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Types of Building Materials

Aluminium

Uses – Mouldings, window frames
Advantages – Strong, lightweight, can be recycled
Disadvantages – Production is very energy-intensive and polluting.
Earth-wise tips – Avoid, or use recycled aluminium.

Brick (clay)

Uses – Walls, paths, driveways
Advantages – Versatile, good thermal mass
Disadvantages – Production is energy-intensive and uses non-renewable resources.
Earth-wise tips – Look for recycled bricks.

Concrete

Uses – Floors, walls, supports
Advantages – High thermal mass, strong, durable, economical, resists termites and earthquakes
Disadvantages – Production involves quarrying and creates greenhouse emissions; poor insulator, needs reinforcing.
Earth-wise tips – Use autoclaved aerated concrete (AAC), which is lightweight, energy-efficient and non-toxic, or concrete made with recycled aggregate.

Fibre cement sheeting

Uses – Cladding
Advantages – Low embodied energy, light, inexpensive, good thermal properties, can be rendered
Disadvantages – Not as strong as some other options; associated with cheap housing and asbestos (no longer used).
Earth-wise tips – Try lime wash as a surface treatment: it’s suitable and environmentally benign.

Glass

Uses – Windows, doors, skylights; bricks
Advantages – Stable, long-lasting, efficient, recyclable
Disadvantages – Production is energy-intensive, uses non- renewable minerals.
Earth-wise tips – Seek out recycled windows; buy energy-efficient new glass.

Mudbrick

Uses – Walls, floors
Advantages – Source material can be found on site, long-lasting, biodegradable, high thermal mass; pest- and fire-resistant
Disadvantages – Making bricks is labour-intensive; requires soil with high clay content; poor insulator.
Earth-wise tips – Bricks can be purchased ready-made.

Plasterboard

Uses – Lining walls
Advantages – Potentially recyclable, breathes, largely natural
Disadvantages – Some plasterboards contain toxic chemicals and glass fibres.
Earth-wise tips – Look for recycled plasterboard and non- synthetic boards with natural fixatives.

Plastics

Uses – Window frames, water pipes, gutters, floor and wall coverings
Advantages – Light, durable, resistant to damp, water and pests
Disadvantages – Made from non-renewable resources; production is energy-intensive and polluting; may off-gas.
Earth-wise tips – Look for renewable alternatives; avoid PVC – opt for PVC-free polypropylene or polybutylene instead.

Steel

Uses – Frames, supports
Advantages – Strong, economical, durable, recyclable
Disadvantages – Production is energy-intensive and highly polluting; coatings are often polluting.
Earth-wise tips – Buy recycled steel or opt for renewable timber.

Stone and composite stone

Uses – Walls, floors, supports
Advantages – Abundant, durable, high thermal mass, economical if available on site; no toxic emissions
Disadvantages – Non-renewable; extraction and transportation can be energy-intensive.
Earth-wise tips – Use salvaged stone or products made with waste stone from local sources.

Straw bale

Uses – Walls
Advantages – Cheap, renewable, good insulator
Disadvantages – Is bulkier than other materials; requires specialised construction.
Earth-wise tips – Avoid chemical pest treatments and use eco-friendly render.

Timber

Uses – Floors, walls, supports and roof frames
Advantages – Strong, easy to work with, versatile, potentially renewable, biodegradable
Disadvantages – Some timber is non-renewable; often treated with toxic chemicals.
Earth-wise tips – Use recycled wood or timber from sustainable sources, with no chemical treatments.

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