Home

15 Green building materials for an eco-conscious home

cabin in the woods in fall

What do mushrooms, old tires and straw have in common? They’re all green building materials that you can use for your home. Sustainable architecture uses natural or recycled materials to create more eco-efficient homes, which can help lower your energy bills and (in some cases) the cost of your home insurance policy.

While many of these structures look modern, most green buildings are made of simple materials that can also be found in stone castles, Hobbit homes and bamboo treehouses. 

Read on to discover 15 green building materials you can use in home construction today and how to insure your green home, or jump to our infographic to discover sustainable architecture trends in action! 

Green building materials

Green building is construction that primarily uses natural materials and renewable resources. These structures look really cool but also feature design benefits such as thermal efficiency and safety features. 

Keep in mind that the materials you use will impact your home insurance policy. Forward-thinking home insurers may cut your bill as much as 5 to 10 percent if you use natural building practices to reduce your home’s energy consumption, but it can be hard to get insurance for quirky dwellings, if they can be insured at all. 

Find out more about these natural resources, their benefits and considerations for home insurance for each type below.

1. Stone

Living in a stone structure is low maintenance and eco-friendly, and any extra stone leftover from the build can be used for home finishings such as countertops or tile. 

Building with stone doesn’t release harmful chemicals or toxins into the interior of your home, and because it occurs naturally, you don’t need any other resources to create the material itself. Because stone is stunning on its own, you’ll also save on paint and finish, and the reliability of stone structures makes it an easy building to insure. 

Benefits of stone: 

  • Low maintenance: Stone requires little maintenance and cleaning over time, so upkeep costs for homeowners will be low. 
  • Durable: This material works well in various climates, is fire-resistant and should fare well during a natural disaster. 

2. Cob

If you want to build your own eco-friendly home, cob is a natural material that is easy to work with, even for beginners. Cob is a mud mixture made of multiple natural ingredients such as soil, sand, straw and sometimes even lime. 

Homes constructed using cob tend to look whimsical and enchanting, resembling the Hobbit homes from Lord of the Rings. Cob houses do take longer to construct than traditional builds, and you’ll also want to monitor the humidity in your cob home to prevent mold and related health problems. 

Most home insurers consider cob homes high-risk, so it may be more difficult to obtain coverage from traditional carriers. 

Benefits of cob:

  • Cheap: Building a home made of cob can end up being nearly one-tenth of the cost of a traditional build.
  • Energy-efficient: Cob homes slow down the rate of heat transfer, which helps to regulate their internal temperature, in turn letting homeowners save on monthly electric bills. 

3. Bamboo

Ever dreamed of living in a bamboo treehouse? If so, you might be on to something. While the idea of using bamboo as a construction material is nothing new — humans have been doing this for centuries — this unique wood is resurging in popularity thanks to its eco-friendly qualities and dreamy bohemian design. 

The strength and look of bamboo can help you achieve a distinctive style to make your home stand out. It’s also one of the fastest-growing plants on the planet, so it’s more sustainable than most! Because home insurers classify bamboo homes as frame construction by home in, insurance rates are higher than other builds, such as stone and adobe, due to fire concerns. 

Benefits of bamboo:

  • Durable: Bamboo has greater tensile strength than steel, and can withstand compression better than concrete. 
  • Lightweight: Bamboo is easy and cheap to transport to a construction site thanks to its hollow sections, saving money during the build. 

4. Cork

Cork isn’t just good for keeping your wine fresh — it’s also a great insulator for home construction. This sustainable material has been used in construction in Europe (and space!) for many years but is beginning to gain traction in the U.S. as well. Because 50 percent of cork cell volume consists of air, cork is one of the lightest solid substances.

Cork comes from cork oak trees, which are mainly harvested in Europe (in fact, nearly 60 percent of all cork oak tree production is in Portugal). Harvesting cork is done by hand, and the bark can be removed without killing the tree! 

A home built using cork insulation will likely be classified as a frame home, so while you can obtain insurance, you should expect to pay more than you would for other building classifications. 

Benefits of cork:

  • Thermal insulation: Cork is one of the best materials in the world for thermal insulation due to its air cushion design. 
  • Mold-resistant: Its impermeable yet porous nature helps make cork resistant to mold and mildew.  

5. Adobe brick

Another ancient and eco-friendly building material that’s still used today is adobe brick. Popular in the Americas and Middle East, adobe bricks are made of clay and straw. And, like other natural materials, adobe insulation helps keep home temperatures consistent.

