When we talk about green building materials, we are not referring to their color, although they can come in many shades of green. No, it has to do with them being what is known as eco-friendly. That is, they are designed to not create a negative impact on the environment.
Lots of people think that green building materials only do things such as conserve energy or are recyclable, or are made from recycled raw material, but that is only a small part of it.
Green building materials also help to reduce maintenance costs over the total life of the structure; they help to improve the health of the people living / using the building, and they also lower the costs you have to bear when making renovations to the building.
The Importance of Green Building Materials
For countless centuries, people have built homes, offices and all manner of structures throughout the world. Until the twentieth century, it really did not matter what they used to construct them; the population was low and the materials they used were basically natural. Then, with the expansion of industrialization, there was an explosion in the population and in scientific discovery.
Today, the world’s population is closing in on ten billion, and we have all manner of so-called modern building materials: asbestos, plastic, laminated fiberboards etc. The problems with these materials are many. Usually, their manufacturing process produces toxic wastes; they are inefficient and when they are thrown away they do not decompose into their component elements. In addition, some of these materials are unhealthy for people to be exposed to, long term. They may emit carcinogens, toxins that adversely affect the reproductive organs or pollutants that cause respiratory problems.
Volatile Organic Compounds
Several of the key factors in building materials are: do they emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs)? Do they need VOCs for maintenance and/or cleaning? These are chemicals such as paint thinner, dry cleaning solvents, formaldehyde etc. Many building materials have these chemicals in them. Over time, they vaporize into the air. If they can then get into areas inhabited by people, sickness can be the result.
Also, if the building material needs VOCs for routine cleaning, that will put still more of them into the atmosphere. Many of these volatile organic compounds are also greenhouse gases. Given the current state of the environment, we don’t need to be putting any more of them into the air!
What to Look For
Overall, green building materials should have five features. First, resource efficiency; that is, they’re made from recycled materials, or materials that are natural, plentiful or renewable.
The manufacturing process should also be efficient, and the materials available locally; that way nothing is wasted in transportation. Then the material should be durable, so that it lasts a long time, and also be able to be re-used/recycled.
Next is the issue of indoor air quality. Green building materials are designed to insure that the air quality inside is as good as possible, to insure the best possible health of the people who live in/use the building.
Then there’s energy efficiency. Green materials help to reduce energy consumption in buildings. Along with that is water conservation; these materials also help to reduce the building’s water consumption.
Finally, there’s affordability. When looking at green materials, you have to take into account the long term savings they’ll provide. So, while green building materials may cost more upfront, they’ll save you plenty over the life of the structure.