If you’re thinking about hiring a remodeling contractor to help with work on your home, one of your concerns may be how your project impacts the environment. No matter what type of home renovation project you plan to take on, there are ways to ensure the work you do is sustainable and eco-friendly.
One way to lessen the negative impact you’ll have on the environment is to choose sustainable building materials to complete your home remodel. You shouldn’t attempt to DIY complicated home renovation projects, especially if you plan to use sustainable materials you’ve never worked with before.
When you work with a contractor on your project, simply mention that you’d like to achieve a sustainable space. Your contractor should have some sustainable home upgrade and remodeling ideas to help bring your vision to life. The contractor may suggest working with sustainable materials, including some of the materials discussed below.
1. Rammed Earth
When dirt is compressed and tamped down in wooden frames, it creates a material referred to as rammed earth. Machines usually do the tamping, making for quick manufacturing.
Most builders use bamboo or rebar to reinforce rammed earth and ensure it holds its shape. This material can be used for walls to give the look and feel of concrete.
Since it doesn’t require manmade materials or chemicals, it’s more sustainable material than concrete. It’s also biodegradable, making it a good choice if you want your building materials to make a smaller footprint. The cost for a rammed earth home varies depending on size and complexity but is generally about $400 to $700 per square meter.
2. Straw Bale
The first home built from straw bales was erected in Nebraska in 1896 or 1897. Nowadays, you wouldn’t build your house strictly out of straw bales. However, this material is used as an effective choice for home insulation that doesn’t involve manufactured materials or chemicals.
Straw bales can be used to replace traditional and less sustainable materials, such as concrete, plaster, or fiberglass. When used as insulation, they must be completely sealed to ensure they’re watertight and to keep the home warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer.
The cost to build with straw bale varies depending on accessibility and building codes. For example, in southern Oregon, it costs about $150 per square foot to build with straw bale.
The interior fibers of a hemp plant are similar to wood and when they’re bound together with lime and compressed, they make blocks similar to concrete. Chemicals and other manmade components aren’t needed for these materials, making them more sustainable and better for the environment.
HempCrete is also lighter than concrete blocks but still just as strong. This lightness makes it easier to use them in remodeling projects and less costly to transport. It generally costs a little more to build with HempCrete than regular concrete and you can expect to pay an additional $60 per square foot.
Bamboo is becoming an increasingly popular all-natural material used to create musical instruments, toothbrushes, drinking straws, and even bedsheets. This plant can also replace traditional building materials as a more sustainable way to tackle remodeling projects. It grows fast so it’s easy to replace and is lightweight yet durable.
You can use bamboo to frame a housing project instead of rebar or concrete. Bamboo is especially sustainable when it’s used to build homes in areas where it’s abundant. This eliminates the need to transport these materials overseas or across the country, saving additional resources.
Costs for bamboo are lower when building in an area where the plant is abundant. Design can be tricky and professionals may charge between 2% and 4% of the home’s value when designing.
5. Recycled Plastic
Recycled plastic isn’t necessarily a renewable resource but it’s an environmentally beneficial way to reuse waste. Instead of ending up in a landfill, recycled plastic can be ground down and compressed to create a strong building material.
Costs for recycled plastic building materials are generally higher than traditional materials. For example, composite decking made from recycled plastics costs about double what a wood deck would cost in materials.
Grasscrete decreases the use of concrete and is created by laying down concrete with open areas of grass. When walkways, driveways, and other paved areas implement a Grasscrete design instead of solid concrete, it allows for better drainage in the area.
This pattern also demands less concrete be manufactured, minimizing negative impacts on the environment, including less greenhouse gas emissions. Grasscrete is generally more expensive to install than other grass systems but may offer more durability and less maintenance.
If remodeling a home using only solid wood doesn’t appeal to you, consider cordwood instead. Similar to log cabin construction, this material is made up of mostly wood chopped into logs but also uses mortar mix to hold these pieces together. The combination of wood with mortar mix ensures a tight seal and efficient insulation in the home.
Since the home isn’t built completely from concrete or mortar mix, it’s more sustainable for the environment. Cordwood eliminates the need for extensive manufacture or transportation of concrete slabs for projects. The cost for cordwood depends on your location and availability but is generally between $2.66 and $6 per square foot.
The roots of mushrooms and other fungi plants are combined with ground straw, then compressed and given time to dry. Once they’re dry, the mycelium makes lightweight-yet-strong building materials similar to bricks.
Mycelium is a sustainable building material since it’s all-natural, yet scientists have proven it’s stronger than concrete, fireproof, and nontoxic. If you have access to mycelium, this building material may be inexpensive. However, you’ll need to hire professionals to help create the material and assist with structural design.
To use earthbags in construction, bags are filled with dirt or sand, then stacked on top of one another to create structures. To finish these structures, stucco or adobe seals the cracks.
They’re used as all-natural insulation in a home, eliminating the need to manufacture insulation materials. Earthbags can be created from locally sourced materials, eliminating the need for extensive transportation. The cost for construction depends on your project, but remodeling with earthbags may cost roughly $15 per square foot.
10. Adobe Brick
Clay and straw are combined and dried to create sturdy adobe bricks, which don’t require additional materials or manufacturing. These bricks are stacked for construction and create natural insulation and soundproofing.
They’re also fireproof, airtight, and allow homeowners to achieve a southwestern-style design. Cost depends on the complexity of the project but may be between $55 to $85 per square foot.
11. Recycled Glass
Glass can be combined with fly ash, a byproduct of pulverized coal, to create sturdy material that’s similar to concrete. This material can be placed into molds to create large panels that are used for unique and sustainable construction.
Using recycled materials for remodeling saves energy on the processes that create new materials. It also ensures glass that’s thrown out doesn’t end up in landfills or oceans.
12. Shipping Containers
Retired shipping containers can be turned into additions, sheds, or tiny homes. Reusing these containers in remodeling projects saves space in the landfill and reduces the materials you’ll need to complete the job.
If you plan to incorporate a shipping container as part of your living space, you’ll need to install insulation first. The cost for a shipping container depends on its size and condition and usually averages between $1,400 to $5,000.
When you use sustainable materials for construction or remodeling, it’s important to understand the building maintenance that’s needed to keep it functioning. In some cases, you may need to reseal materials or simply continue checking for any cracks in the structural integrity of the project.
By opting for sustainable materials, you’re lowering your negative impact on the environment while achieving a unique and eco-friendly remodel.