Construction

How are you using sustainable materials?

As green design continues to storm the home improvement market, homeowners and builders alike are considering sustainable materials for a larger percentage of their upcoming projects. From bamboo floors to reclaimed doors, professionals are seeking to make a big impact in the home and a tiny dent in the environment. But Mother Nature isn’t the only one who appreciates the effort. Homeowners are finding out that sustainable materials may also represent big savings.

Why We’re Asking:

Though the home improvement market is starting to climb out of its slump, professionals and consumers are still looking to save as much money as possible on their new home improvement projects. Sustainable, recycled, reclaimed, and repurposed supplies are often cheaper than their new, traditional counterparts. Yet cheaper doesn’t always mean better, no matter how good it is for the environment or your conscience. We wanted to find out when sustainable materials are worth the effort and how professionals are leading the way to implement them in new and interesting ways.

So experts, it’s time to weigh in:

How are you using sustainable materials?

Where are your favorite places or sources for finding sustainable materials?
When is the best time to use recycled or sustainable materials in a building or design project?
Would you recommend re-purposed materials to most of your clients?
Should homeowners be informed about any drawbacks to using these types of materials?

Summer is approaching fast and we can’t wait to hear what advice our professionals have for homeowners looking to start summer renovation projects. Check back next week for our follow-up articles and more advice from our experts on green building and design materials.

Experts, post your answers in the comment field below!



  • Toby Barnett 05/08/12

    Being a real estate broker, I do deal with many sustainable products yet one major step in environmental direction was our office has moved to a paperless system. It used to be office files where printed, turned in, reviewed by the managing broker, then stored in large filing cabinets and storage units – on top of keeping a personal copy. It has been said, the real estate industry kills trees and its completely true so I was super pleased upon learning our office was moving to a paperless solution. Now, nearly 8 months later, it is nice to not see the waste of paper in and around the office.

    When showing homes, I point out if a home has environmentally friendly windows, appliances, hot water tanks, furnaces … etc yet it is typically in the newer homes where these upgrades are seen. Older homes, sadly enough, usually don’t get the care and attention they sometimes deserve.

  • Tanya Stock 05/08/12

    Well as a Sustainability Consultant I try to be honest and encourage products with an “eco” bend on every occasion. But I also provide pros and cons of each product that is marked “sustainable” so my clients make educated AND informed decisions regarding what products fit their needs and long term goals.

    The green industry is ripe with greenwashing and things that are often classified as “sustainable” are often “debatable” so it becomes critical if not essential to do your homework.

    Right now my great focus is on the bigger picture of what comprises “sustainability” and I am looking at products that are Made in America as a way of Building America. It cannot be overlooked that shipping and manufacturing products hundreds of miles is not environmentally friendly no matter how “green” it is. At times you have to make choices and make sacrifices on what you need and want and that is what I do – find the right shade of green for each client.

  • Alan Hilsabeck 05/08/12

    I really try to maximize the use of Reclaimed and Recycled product as much as possible in my projects. If there is a choice between two very similar products at a similar price, I always recommend in using the “Sustainable” product. I do make sure however to verify with my supplier that this product has a positive history, comes from a reputable manufacturer, and is not simply a “flash in the pan” and either the product and or the company will still be a round in the immediate future if something is needed (e.g. Warranty Issue).
    In my day-to-day product selection for my clients, most manufacturers no matter the product type have some form of Reclaimed and or Recycled type of product; or their products are produced using these products. I do find that there still is a small learning curve and a bit of “convincing” my client to move in this direction due to the fact that sometimes the “Sustainable Product” does actually cost more than the non-sustainable version.
    Overall, I feel as a Design Professional, there is a certain Professional Obligation to at minimum present as an option to all of our clients Sustainable Products. If the Manufacturers and Designers before me did this, the world would not be where it is today…

  • Pablo Solomon 05/08/12

    Having been an artist, designer and environmentalist for decades, I have used, promoted and championed the use of sustainable materials as part of my value system.
    In my younger days I rescued building materials and architectural features from dumps and demolition sites out of necessity. I now rescue and use the same materials out of conviction.
    Of course, living in the Texas Hill Country in an area that has some of the most wonderful rocks and minerals in the world, I use granite, sandstone,limestone, serpentine, tavertine, dolomite, etc. to make benches, walls, walks, pools–you name it. I love stone. I feel that stone has a presence that transcends time. I believe that some how it remembers the dinosaurs, yearns for the past balance of Nature and mourns the folly of man. Stone is testiment to great civilizations that have come and gone. Most of man’s greatest architectural and artistic wonders are done in stone. I love the thought that the stone sculptures, architectural features and environmental landscapes that I have done may well last for centuries. We as humans have a duty to make the best world that we can for each other while doing our best to preserve, protect and restore Nature. Our beautiful blue planet is so alone in space and we must work together to keep it a livable home for man and for all living things.

