Editorial Feature

Benefits When Building with Natural Materials

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Despite our efforts to seek more viable planets to live in via space exploration, there is no escaping the reality that for most of us right now, Earth is the only home that we have. That reality makes it more important that we are able to take care of it and its natural resources and do our best to make sure that we are doing whatever we can to minimize the harm that we are inflicting on it.

Thankfully, we live in a time where more people are aware of their impact on the environment and are looking for alternative ways of doing the things that are negatively affecting Mother Nature. With our awareness of our carbon footprint and of global warming, we are helping the scientific community in their efforts to alleviate some of the damages that have been caused by our callousness.

Natural Materials in Construction

One of the concepts that is being explored to lighten our impact on the environment is natural building, which is also known as green building or sustainable construction, which aims to use more natural or traditional building materials as opposed to the conventional materials such as steel and concrete, materials which require more energy to produce. Some examples of natural materials are straw bale, rammed earth, bamboo, dry stone, and hemp. These are materials that are more easily found in nature, do not take as much energy (and produce more carbon dioxide) to mass produce, and do not contribute as much to the pollution of the earth as opposed to the conventional building materials previously mentioned.

Use of Hempcrete, Ashcrete, and Rammed Earth

Concrete, in particular, despite being one of the most used construction materials in the world is one that has a highly detrimental effect to the environment in its production and transportation. One of concrete’s main components, sand, is also one of the components that is facing scarcity due to the high demand for the production of this construction material. Substitutes to river sand are being explored, and an example of a successful alternative is sawdust, which has been tested to be as effective as sand. Of course, a much better alternative would be to not actually use concrete at all but to use more natural materials. Hempcrete, a mixture of hemp and limestone, is one such alternative that is said to be more sustainable than concrete. Another alternative is ashcrete which is produced using fly ash, a byproduct of burning coal, which helps the environment by recycling something that would have otherwise polluted the earth. One more alternative is rammed earth, which has actually been used for years and can last a long time.

The foremost challenge in pushing larger, more mainstream construction firms to use natural materials in their buildings is the misconception that these materials do not perform well and are low-tech, but more studies have emerged to prove that these natural building materials are on par with the conventional construction materials that are currently being used. What needs to be emphasized here is the impact of the natural building materials to the environment. Each and every one of us stand to gain from using materials that have a minimal impact to our planet’s natural resources, given how we will be needing those same resources for more years to come. Finding not only more sustainable construction materials but also adapting more sustainable construction practices is something that everybody should be aiming for.

Advantages of Using Natural Building Materials

While the main benefit in using natural building materials in construction relates to its effect on the environment, we also should not forget that there are economic advantages to using materials that can be found more easily in nature. Using natural and local materials are extremely helpful in making low-cost housing more accessible to low-income people and families. Low-cost construction does not have to be equal to using low-quality construction if we are talking about using natural materials, given how natural materials are more cost-effective.

It is still taking some time for mainstream construction to completely adapt the usage of natural materials in their practice, but given that there is much scientific evidence and research that have been conducted to indicate that the use of natural materials will and should not have to take away the durability and longevity of a building, there is a high possibility that we will see more green buildings being constructed in the future.

Sources and Further Reading

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