Going green with alternative building materials

Posted by Woodrow Aames ~ April 19, 2012

Building materials found in nature are not just for flings with green or sustainable trends. In reality, materials made from woods, plant matter and clay have been used successfully for centuries. While the rest of the world is using up materials that are threatened, you can find materials that grow in abundance and renew themselves quickly.

Here's a rundown on materials (old and new) that are finding favor in green building around the globe:


Cob is a generalized term for a building material comprised of straw, clay, cordwood and sand. Is it sustainable? When all the clay and sand is gone from the earth, we'll be done with cob construction. Used all the way back in the 12th Century, cob is especially known for its fire-proof and earthquake resistant properties. You'll find cob structures the world over with thick walls that keep in heat in the winter and cool air in summer. Cobworks (beware: site has horrible music) offers trainings in cob construction.


Bamboo grows to full maturity in five years. It even likes poor soil conditions so long as water is nearby. It's sold as plank, veneer, flooring, wall and ceiling board, and even roofing. Hard as oak, bamboo must be expertly joined if it's to handle loads. Architects in Germany and France are quickly adopting bamboo in their structures. Why shouldn't we?

Reclaimed materials

EcoStar makes slate tiles out of 80% post-industrial recycled plastics, a source that currently seems sadly inexhaustible. The roofing comes with a 50-year warranty. The Building Materials Reuse Association is dedicated to the new art of "building deconstruction", a process through which the siding, joists, and flooring are harvested for re-use.

Cellulose insulation

Cel-Pak insulation is made from 100 percent recycled newspapers. Borates are added to add pest-resistance, mildew-fighting and fire retarding qualities.


Sustainable cork is harvested every nine years in a method that doesn't harm the tree. Sold as tongue-and-groove planks or as glue down sheets, cork is a durable flooring material with a natural resistance to mold and insects.

Strand Board

AdvanTech Oriented Strand Board (OSB) is a product made of engineered wood for use in roofing and walls. The recycled wood is bonded together with a non-VOC resin, rather than with a conventional, toxic adhesive like urea formaldehyde.

While some sustainable alternative materials have yet to gain traction in the American market, prices are consistently more competitive than they were even a few years ago. They deserve a look.

8 Responses to “Going green with alternative building materials”