Sustainable construction materials are building materials made from recycled products and resources that can be replenished in a relatively short amount of time. There are many types of sustainable construction materials, often referred to as green building products. Lumber, stone, metal and paper are materials that can be recycled and re-used as building products. Bamboo, cork, straw and even coconut are examples of construction products that can be renewed quickly.
Reclaimed lumber is the most widely used recycled material used for green building. Lumber is taken from old structures, treated and re-sized for use on other projects. Using reclaimed lumber preserves timber and saves energy because fewer resources are used to recycle the lumber than would be used to harvest, treat, plane and transport new lumber. Recycled lumber can be more expensive than first-use lumber because of the costs associated with reclaiming and treating it. Reclaimed lumber can also contain chemicals from previous treatments, which might be harmful to the environment.
Nearly any natural materials, including stone, metal and concrete, can be reclaimed and used as sustainable construction materials. The advantages and disadvantages of using them are similar to those related to using reclaimed lumber. One of the biggest concerns with using recycled natural products is the presence of volatile organic compounds (VOCs). VOCs can be present in the reclaimed materials as a result of things such as paints, stains and other chemical treatments, especially those applied before stricter environmental standards were in place.
Easily renewable products such as bamboo and cork are becoming more common as sustainable construction materials. Bamboo is a fast-growing plant that is being used more frequently in sustainable building designs. It replenishes quickly because of its rapid growth cycle and is versatile in its application. Bamboo is used most frequently as flooring and to reinforce concrete. More and more homes and building are being constructed from bamboo.
Cork also is gaining popularity as a sustainable construction material. Harvesting cork requires the removal of the bark from the tree but does not require that the entire tree be cut down. Cork makes a flooring material that is becoming more common in residences around the world.
There are many innovations being made in sustainable construction materials. Homes made of bales of straw are being built, as are structures constructed entirely of recycled rubber tires. Some buildings have even been built using glass bottles or cans. Baked earth and clay and new concrete forms are also being used more often as sustainable construction materials.