Editorial Feature

Building Materials for a Cleaner Home

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The term building material refers to any material used for constructing structures and buildings. This can include both natural materials like rocks, lime, clay, sand, wood, leaves, and twigs, and synthetic materials like asbestos, PVC, urethane, composites, vinyl, polymer etc.

Today, there is an increased awareness of the effect building materials can have on the indoor environment, as traditional building materials and unhealthy indoor air can lead to asthma, allergies, and a host of health problems. Therefore, the demand for green buildings is growing exponentially.

Not all natural materials are necessarily safe. For example, asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral and is used as a key building material for roofing, flooring and insulation purposes, but it is also highly toxic and has been banned in many countries.

On a wider scale, the use of building materials is divided into certain specialty trades, such as roofing and ceilings, carpentry, insulation, waterproofing, plumbing work, and paving/flooring. Electrical works, water supply and sanitary fittings, and fire fighting system are also included.

All of these include innovative construction technologies and products that respond and adapt to the changing requirements of home owners.

Materials Used for Green Building

There are many products that are used as building materials: bricks, pavers, aggregates, roofing materials, and precast concrete elements, to name a few. The construction sector relies largely on depletable resources, and the production of such building materials can make an irreversible impact on the environmental.

Eco-friendly products are the best materials to use when constructing a building, as they do the least possible damage to the environment. Some eco-friendly materials include recycled products; reclaimed or recycled wood, composite decking and railing; windows with low-emissivity (low-E) glazings; structural insulated panels, and photovoltaic panels.

Cleaner homes can be achieved using alternative building materials, like eco-friendly concrete, jute/fiber, clay, sand, lime, etc. over traditional building materials. In addition to these building materials, pre-fabricated roof trusses, formaldehyde-free furniture/cabinets, stain and seal floors with water-based products, carpet padding free of pesticides and other toxic chemicals, and non-VOC paints go a long way to ensure a cleaner home.

Eco-friendly Concrete

Traditional concrete is known to release large amounts of carbon into the atmosphere. Scientists have developed a new form of eco-friendly concrete that effectively absorbs carbon dioxide as it hardens.

This concrete uses a different raw material, magnesium sulfate, which does not need much heating. It is suggested that each ton of this new cement can absorb up to 0.6 tons of CO2.


Jute and allied fibers have attracted a great deal of interest as reinforcing materials in the composite sector for low-cost housing applications. These materials are renewable, eco-friendly, and have high specific stiffness and strength. Interspersed fibers also prevent large fissures and reduce cracks.


Clay is a fine particle ingredient in an earthen mix. Based on its plasticity, clay is classified into many types - from sticky “gumbo” clay to kaolinite, also known as mortar or fire clay.

The clay can be dried in air and sun and then crushed and remixed with water for building purposes.


Lime contains calcium carbonate (CaO3), which emits carbon dioxide during processing. Lime has been employed in building techniques for its durability, resilience, water resistant, and anti-bacterial properties.

It is resistant to UV light and enables moisture to release from surfaces instead of trapping it. Lime comes in many grades and varieties. Packed, hydrated limes are used as a building material. Different forms of lime can be used as lime putty, lime mortar, and lime wash.

Pre-Fabricated Roof Trusses

Pre-fabricated roof trusses are cost-effective products as it takes less time to create them. Installation can be completed in just a single day, saving on labor costs.

Pre-fabrication reduces material waste because, in a controlled environment, precision jigs ensure consistent quality and saws are computer controlled, translating into a clean air indoor environment.

Formaldehyde-Free Furniture/Cabinets

Furniture made from particle board and pressed wood, instead of solid wood, can be fused together with adhesives full of formaldehyde. As formaldehyde is a gas, it off-gasses into the home over time.

Formaldehyde can lead to a cough, sore throat, nosebleeds, and scratchy eyes, so solid wood provides a better option.

Carpet Padding Free of Toxic Chemicals

Carpeting that is made from pure wool and supported with cotton, hemp, and jute, a natural rubber adhesive and without formaldehyde-laden glues would be used to hold carpeting and carpet backing, promoting a cleaner home environment.

No-VOC Paints

No-VOC paints are a class of chemicals that evaporate at room temperature. Traditional paints containing the VOCs emit disagreeable odors, but no-VOC paints prevent health problems, like vomiting, nausea, dizziness, asthma and damage to the central nervous system, kidneys, and liver.

Other Building Materials

Some of the popular alternative building materials are:

  • Papercrete
  • Paper adobe
  • Earthbag rammed earth
  • Sawdust
  • Cobwood
  • Cobweed
  • Agstone
  • Stonehemp
  • Straw
  • Hemp
  • CINVA Ram bricks

Image Credit: WDG Photo/Shutterstock.com

Building Material Manufacturers

Saint-Gobain is a global leader in the habitat and construction markets, and designs, manufactures, and markets materials for construction and renovation. The company offers a range of glass products for green buildings such as Antelio Plus, Cool-Lite, Nano, Evo, Envision, and Evolite .

Eco Building Products is a leading manufacturer of proprietary, eco-friendly wood products that provide protection against rot- decay, mold, termites, and fire. The product range includes Eco Red Shield™, Eco Clear Shield™, Eco Disaster Break™, Eco Disaster Cleaner™, Eco Flood Caulk™, and Eco Trim.

Builders FirstSource is a building materials provider, with expertise in green building practices and products. The company has expertise in green building practices and products.

Green products include wall panels, trusses, engineered lumber, FSC lumber, and Energy Star qualified doors and windows.

BASF is a major company specializing in a wide range of insulation products, including Styrodur® C XPS, Neopor® EPS, and Elastopor® H, and Elastopir® rigid polyurethane foams.

Dow Corning supplies high-performance insulation products, such as Dow Corning® Architectural Insulation Modules and Dow Corning® Building Insulation Blanket, AttiCat® Expanding Blown-In Insulation System, ResidentialComplete® Wall Systems, EcoTouch® Insulation for Flexible Duct, INSULPINK® Foam Insulation Board, etc.

Placing sustainability at the heart of its business model, CRH supplies building materials that range from building foundations and frame and roofing through to fitting out interior spaces and enhancing exterior environments. The key products include aggregates, cement, asphalt, ready mixed concrete, precast concrete, architectural concrete, glass and glazing systems, construction accessories, shutters and awnings, fencing and security, and cubis.

Other major players operating in the global building materials are Allied Building Products, BlueLinx, Beacon Roofing Supply, ABC Supply Co, ProBuild Holdings, 84 Lumber, HD Supply White Cap, L&W Supply, and Roofing Supply Group.


Buildings can impact the environment both directly and indirectly. During the time of construction, renovation, occupancy, and demolition, buildings use water and energy and produce waste, releasing potentially harmful emissions into the atmosphere.

These aspects prompted the development of green building certifications, standards, and rating systems to reduce the impact of buildings on the environment through sustainable design.

Building Research Establishment's Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM) was the first green building rating system established in the U.K. This was followed by U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) developed to improve the buildings’ environmental performance through its Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system for new construction.

Over the years, LEED gained importance and included rating systems for existing buildings. Other standards include Building Energy Efficiency Disclosure, the Building Code of Australia (BCA), Minimum Energy Performance Standards (MEPS), Renewable Energy Target (RET), to name a few.

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