In Home Design

10 Unique and Innovative Eco Friendly Building Materials

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Eco friendly building materials

So here’s the dirty secret that your contractor doesn’t want you to know: construction is horrible for the environment. You only have to look at the dumpster full of materials outside a job site to see that.

For people looking for more eco friendly building materials, there are several options. Some are new and some are ancient. Many of them, you can source and use quite easily however you may have to get a special contractor for some. 

Make sure that if you want to build using environmentally friendly materials, you find a contractor that will honor that wish.


Bamboo flooring

Bamboo is an eco friendly building material that many consumers are familiar with. While it’s been used for centuries in construction, it became incredibly popular in the last 50 years to the point that you can find bamboo flooring readily at any home store.

You don’t need any special equipment, contractor, or techniques to work with bamboo. And it’s environmentally friendly because bamboo grows incredibly fast to replace what is harvested.

The popularity of bamboo, especially as a green building material, means that it is both readily available and easily affordable. So, for those with smaller budgets, bamboo is an excellent choice for an eco friendly construction material.


Cork flooring

Ah, cork, the darling of the mid-1900s. So many people started to use this in their homes as part of a mid-century modern design. Cork comes from the outside layer of a cork tree, so the tree is not killed as part of the harvest.

This environmental friendly building material has some upsides and downsides. Cork is warmer than most hardwood and vinyl floors so it’s nice in the morning on bare feet.

However, it is getting tough to find in most home stores. Most can order it in special for you though.

You shouldn’t need a specific contractor to put in cork floors. However, they do require some special knowledge so don’t be afraid to ask your contractor ahead of time if they are familiar with laying cork flooring.


Strawbale walls

If you’re like me, when you first heard of using strawbale as a green building material, you were like, “What?!” Strawbale is actually not only a very eco friendly material but it is an old style of home construction.

Essentially, you stack strawbales on top of one another and then use stucco or adobe on top of them. There is far more to it than that to make a good structure but you get the basic idea.

The strawbales are easy on the environment to make and they don’t produce a lot of waste in their construction.

Strawbale is also an environmentally friendly building material in another key aspect: insulation.

There is some really great insulation that results from having walls as thick as a strawbale construction creates. You will definitely need a specific contractor to utilize this particular eco friendly building material.

If you want to use it, I suggest finding a specialist, even if it comes at a higher price.


Mycelium eco friendly building material

Mycelium is the thin, hair-like fibrous roots of fungi. It grows quickly, is compostable, and biodegradable. This means that mycelium as a building material is incredibly eco friendly and renewable.

As it dries, mycelium also becomes resistant to fire and water. This means that homes using this eco friendly building material are also more resistant to nature’s forces. If that wasn’t enough, mycelium has an insulating ability.

Many experiments into using mycelium as an environmentally friendly building material are under way.

Some findings show that mycelium is the ultimate new eco friendly building material based on its strength, usefulness, renewability, and inexpensive nature.

If you are interested in using mycelium products in your building endeavors, your contractor will need to find a recipe that works for your application and be willing to make it.

You also need to be prepared to be flexible. Your contractor will need to be creative and determined to not only source them but also figure out how to use these materials.

Recycled Materials

This eco friendly building material should be obvious, but you would be shocked at how many things can be created from recycled materials.

Most homeowners and contractors aren’t aware of the possibilities and therefore don’t look at these options when building.

Recycled plastic, recycled steel, and recycled glass as building materials

Recycled Plastic

Similar to mycelium, using recycled plastic as an environmentally friendly building material is a science in its infancy. However, there are several good indicators that it is another building material of the future.

The most interesting use for recycled plastic being experimented with is compressed plastic blocks. Imagine giant Lego blocks that houses are made out of. This is going well but we’re a long way from using it on the average home in the United States.

However, some easy to find sources of recycled plastic are windows and decks. Most composite deck boards are made of recycled plastic to some degree. Check out this article on how to choose the perfect composite deck board. 

Vinyl windows also frequently use recycled plastics at this point. Be sure to ask your salesperson how much recycled material is used.

Recycled Steel

Okay, stay with me here. Have you considered building with steel instead of wood? With most of our modern buildings being built from wood, most of us haven’t considered the environmentally friendly material of recycled steel in our designs.

However, you can span longer distances with steel. So that post in the middle of your kitchen or living room? It can go away. The downside to using recycled steel is the price. Steel is always going to be more expensive than wood.

The other downside is the weight. Your architect, contractor, and engineer will need to design for steel posts or beams. If you are going to use this eco friendly building material, you need to specify early on in the design process.