This architecture style is especially popular in the Southwestern United States. Most home insurance companies typically categorize adobe homes as masonry construction, meaning that the building material is considered noncombustible, and thus easy to insure. 

Benefits of adobe brick:

  • Low sound transmission: Homeowners can enjoy natural noise protection, which can be an important selling point when a house is located near a busy street or bustling business center. 
  • Unique design: Because the sun-dried mud bricks can be easily cut and transformed, architects can also get creative with shapes and angles when designing adobe homes. 

6. Straw bale

While some may scoff at the idea, straw is another natural material that can be used as wall foundation in construction, although finding an insurer to cover the home will be difficult because of structural concerns (but not impossible: some insurers will!)

Once built, straw bale homes are typically finished with plaster. Interestingly, some studies suggest that this plaster actually makes straw bale homes more fire-resistant than traditional builds. This unique natural build is affordable and sustainable, but be wary of pests and potential allergens. 

Benefits of straw bale:

  • Easily renewable: Straw is found in abundance on farms and in communities across the U.S., making it even more eco-friendly than other renewable sources. 
  • Cheap: Because straw is so readily available, building a home with this material is extremely cost-effective. 

7. Cordwood

If you’re looking for a cozy cottage, you might want to consider cordwood construction. This spin on a log cabin is made up of anywhere from 40 to 60 percent wood, which is chopped into evenly sized logs. The rest of the build material is a mortar mix to provide insulation. 

While you can build a cordwood home without hiring a general contractor, problems may arise when you try to obtain insurance and don’t have the correct permits. Make sure you’re building your home in compliance with masonry home requirements and you shouldn’t have a problem getting insurance from most carriers. 

Benefits of cordwood: 

  • Affordable: Cordwood is known for its low cost. In fact, cordwood masonry was popular during the Great Depression because of its cheap and easy construction.
  • Thermal efficiency: When done correctly, cordwood homes can have great insulation both from the heat and cold, and can be easily adapted for passive solar home design.

8. Earth bags

Also known as sandbags, this natural material is made of (mostly) earth that is then filled into bags and piled on top of each other in a method similar to bricklaying. Earth bag homes, or rammed earth homes, typically begin in a trench and are built up from there, and then finished with a plaster, like stucco or adobe. 

Because earth bag homes are considered alternative buildings, some of the biggest challenges around these structures are the legality and permits needed for construction, along with finding an insurer willing to cover your home. 

Benefits of earth bags:

  • Insulation: Earth bag homes filled with lightweight materials (such as rice hulls or crushed volcanic stone) and provide natural insulation, which is better for the homeowner’s health.
  • Locally sourced: Since these homes are made of bags of earth, you can (and should!) use local earth for the natural mixture to make the build as eco-conscious as possible.

9. Mycelium

The future is fungi! Mycelium, or mushroom roots, grow in abundance throughout the earth, and can be transformed into building bricks using their root-like fibers. Mycelium is fast-growing and fully organic, and its use as a natural material is part of a larger movement by some architects to create cities that are living, breathing organisms. 

But this new technology hasn’t become mainstream yet – so, you can’t live in (or insure) one just yet.

Benefits of mycelium: 

  • Strong: Mycologists have found that mycelium can be stronger than concrete.
  • Lightweight: Mycelium is easy to transport, which could mean lower costs for homeowners once it becomes more widespread. 

Recycled building materials

Unlike natural building materials, recycled ones aren’t necessarily renewable, but they are given a chance at new life. Also known as circular construction, this type of building diverts waste from landfill to reuse as structural building blocks. 

Using recycled materials in construction is becoming so common that in Europe, they are now building “material banks,” or structures where they can hold recycled building materials until they can be reused. 

Read on to learn more about common recycled materials used in home construction today. 

10. Earth-packed tires  

A niche home construction design known as earthship homes relies on recycled tires filled with earth bags for insulation. While this architecture may be difficult to insure in certain areas of the country due to its unconventional design, some states, such as New Mexico, are open to the idea – and even have their own earthship communities. 

Benefit of earth-packed tires:

  • Natural energy: Earthships are popular off-grid dwellings because they can provide their own cooling and heating properties, eliminating the need for electricity. 
  • Versatility: You can design your earthship to be an unusual shape, such as a dome, that eliminates the need for traditional roofing and extra construction materials.

