufacturing close to local markets.
Applications: Accoya is an excellent wood choice for a variety of residential applications: In addition to windows and doors, Accoya can be used for exterior siding, decking, shutters, fences, sound barriers, outdoor furniture…. (Two window and door manufacturers already use Accoya, Bonneville and Dynamic.)
One thing to note: because of the acidic nature of the wood, it was suggested that a few hardware materials such as zinc or galvanized steel be avoided because of their likelihood of being oxidized. Better choices are stainless steel, anodized aluminum, brass, any epoxy or ceramic coated hardware.
Wood frame made from Accoya. Note mitred corners will always remain stable
Cost: The cost of Accoya is the equivalent of a tropical hardwood, however, longevity of the product should be taken into account when considering pricing. This wood is ideal for specialty products with long-term exposure to the elements: windows, doors, shutters, wood trim, etc.
When I first stepped into The Timeless Material Company’s main showroom, I felt that little thrill I get whenever I’ve stumbled on to a place where my imagination can run wild. In this case, the barn that houses some of the many salvaged historical artifacts, holds enough material that I started mentally constructing my new “historical” dream house. “I’ll use this as my front door….here are some stunning lead-paned, diamond shaped windows….I’ll take the claw foot bathtub, and of course, the beautiful, Crane kitchen sink in mint condition.”….my heart sings.
Diamond Shaped Lead Paned Windows
When you look around Timeless Materials’ substantial property you’ll see acres of building material that’s been saved from buildings slated for demolition. In fact, as Ken Kieswetter puts it, “The salvage business was a natural outcome from the demolition business.” You see, Timeless Materials, a salvage business, exists because Ken and his family also own a demolition company, Kieswetter Demolition. Ken saw the potential of all the beautiful old building structures, and now salvages what he can before he takes the building down. They also own a construction company, Timeless Timber Structures, that uses salvaged beams to build timber frame homes.
Restored claw foot bathtubs
Original Crane Enamel Kitchen Sink
In Ken’s mind, new products just don’t hold a candle to the materials of old. “These materials will outlast the new “green” products because there are no glues used and the materials are denser so the products don’t deteriorate at the same rate.” For example, he points out that the wood he salvages is from buildings one hundred years old or more, and therefore from first growth forests. What this means is that wood planks are wider, denser and stronger than wood used for products today. Another thing to keep in mind is that the wood has been “seasoned” — for more than one hundred years in some cases — meaning that it will be little affected by changes in humidity throughout the year.
Timeless Materials has meters and meters of reclaimed wood flooring. They take it from barns, factories, school houses, and whatever other buildings that are destined for demolition. They have maple, clear fir, pine, etc., there are plenty of different flooring options available. All wood flooring is solid, no engineered wood flooring is available — nothing with glues.
Fireplace Mantel Room
As Ken and I toured through the converted barn that holds all these beautiful treasures, he told me about the history of the barn itself. In fact, in the “mantel” room (housing one of their most popular products), Ken tells me that it’s the place where JM Schneider’s grown son was gored by a bull. It’s part of the barn’s history. On the second floor he shows me a winding, narrow staircase and I ask where it’s from, thinking of a “Tara-like” residence on a miniature scale, but it turns out it’s from an old church in Quebec, and the nuns used it. They’d have to be pretty thin because it can’t be more than two feet wide.
Staircase from an 18th Century church in Quebec
When you’re looking at all these products, including windows, doors, stairways, etc., it is the craftsmanship that takes your breath away. The intricate carving and detail that went into these products still stands out today. It’s quite something to see, and even better to incorporate into a new home.
“So,” I asked Ken, “How do people use these pieces?” Ken nodded and said that the most popular item they have are their fireplace mantels, in part because they can be added after a renovation has been done. Of course the best way to incorporate things like the doors, windows, kitchen and bathroom fixtures, is to design around the pieces. That means, pick out the pieces you like first, so visit Timeless Materials with your designer/contractor/architect. Because every piece was made by hand in the old days, sizes aren’t standard. Measurements need to be taken as the design is developed.
Old doors, restored
A variety of flooring including clear fir
Ken has great plans for his property: The building next to the barn is currently being renovated to house a new interior design studio and he’s looking for a registered interior designer to take up residence and run their business out of the space. If you’re a designer, and you have an interest in immersing yourself in the old, while gazing, past the open pasture, at the brand new RIM buildings (filled with plenty of potential customers!), contact Ken Kieswetter at email@example.com.
Timeless Materials -- Acres of Building Materials
For more information on the Timeless Material Company, visit their website. For directions and hours, see below:
For the most part we rely on third party organizations to determine what is and isn't a "green building material." The only time we might not is when products are locally produced or no third party green designation is available for the product.