13 Eco-Friendly Building Materials for a Green Home

back exterior muted palette deck with dogs
Photo: Shaun Sullivan

Eco-friendly building materials don't have to weigh heavy on your home budget. These days, it's easy being green. Here's the latest in environmentally friendly products and materials for the home.

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How Build an Eco-Friendly Home

front yard garden
John Granen

There are so many decisions to be made when building a new home or even when undergoing a major remodel. Amid worsening climate change and the environmental challenges facing the planet, it's more important than ever to be conscious of the impact of your decisions.

The good news is that there's a growing number of eco-friendly building materials and techniques available for homes, and many of them save you money both during construction and for years to come. As Conserve Energy Future points out: "With the constantly changing environment around us, it's important to be environmentally aware and active. It's even more important when you consider how much money you can save by building a green home."

When embarking upon new home construction or a remodel, talk with a professional about the variety of eco-friendly and sustainable approaches and what might be right for you and your family. If you do your research, you can create a home that's both stunning and green.

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Incorporate Recycled Products

granite counter Golden handle drawer
Brie Williams

Whenever possible, look for recycled and eco-friendly house materials. This can include rubber and polymer roofing that imitates slate to reduce weight and maintenance. For countertops, backsplashes, shower surrounds, walls, and floors, consider materials that blend a percentage of recycled glass with concrete. Choose carpets made from 100% recycled content.

"Reduce your need for buying new products that are not environment friendly," says Conserve Energy Future. "Reuse your old material such as wood floors, doors, windows in your next home. Recycled materials such as recycled glass, aluminum, recycled tile, reclaimed lumber, recycled plastic can be used in green homebuilding."

03 of 13

Select Sustainable Lumber

white bathroom with wood-plank wall
Ann VanderWiel Wilde

When carrying out an eco-friendly house construction project, avoid lumber products produced from old-growth timber or endangered tropical hardwoods.

Seek out green building materials from certified and managed forests, recycled or reclaimed wood (salvaged from riverbeds or old buildings), or composites such as formaldehyde-free MDF (medium-density fiberboard) for doors and cabinets.

You might also consider using bamboo where possible, as it is considered one of the top choices in eco-friendlly building materials thanks to its rapid regeneration rate.

"It has an incredibly high self-generation rate, with some being reported to have grown up to three feet within 24 hours," says Conserve Energy Future.

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Opt for Natural Choices

linoleum kitchen floor white glass pane cabinets
Edmund Barr

Many building materials have natural alternatives. Select cellulose insulation, which is made out of plant fiber, instead of fiberglass. Choose Homasote, a recycled newspaper product, as a substitute for drywall in some places. When selecting flooring materials, use linoleum for the kitchen rather than vinyl.

Real linoleum is made from biodegradable linseed oil, pine rosins, and wood flour on a jute backing. In other rooms, choose wood floors or carpet options made of wool and sisal, a natural grasslike fiber. These eco-friendly building materials are stylish for you, and healthy for the environment.

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Use Insulated Panels

white home exterior with porch
Kim Cornelison

Building an eco-friendly house is easy if you have the right materials. Structural Insulated Panels are gaining acceptance for use in walls, floors, and roofs. Panels sandwich a rigid foam core between OSB, oriented strand board. OSB mixes wood strands made from fast-growing trees with wax and a binder to form mats.

These mats are layered across each other for strength, then heat-pressed into panels. The makers say the eco-friendly building materials save time and energy over stick-built construction.

06 of 13

Incorporate Energy-Efficient Windows

living room shiplap tan leather sofa blue throw coffee table
David A. Land

Window selection is another important feature in any home construction or remodel. High-performance windows, especially with low-emissivity, or low-E, glazings, are among the best-known ways to save energy for heating and cooling. These extra-large windows prove that building an eco-friendly home doesn't mean you have to forfeit design.

Energy Star windows are another important eco-friendy choice.

"Energy-efficient windows labeled as ENERGY STAR...are a new player in the window market and are much more energy efficient than normal windows," says the Conserve Energy Future website. "The ratings for these windows determine how energy efficient they will be. The lower the rating, the more energy efficient are your windows. The energy savings provided by these windows are enough to cover the added cost per window."

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Invest in Water-Conserving Appliances

matching white washer and dryer in laundry room
Adam Albright

There are many ways to cut back on the amount of water your home uses. This effort could include incorporating water-saving appliances throughout the house, such as Energy Star-rated dishwashers and front-loading washing machines. In the bathroom, new toilets are mandated to use 1.6 or less gallons of water per flush. You can also purchase low flow faucets and showerheads.

These items can cut down on your water bill costs and make your home much more environmentally friendly, the Conserve Energy Future website points out.

You might also consider rainwater harvesting systems. These system can be installed while building your green home to collect rainwater from roofs that is stored it in a tank, according to the Conserve Energy Future website.

"The collected water can then be used for other purposes, such as toilets and sprinkler systems," the website explains.

Rain barrels are one of the most common methods of rainwater harvesting being used today, according to the website.

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Consider a Tankless Water Heater

relaxing light bathroom tub windows sink
Kimberly Gavin

Eco-friendly building materials for houses are available for every room and function, including plumbing. Tankless water heaters are compact, on-demand units that attach to your plumbing system and heat water as it runs through a heat exchanger. You only pay to heat water when you need it.

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Use Green-Certified Interior Products

California home exterior white privacy fence
Kim Cornelison

Prevent environmentally triggered illness and allergies by using Greenguard-certified low-emitting interior products and materials. The Greenguard Environmental Institute performs quarterly air quality performance tests on these items to ensure building materials aren't emitting fumes or trapping air, which creates mold.

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Select Low- or No-VOC Products

renovated craftsman dining area with built-in seating
David Tsay

Air-polluting volatile organic compounds, VOCs, include toxic solvents and formaldehyde. Some new fiberglass insulation is VOC-free; other lung-friendly insulation includes recycled cotton batts, containing cloth trimmings usually scrapped, and soy-based sprayed-in foam.

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Use Odorless Paint

bedroom with blue wall and gray bedding
Edmund Barr

Many paint companies now feature lines of low- or no-VOCs. These paints have virtually no odor during application and drying. Pick water-based paints when available. They have less odor and require less cleanup than oil-base paints.

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Install a Smart Thermostat

woman checking once-hidden thermostat on wall
Helen Norman

Opting for a smart thermostat can also reduce your home's carbon footprint making it more eco-efficient. These thermostats cut your energy usage and reduce energy bills by learning your schedule and turning themselves on and off according to that schedule.

"We all know that almost 50% of our energy consumption goes towards heating and cooling of our home," says Conserve Energy Future. "The simplest way to cut down this cost and reduce the electricity bill is to install a programmable thermostat."

One of the most popular and user-friendly options is the Google Nest Learning Thermostat ($206, Walmart), which gets rave reviews for requiring minimal input and maintenance from you as the user. The Ecobee Smart Thermostat is another top choice ($185, Walmart), as is the more budget-friendlly Honeywell Home T5 Thermostat ($113, Amazon.)

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Go Green Outdoors

back exterior muted palette deck with dogs
Shaun Sullivan

Outdoor materials have also gone green. One eco-friendly decking option is treated lumber. Arsenic was banned for use in treated lumber and has been replaced by less toxic preservatives.

The other green choice is composite decking, which is made from ground wood fibers and resin. It won't rot and may not need to be finished.

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