Recycled Glass

Recycled glass is most commonly used in countertop construction for kitchens and bathrooms. It is crushed and then mixed into a resin or quartz mixture to create the final countertop.

Not only are these countertops incredibly environmentally friendly but they are beautiful as well. Because glass comes in a number of different color options, you can find these countertops in any color.

You don’t need a specialist to install these eco friendly countertops but you may need to go to a showroom or a special home store to buy them. And don’t expect to buy them and take them home that day.

Newspaper Wood

Newspaper wood

This one really threw me off at first but when you think about it, newspaper wood makes complete sense.

This eco friendly building material is made by taking individual sheets of newspaper and gluing them together, just like glu-lam beams are made with smaller pieces of wood.

The process of making newspaper wood not only reuses materials readily available but it also makes an incredibly strong material.

You can use newspaper wood just like any normal lumber. Newspaper wood can be cut and assembled like standard wood building materials as well.

Newspaper wood is an unusual building material. Similar to many environmentally friendly building materials on this list, prepare to be flexible with both your budget and your time. Tell your contractor early so that they can plan ahead.

Sheeps Wool

Sheeps wool insulation

I’ve actually had customers in my store ask for sheep’s wool insulation. At first, I thought they were crazy but this is a great eco friendly material for buildings!

Modern sheep that have been bred for their wool have to be sheared, it’s not inhumane. And they’re going to grow that wool anyway, whether we have a use for it or not.

If the sheep absolutely have to be sheared, and there’s only so many wool socks your uncle Tim needs, then we need to do something else with the wool. Sheep’s wool is incredibly insulating! That’s why you like it for your socks after all.

So, there are companies that have turned sheep’s wool into insulation. You get all of the insulating power of wool and the eco friendly material you’ve been looking for.

Of course, it will need to be incredibly thick to reach some of the modern fiberglass capabilities of the high R-30s or R-40s.

But sheep’s wool is a great environmentally friendly construction material! It makes use of a product that may otherwise go to waste.

The hard part about this is sourcing it but Havelock is a decent source for it.. Sheeps wool insulation is slightly more expensive than fiberglass but my research showed very few suppliers for this unusual green building material.



This is definitely a weird material. Ferrock was accidentally created in a chemistry lab. It is made from a mixture of waste steel dust and silica from ground up glass.

The mixture that results sets harder than concrete and is more resistant to high salt, making it perfect for marine applications.

Ferrock is also a much more eco friendly building material because it uses the otherwise wasted materials of recycled glass and steel dust.

However, if the demand becomes too high, we may end up having to “create” more of these waste products which will negate the environmentally friendly aspects of this material.

Regardless of the issues with supply and demand, Ferrock presents numerous possibilities. Being stronger, less material will be needed than concrete. And the source of materials for Ferrock is more environmentally friendly than sourcing Portland cement.


Hempcrete eco friendly building material

Hempcrete is a mixture of hemp and lime binders to make a product similar to concrete. One thing to note is that hempcrete is not strong enough to use in structural applications. However, it is perfect for non-structural walls. There are a few sources for it, including Hempitecture Inc.

Hempcrete is an environmentally friendly building material for another reason though: it has a higher R-value than concrete. This higher insulation means that your home won’t require as many resources for heating and cooling.

You do need a special permit to use hempcrete on your residential building in the United States. Account for this expense and the time to get this permit when planning your building.

Also, because hempcrete can absorb water, the exterior of any application needs to be protected against water.

Rammed Earth

Rammed earth walls

I absolutely love the idea of rammed earth as an eco friendly building material. First off, it’s been in use since ancient times. Second, hulk smash!

To make a rammed earth wall, for example, a formwork is made, damp earth is put inside, and then the mixture is compressed to roughly 50% of its original mass.

This produces an incredibly strong material that can withstand centuries.

Of course, the quality of the final product is dictated by the original material that is used to make it and there’s a lot of variation.

Rammed earth can regulate the temperature of building the same way brick does, by absorbing heat during the day and releasing it at night.

Because they are made of dirt, rammed earth walls are fire resistant, bug resistant, and rot resistant.

Due to the variation based on technique and raw materials, you absolutely need to have an expert contractor if you are planning on using rammed earth. This is one area that you will get what you pay for.

Final Thoughts

There are so many eco friendly building materials that you have tons of options when you are building your home. Some of them are easy to use while others require some specialist knowledge.

The point is, the sky’s the limit when it comes to choosing an environmentally friendly building material. Make sure to ask your contractor if they are comfortable with the material if you have your heart set on it.