The Importance of Green Building Materials for New Homes and Remodels
When most people consider what makes a house sustainable or “green,” we probably think about issues related to energy efficiency and improved thermal performance, and for good reason. The U.S. Department of Energy reports that the residential sector accounts for about 21 percent of total U.S. energy consumption. Of that amount, around half of that energy is devoted to space heating and cooling alone. Thus, finding ways to reduce the energy requirements of our home is certainly an elemental aspect of sustainable home construction.
But what about the actual building materials that go into our homes?
The average home is constructed from dozens, sometimes hundreds, of different raw materials. All those materials are mined/sourced, manufactured, and transported before eventually being utilized in the construction process of your custom home. A focus on using green building materials is another important, though sometimes overlooked, aspect of sustainable home construction. Below, we take an in-depth look at why green building materials are so important to the construction of a sustainable home. We then detail some of the different green building materials that Conrado Home Builders uses for their new homes and remodels.
The Importance of Sourcing Green Building Materials
It is commonplace to measure and reduce our carbon footprint in order to do our part to stop global climate change. Our carbon footprint is the total amount of greenhouse gasses (including carbon dioxide and methane) we generate with our actions. In the specific case of our homes, the carbon footprint of the houses we live in is determined by the efficiency levels of our homes’ different systems, the size of our home, the quality of building envelope and insulation of your house, the type of power we rely on, and other related factors.
Less understood, however, is the issue of the embodied energy footprint of our homes. The International Journal of Sustainable Built Environment defines embodied energy as “the total amount of energy consumed during the production of a residential or commercial building.”
To consider the embodied energy footprint of your home, think about all the different raw materials and products that went into the final product of your finished home. The marble in your bathroom countertops most likely required an enormous expense of energy through the mining process. That same marble, if sourced from a mine in Europe, also had to be transported great distance at a further energetic cost. The 2x4s, plywood, cedar siding, and wood flooring throughout your home also came with substantial energy requirements along the supply chain. The high efficiency insulation, which improves the energy efficiency and thermal performance of your home, also required enormous inputs of energy.
Calculating the Energy Held Within Finished Homes
To calculate the embodied energy footprint of a home, we need to consider all of the energy used during:
- The mining, extracting, sourcing, and other forms of acquisition of natural resources;
- The manufacturing and other industrial processes that are required to turn raw resources into practical and functional building elements;
- The transportation of those building components from their source of origin to the building site;
- All of the energy used throughout the process of constructing the house.
Viewed through this lens, it should be apparent that there is an enormous amount of energy embodied in the finished products of homes. In fact, one recent study on the environmental impact of building materials finds that “improved operational energy efficiency has increased the percentage of embodied energy in the total life cycle of building structures.”
More energy efficient homes generally require more materials. For example, thicker insulation and airtight building envelopes will certainly lower your home´s heating and cooling loads, though they will also require more materials than traditionally-built homes. Triple-pane windows obviously use more glass than other types of windows, though they can also play an important role in reducing unwanted heat loss and heat gain.
Why Should Homeowners Worry About the Energy of Building Materials?
A 2012 study titled “The Greenest Building: Quantifying the Environmental Value of Building Reuse determined that it might take anywhere between 10 to 80 years for an energy-efficient new construction to offset the negative climate change impacts associated with the embodied energy of the building process.
Fortunately, by opting for green building materials, we can drastically reduce the embodied energy footprint of our homes. Here at Conrado Home Builders, we believe wholeheartedly that green building starts with an understanding that the resources we use is an essential part of reducing the environmental impact of our lives and livelihoods. Our custom homes and luxury remodels can certainly help to improve the operational efficiency of your home. At the same time, our focus on using the highest quality green building materials can also help to reduce the embodied energy footprint of your homes.
Types of Green Building Materials Used by Conrado Home Builders
Every custom home that we build or renovate will have unique features that involve different building materials. However, we make every possible effort to source the greenest building materials based on the combination of the homeowner´s preferences and vision, the local availability of different types of green building materials, and our building team’s expertise on how to lower the environmental impact of the house. Below, we briefly mention some of the different green building materials that we might work with on the luxury custom homes we build.
Walls, Ceilings, and Framing
- Recycled-content drywall: We also prioritize certain manufacturers of drywall panels that are made from a higher percentage of recycled materials.
- Recycled plywood: We also use plywood and other framing materials made from recycled content. All of our plywood, 2x4s, and other manufactured wood products have zero added formaldehyde to protect your home´s indoor air quality.
- FSC-certified wood: We almost always choose wood flooring (and other wood products) that is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council. FSC-certified wood ensures that timber is harvested in an environmentally sustainable way that is also socially beneficial.
- Recycled glass: We can use recycled glass for unique, customized countertops, and even wall and floor tiles.
- Salvaged wood: Salvaged and reclaimed wood can offer a beautiful, vintage touch to both exterior cladding and interior decoration options.
- Mineral wool insulation: Melted down basalt stone and recycled slag from steel mills can be spun into fiber and formed into batts and board.
- Shredded cellulose insulation: Shredded newspaper and shredded blue jeans can be treated with healthy/natural fire retardants for an excellent insulation material that comes with a low embodied energy footprint.
- Shredded denim: Shredded blue jeans and other cloth materials also make good pour-in insulation for attic spaces.
- Recycled metal: High quality metal roofing panels made from recycled aluminum, steel, copper, etc.
- Clay tile: Roofing tiles made from clay consist of baked natural earth ores. They can often be locally sourced and contain no chemicals.
The Legendary Quality of Conrado Home Builders
Green building materials play an extremely important role in helping homeowners reduce the total environmental footprint of their homes. Not only can the use of green building materials reduce the embodied energy footprint of the structure, but they are also generally healthier options that protect your indoor air quality. By opting for local building materials, Conrado also helps to strengthen the local economy.
When you invest in the quality of a home built by Conrado Home Builders, you are also reducing the long-term environmental impact of that home. A home that is built to last 100+ years will have half the footprint of a home that only lasts fifty years. The math is simple.
When you choose to work with Conrado Home Builders for your new custom home or luxury remodel, you can rest assured that we will help you select the healthiest and most environmentally friendly green building materials to suit your project. We know that quality-built homes require good building science and thoughtfully selected building materials. Legendary quality is our hallmark, and the use of sustainable building materials is what allows us to deliver custom homes that will last a lifetime.
Contact Conrado Home Builders today and speak with our home building team.