Buildings in the U.S. have taken a turn for the better lately. They’ve become more energy efficient and environmentally friendly with organizations like LEED leading the way, and today more than ever it’s become easier to make your own home “green.”
When building green, don’t just aim for a “tight envelope,” or a home that keeps rain and wind out. Look for materials that will better insulate your home, be better for the environment and reduce your energy costs. It’s true, the sustainable, reusable and recycled materials tend to be 20-30% more expensive, but you’ll recover in just a few years when your energy bills drop. Find our seven favorite materials below.
1. Recycled Steel
Look into the Steel Recycling Institute (SRI) for recycled steel. Use customizable pieces to replace wood beams in your framing. Using the reclaimed steel from six scrapped cars is extremely environmentally friendly, saving 40-50 trees that would normally go into the building of your home. Not only are you saving 75% of the energy it would take to make new steel, but you’re saving space in landfills as well.
2. Insulating Concrete Forms
This technology isn’t necessary cutting edge, but recently the 60-year-old technique has gained new momentum. By pouring concrete between two layers of insulating material, you save 20% more energy than a wood frame, especially in colder climates.
3. Plant-based Polyurethane Rigid Foam
We’re excited about this one. America has always been retroactive about treating health problems linked to building materials, but this new tech is proactive in that it makes your and the earth’s health a priority. Made from bamboo, hemp or kelp, this insulation (also makes furniture and more!) is great for chemically-sensitive people and is also high-moisture and high-heat resistant. Added bonuses are its great acoustics, protection against mold and pests and higher thermal resistance (read: cuts down on your power bill).
4. Cooling Roof
Cooling roofs work like wearing a white t-shirt instead of a black one on a hot day. But, what if you could wear the black shirt and remain cool? New innovations in cooling roofs have resulted in materials that can be dark in color and still reflect the sun’s heat back into the atmosphere. Yes, it’s $80 more per square foot, but you’ll quickly recoup that cost on A/C usage on blazing summer days.
5. Structural Insulated Panels
Also known as SIPs, these panels may not look pretty, but they’re pretty amazing. Made from foam insulation sandwiched between plywood, strand board or cement, SIPs can save 50% in energy costs vs. conventional materials. So why isn’t everyone using it? Like we said, they’re not pretty. But now you can finish it to look like wood or stucco and even attach siding, brick and stone to give it an aesthetic.
6. Low-E Windows
If you don’t have double-paned windows, don’t worry. Replace your storm windows with low-e windows and save tons on heating this winter. They have a thin, clear coating of metal oxide to keep heat in and the cold out, and though they’re 10-15% more, they’ll save you 10-20% on your bill.
7. Hemp Houses
You read that right. They’re now making houses entirely out of hemp mixed with lime and water. This is a brand new technology still in prototype form and not yet in the U.S., but one to keep an eye out for. Not only are these houses sustainably constructed, but the material itself absorbs carbon dioxide and releases nitrogen back into the earth. In some tests it has saved homeowners 90% on their energy bills (they’re paying less than $100 a month. Total!). And while these homes give back to the earth, they also keep your health in mind. They’re non-toxic, mildew-resistant, pest-free, flame resistant and chemical-free. We can’t say enough good things about hemp homes and can’t wait for them to join our market.
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