Sustainability has become a higher priority for consumers. The effects of climate change have become more apparent, so people are trying to make changes in their lives to be more eco-friendly. One way they can be more environmentally conscious is to examine how building materials affect the environment. This list will show three housing materials that harm the environment and three more sustainable alternatives.
What Housing Materials Can Harm the Environment?
Since 1975, the number of housing units in the United States has steadily risen annually, with about 142 million units as of 2021. Unfortunately, many of these units contain these three materials that negatively impact the environment.
Steel is a common material used for construction because of its strength and durability. Developers often use steel because it has many advantages. For example, it can bind well to concrete, and it’s generally an affordable material. However, the carbon emissions of steel are why it ended up on this part of the list.
Steel is a primary component of buildings. You can also see it in cars, silverware, appliances and other everyday items. Steelmaking produces about 2 billion tons of the alloy, accounting for nearly 8% of all Earth’s carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. Most of the world’s steel uses iron or coal in its production. There are worldwide efforts to decarbonize steel, but its production is now harmful to the environment.
2. Asphalt Shingles
Imagine what the roof of a house looks like. You’re likely to picture shingles overlapping on a slanted rooftop. There are different types of shingles you’ll see on rooftops, with asphalt being the most popular. They’re affordable, easy to install and widespread across the country. Unfortunately, they can have a negative environmental impact.
One problem with asphalt shingles is that they’re not durable. Storms with high-powered winds can damage these shingles and knock them off the roof into the ground. Homeowners often throw them away, leading to many asphalt shingles in landfills. They can take between 300 and 400 years to decompose because of their density. They take up a lot of room and can be carcinogenic to water supplies.
Concrete is another prominent building material that is harmful to the environment. It’s one of the most widely used materials in the world, as many countries use concrete for sidewalks, driveways and commercial and residential buildings. However, like steel, its CO2 emissions are among the most detrimental to the planet.
Concrete is one of the worst polluters among building materials. Experts say it’s the culprit of nearly 8% of the planet’s CO2 emissions, close to steel and behind oil, coal and gas. Most CO2 emissions come during the manufacturing process because it requires a lot of resources.
People use concrete because it appears to be strong. When hurricanes threaten the coasts, residents use concrete as the base of floodwalls. But they become a liability once they wear down. Also, concrete strains groundwater systems people use for irrigation and drinking water.
What Housing Materials Can Help the Environment?
Sustainability is on many peoples’ minds, so building materials are one way they can make a positive difference. These three materials show that sustainability in housing is possible and doesn’t compromise the quality.
4. Recycled Wood
Wood is among the most sustainable materials you can use for building a house. It’s a reliable renewable resource that requires much less energy than concrete or steel. The primary issue with wood comes from deforestation. Companies worldwide have destroyed ecosystems because they want timber and other resources from trees.
One solution people have used to combat deforestation is to use recycled wood. This lumber is cheaper than new pieces of wood, and they’re more eco-friendly. Buying reclaimed wood means less demand for new timber. Another benefit of this lumber is that it’s typically stronger than new timber because it’s dryer.
5. Solar Shingles
Asphalt shingles can be problematic for homeowners, especially when bad weather strikes. And when you dispose of them, they continue to be an issue for landfills. One alternative is to use solar shingles instead.
Solar shingles, otherwise known as solar tiles, protect houses from elements like rain, snow and fire. They’re more durable than asphalt shingles, and they’re more energy-efficient. Solar tiles work like solar panels, but they occupy much less space. They offer eco-friendly incentives like solar power for the home, which can significantly reduce the amount of electricity consumed.
Bamboo is a building material that has become more popular in construction in recent years. You may see it on floors, walls and countertops. People have used bamboo since ancient times because it’s sturdy and lightweight. Its resistance to fire and powerful storms make it a functional building material. Bamboo’s harvest cycle only takes about three years compared to 25 or more for most wood, so using it can help combat deforestation.
Building With Greener Materials
The effects of climate change have become more daunting in recent years. Storms like hurricanes are more potent because of rising ocean temperatures. These issues have caused people to think about sustainability. People can be more environmentally conscious by avoiding these three materials that harm the environment and replacing them with the three that help the planet.
Olivia Elsher is a Senior Writer & Editorial Manager of Sustainable Construction at Renovated. She has 5+ years of experience writing about eco-friendly construction methods and practices.