Green home building, or natural building, utilizes natural and eco-friendly materials instead of man-made construction materials. Products that do not require considerable energy to manufacture or transport also qualify as green home building materials. The main tenet of this practice is to use building techniques that do not further contribute to the pollution of the environment, or use more resources than are absolutely necessary.
Green homes feature less square footage, alternative energy sources such as solar panels, working with the natural lay of the land, and using natural insulation to decrease the need for energy. Green home building incorporates as many of these ideas as possible in addition to using sustainable construction materials.
There are a wide array of materials and techniques used in green home building. One of the most popular is strawbale building. Straw is a renewable resource and a fantastic insulator. It is easy to build with and costs significantly less than traditional construction materials. It has become so popular that many banks are willing to lend on the technique. In the Southwestern United States, strawbale homes are becoming commonplace. Strawbale home construction uses about 15% less wood than traditional home construction.
In addition to straw, there are many other renewable resources used in green home building. Adobe homes are made from moistened dirt combined with straw or other natural materials and dried in the desired shape. Cob is a technique similar to adobe building. Earth and straw are combined in the same way, but with a higher concentration of long straw fibers. It is extremely labor intensive as it must be applied by hand, but provides a low-cost, low-impact, green home building method. Rammed earth is another form of building using clay and straw. However, the materials must be tamped down, usually by heavy machinery.
Poured earth is a green home building material similar to concrete. It is mixed and formed in the same way as concrete and even uses Portland cement as a binder. However, poured earth does not contain the sand or gravel aggregate used in concrete. Instead, soil is used, resulting in a medium strength concrete that is very easy to maintain. Resistance to the elements is high and maintenance is virtually non-existent once the building is established. The construction costs can be significantly higher, as much as 20%, due to the labor involved in the process.
Earthbags, or sandbags, are another popular material used for green home building. They are inexpensive and can be readily and quickly constructed. Homes built from earthbags are resistant to severe weather, and offer superior strength and durability.
Cordwood building features short pieces of wood, normally about the size of firewood. This technique makes it possible to use wood that might not otherwise be useful for construction. The process is similar to laying bricks and mortar, with the cordwood functioning as the “bricks”. It is an inexpensive and beautiful green home building technique that is gaining in popularity.
Other methods of green home building include using materials such as bamboo, lightweight concrete, and stone. Natural builders use these materials to produce beautiful, functional homes without unneeded stress on the environment and to conserve precious energy, both in the short and long term.