11. Upcycled plastic 

Every day, nearly 8 million pieces of plastic go into the ocean. Plastic is terrible for wildlife and the environment when it’s cast away as waste, but recycled plastic sheets and plastic lumber may provide sustainable building solutions with less impact. It’s worth noting that plastic builds are generally considered non-standard properties, making home insurance more difficult to obtain. 

Benefits of upcycled plastic:

  • Speed: Recycled plastic bricks can be laid much faster than brick, piled in a LEGO-like fashion. 
  • Nontoxic: While traditional lumber must be sprayed with preservative sealant that contains toxins, plastic polyethylene doesn’t need to be. 

12. Shipping container scraps

Old shipping containers can be transformed into new construction that is cost-effective, durable and pest-proof. It’s hardly a surprise they are a popular choice for the tiny home movement. However, in order to turn a shipping container into a cozy home, you’ll need to ensure proper insulation so that it is energy efficient. 

While steel homes are cheaper to insure than most other builds, shipping container homes can be difficult to obtain home insurance for, because it’s hard for insurers to determine if the home was built to code. 

Benefits of shipping containers:

  • Room to grow: When you’re ready to renovate, you can easily expand upon your home by adding another shipping container.
  • Transportable: Relocating is easy, too! Shipping containers were designed for transport, so your home can come with you if you decide to change ZIP codes. 

13. Steel rods 

Reusing steel has been especially successful in construction. Today when a building is demolished, 98 percent of structural steel is recycled rather than tossed in landfills. Rebar steel, which comes from iron, is used to reinforce a structure during construction similar to bamboo. 

Because this is such a popular material in construction, you shouldn’t have problems getting building permits or home insurance. In fact, steel-framed homes are cheaper to insure than those with wood frames. 

Benefits of steel rods:

  • Abundant: Steel is the most recycled building material, making it easily accessible for homeowners.
  • Strong: Steel is a popular reinforcement for all types of construction due to its strength, so this material can withstand natural disasters. 

14. Newspaper wood

Did you know that paper accounts for 25 percent of landfill waste? Dutch company Newspaper Wood is revolutionizing the life cycle of some paper products by turning them back into a wood grain texture. You can’t use this product for walls or flooring, but try it for furniture and decor, like lamps. 

Benefits of newspaper wood:

  • Texture: Once you sand the soft fiber, you can leave newspaper wood unfinished, saving costs and resources.
  • Readily available: Since newspapers are overproduced, you’ll probably never run out of material to use.

15. Recycled glass

Glass is another building material that’s easy to reuse: Today, about 27 percent of manufactured glass is recycled. Mixing recycled glass with fly ash creates a concrete-like substance perfect for blocks, panels or construction molds. 

You can transform any excess glass into countertops, backsplash, tile and even colorful pebbles for your yard called glass mulch. Structures made with recycled glass are considered non-traditional, making them harder to insure. 

Benefits of recycled glass:

    • Reduce pollution: Opting for recycled glass in place of traditional glass reduces related water pollution by 50 percent and air pollution by 20 percent.
    • One-of-a-kind design: You can achieve an iridescent aesthetic using recycled beer bottles and drinking glasses made from green and amber glass.

Insuring your green home 

You likely won’t run into trouble insuring homes made of common green materials, such as stone or recycled steel, but more alternative structures can be harder to find coverage for. Insurers are especially mindful of the structural integrity of your home and how it will fare in a natural disaster, like a fire or storm. 

Here are some tips for getting dwelling coverage: 

  • Be ready to negotiate: The more unconventional your home is, the more risky your insurer could find it. Come prepared to negotiate and defend your building method and materials to show why your structure is durable and safe. 
  • Know the specifics of your home: Come prepared with details about your home, including information on the replacement cost of your natural build and your fire safety information. Rather than detailing all the oddities of your construction, point out where your build used traditional methods to achieve strength and durability.  
  • Shop around to find an insurer familiar with your build: Doing your homework can save you money. Rather than opting for the first company that approves your build, talk to multiple insurance carriers to find one who has worked with your dwelling type before. 

Using green materials in your home design can help you reduce your carbon footprint, improve your health and wellness – and even up your overall happiness. It can also put money back in your wallet each month, as forward-thinking home insurers across the U.S. are rewarding homeowners for green home builds and smart energy techniques. 

For even more green building inspiration, check out our infographic below! 

Infographic

The ZebraResource Center