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8 Building Materials That Will Make Your Tiny House More Eco-Friendly

beautiful tiny house

Tiny homes are a way for many people across the world to lessen their carbon footprint and give hope to the planet we live on. Although their impact is drastically reduced, the production of many materials used to build tiny houses, and buildings in general, still bring harm to the environment – trees must be chopped and processed for wood, and materials must be mined for metals, cements, and bricks. The large community of tiny home builders can even further reduce the environmental impact of building materials by switching to more eco-friendly and sustainable options.

Alternative Concretes

A lot goes into the making of cement, concrete, and bricks. I won’t bore you with all the details, but the sheer amount of digging and fuel required to produce these materials is nothing but harmful. After coal-powered electricity, cement manufacture is the next biggest emitter of greenhouse gases. There exists though, many alternative options that offer less of an environmental impact and better building qualities. It’s estimated that 97% of the standard materials used in concrete can be swapped out for recycled components.

1. AirCrete

aircrete mixing photo by domegaia

AirCrete is a lightweight, non-toxic material that is easy and inexpensive to make. It’s made from a mixture of cement, water and a foaming agent such as dish detergent. AirCrete is fireproof, insect proof, will not rot or decay, and offers excellent thermal and acoustic insulation. Unlike concrete which is hard, heavy, cold and difficult to work with, aircrete is unbelievably lightweight and easy to work with. It hardens overnight and can be nailed, screwed, cut, carved, drilled and shaped with wood-working tools. As it continues to harden over time, it makes excellent foundations, subfloors, building blocks, walls, dome arches or anything you’d like.

2. PaperCrete

papercrete close up

If you mix a bit of cement with pulped paper you end up with a malleable building material that can be used for almost any building project. PaperCrete is very similar to aircrete in that it is cheap, easy to make, environmentally sound, insulating, insect and fire resistant, holds nails and screws without cracking, can be cut with ordinary saws, and is lightweight. In fact, all alternative “cretes” work in pretty much the same way. When the water evaporates, it leaves thousands of tiny air pockets which is what makes the material light and a good insulator. Adding solid material to the mix (sand, etc.) affects weight and insulating quality. The best mix is the one which best fits the application.

3. HempCrete

hempcrete photo by huffington post

All hempcrete is, is hemp hurds, or the center of the stalk, water, and powdered limestone. The one drawback is that hempcrete takes a long time to cure because of its biomaterials, so is not good to use for load bearing walls. To make up for this, companies started making hempcrete bricks which are made in various ways. Some put the mix into wooden forms and leave it to dry, some press it into machines to form a brick, and others even put supporting structures such as 2×2’s in them so you can use them for load-bearing walls right away. After cured, hempcrete bricks are able to be stacked like normal ones, although they are a lot lighter. With these bricks, the need for a wooden frame is practically nonexistant, and since they eventually turn to petrified rock they will last for hundreds of years.

Recycled Plastics

4. Recycled Plastic Bricks

byfusion plastic bricks

A company called ByFusion is turning an environmental disaster into a very useful product by transforming all types of plastic waste into high tech building blocks that can be used for housing and infrastructure. Their design involves a portable modular platform that shreds and compresses scrap plastic directly into bricks and uses extremely hot water to fuse them together. The plastic doesn’t even need to be sorted or washed beforehand. On top of that, the whole process produces 95% lower greenhouse gas emissions than concrete production.

5. Recycled Plastic Lumber

Plastic Lumber Yard creates a composite lumber from recycled plastics that can be used like traditional lumber, from structural support to decking, fencing and retaining walls. Their plastic lumber is made from recycled HDPE #2, or milk jugs basically, and is made with no wood. Although they do have composite wood products available. You can cut and fasten this lumber substitute just like wood, but the plastic composite lumber generally outlasts wood and is easier to maintain.

6. Recycled Plastic Shingles

Tiny Home Builders

The same company, Plastic Lumber Yard, also creates recycled plastic roofing tiles that look like slate but are lighter and easier to install than their traditional slate counterparts. The shingles also have been tested to withstand hours of intense heat and sunlight.

7. Recycled Plastic Insulation

A company called Insulastics is developing insulation made with recycled plastics to help keep your home warm in the winter and cool in the summer. The insulation is designed to form air pockets that help improve insulation performance. It isn’t available just yet but is in the works.

Wood Alternatives

8. Bamboo Lumber

bamboo lumber
3/4″ x 8″, 8′ Horizontal

Building with bamboo is the wave of the future. The growing use of bamboo in place of traditional wood in practically every application offers hope to the negative environmental impact of deforestation. Demand for bamboo products has driven innovation in the development of bamboo timber in China, Australia, and other countries across the planet. There are many reasons why consumers and manufacturers of all kinds are turning to bamboo timber products. Bamboo timber is:

  • Renewable The species of bamboo that are suitable for timber grow very rapidly (up to a yard or more each day) and can be harvested in one to three years, whereas traditional woods can take up to 40 years. Once harvested, bamboo begins growing again without the need for additional cultivation.
  • Strong Bamboo fibers have a tensile strength that surpasses many types of steel and is highly resistant to warping from changes in humidity.
  • Versatile Virtually any product that can be made from wood can be made from bamboo. From scaffolding to furniture to floors and everything in between, bamboo is proving to be a viable alternative to wood in every way.
  • Environmentally responsible During harvesting and processing, every part of the bamboo plant can be used with a much lower consumption of energy than wood. Bamboo requires little fertilizer or pesticides to produce on a wide scale, absorbs carbon dioxide at a faster rate, and releases oxygen up to 35% more than most tree species.
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