Eco Building Materials: Present and Future

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Solar panels on house

Designing and building an eco house, or renovating your property to make it more energy efficient, is a great way to cut down on bills, and not to mention great fun!

More and more people are looking to build their own property today, and the number renovating in an effort to save in the long term is even larger, so why not take advantage of some of the fantastic eco building materials available?

Whether you’re looking for all natural materials or the latest space-age high-tech miracle insulation, eco materials are abundant and brilliant. Here are some of the best:

 

Earth

We have to start the original eco material, rammed earth.

Used by humankind for thousands of years, it’s abundant, pretty easy to work with, and easily repairable.

Depending on where you are around the world, there are obviously differences, from claggy clay to sandy, dusty soil, so it’s probably best to seek some professional advice if you’re planning to build a structural shell.

But there’s nothing stopping you trying things out!

Large rammed earth buildings have such huge thermal masses that tend to stay cool in the hottest of climates, but when well insulted can easily be heated as well.

Great fun, and cheap as chips.

 

Recycled Steel

Like it or not, thousands of tons of steel are cast each year, and with huge emission costs.

However, there is a growing market in recycled steel, and as well as making a great building material it’s roughly one third of the  ecological cost of fresh steel.

Steel is utilized in so many buildings these days, so if you have to, make sure it’s recycled.

 

Polyurethane Rigid Foam (Plant-Based)

Malma Composites are one of the first companies to produce a plant-based polyurethane foam on an industrial scale.

The ex surfboard-shaper-turned-green-entrepreneur at the heart of the company has managed to create a composite that is, in the vast majority, organic, but that is as rigid as engineering plastics.

This new wonder material is being used in everything from turbine blades to fridges to make then ‘greener’.

I’m sure there are lots of uses for this in an eco build, so get creative!

 

Straw Bales

Again, another material that has been used for hundreds of years, but makes more sense today than ever.

With new treatments, straw bales can last decades and run low risks of damp or pests, and packed either side of boards make excellent insulation.

The extra thickness, combined with the many different pockets of insulating air, mean that straw bale houses rival modern materials in insulation ratings, and are usually just as lightweight.

 

Plastic Composite/Recycled Wood

Another modern combination here, with structural beams being made from a mix of recycled plastics and recycled wood fibres, mixed together to create an odd blend of fake wood.

It might not look the nicest of all material, but it’s reasonably priced, very strong and 100% recycled. Perfect for structural frameworks that will later be covered in cladding and painted.

 

Low-E Windows

The E value of a window refers to the emissivity, or – to put it in laymen’s terms – the amount of infrared, and therefore heat energy, it reflects.

The lower the E value, the less IR can get in, therefore keeping your house cooler.

In the same way on the inside,  the coating reflects internal heat back, making the insulation in the house better.

They may be expensive to fit in the first place, anywhere from 20-50% more than standard windows, but in the long term they can easily make their money back, especially if you have a large area of glass.

 

Vacuum Insulation Panel

Here’s something a little space-age to finish the list: Vacuum insulation panels.

Vacuum insulation panels, or VIPs, are still mainly used in refrigeration, but are making their way into the higher end of the construction market nowadays.

They generally consist of a material such as pressed silica that has had all of the air evacuated, surrounded by material to keep this vacuum in tact, and chemical coatings to stop air leaking in.

The inner material contains almost microscopic vacuums inside, making it a supreme insulator and lightweight as well.

It’s obviously very expensive, but shows the path that insulating materials could well take in the future, super efficient and very thin.