  • Greg Chick @ Ramonas Plumber 05/09/12

    Before I was a Plumber I was a Landscaper, I am designing and installing an 8 acre Day use Park on a hillside having 200ft. elevation change and Extremely large boulders. I will use no imported plants, no Municipal or deep well water (Only storm runoff) and no store bought fertilizers. All brush cleared is becoming mulch to retain water and hillsides. I have almost eliminated all need for power tools and chemicals. I am not Amish, just see the efficacy of manual labor and the detail achieved by hand crafting the hillsides. Oak Trees and other such Native plants are being planted from seeds gathered nearby. This project has Solar Power and has bioswales and will be a pleasant place for rock climbing and family day use featuring classes in Permaculture.

    My intent is to show how much better a natural park is over the excessively watered and mowed chemically treated commercial city park. Naturally grown food and Teas, flowers will be grown and consumed there . More good energy will leave this place than was consumed in making it.

  • Kraig Kalashian 05/09/12

    Since most projects revolve around the budget, we aim to be responsible but also realistic when it comes to using new ‘green’ products. Products such as bamboo are available and affordable while others simply bust the budget. There are also conventional materials that have always been good choices such as tile, linoleum, water based paints, and energy star appliances. We also specify wood sourced from FSC certified sources which means that they harvest responsibly and often replenish what they cut. Be careful to consider products that claim they are made from reclaimed or recycled materials as they often require more energy to make since you have to first get the material back to its natural state before you can make something with it.

  • David Bakke 05/10/12

    A few companies I know of that deal in sustainable materials include EnviroGLAS, Antique Woodworks, RavenBrick, and Old Houseparts Company. The market for sustainable materials is constantly expanding, and you can now use such materials during any phase of any type of project. Your options run the gamut from plumbing and flooring, to interior or exterior materials.

    I recommend to my clients that they utilize re-purposed materials. However, sourcing these materials requires much more research and effort than just visiting your local home improvement center. However, depending on where you live, it’s possible to find many items to re-purpose in your next project, such as insulation, roofing pavers, netting, and lumber, some of which will help reduce your utility bill (http://www.moneycrashers.com/10-ways-to-reduce-your-utility-bill/) significantly.

    The two main disadvantages of sustainable materials are the high cost and limited availability. Sustainable materials typically are expensive, and you may have difficulty locating them – though your chances are better if you live in or near a big city.

    For a complete list of companies dealing in sustainable materials, or for other tips and advice, contact the National Association of the Remodeling Industry (http://www.nari.org/).

  • Grand View Builders 05/10/12

    At Grand View Builders all homes are equipped with Energy Star appliances that are made to optimize energy savings through established, reliable building technologies. Builders work to select from a number of features when planning and building homes. Selections such as effective insulation and high performance windows ensure less energy consumption as well as increased comfort.

    However, if you are interested in installing specific sustainable materials in your home, we welcome your suggestions! Re-purposed materials and materials brought in from outside sources would not be subject to the high quality assurances that Grand View Builders products are held to but we will work with each home buyer to use the materials that would help create their dream home. Each home buyer is afforded a 3 hour design center appointment with a professional designer who will work with you to suggest the best possible ways to utilize sustainable materials in your home.

  • Jason Todd 05/11/12

    Sustainable is a favorite topic for us at GreenHomes America. One of the most sustainable actions is to use the resources we have, to use what exists, and if we need to “consume” something, consume less of it. This is the essence of what we do. Customers acting on energy assessment recommendations, not only making a home more energy efficient, but more comfortable, healthier and safer is one of the most sustainable things they can do.

    A material we often use in retrofits, cellulose insulation, is great because It is recycled newspaper after all. But the battle is not won solely “sustainable” materials. Recycling and reuse are great but there are greater gains to be had. Sometimes the materials we use are not on the “green” or “sustainable” list.

    Here is why:
    Improving existing houses (I won’t say “old” as some can be quite new) by increasing their efficiency is huge in conserving our resources. Homes are great consumers and we need to improve them to be sustainable. In fact residential homes consume 30% more energy than our cars. No commercial anything here. Just folks like you and me living and driving. Do you get a Prius or do you fix your house. Both are good, you can guess which one I did first!

    Sustainable is how we should live. I suggest starting right at home.

  • Nancy Dalton @ Baywolf Dalton 05/11/12

    We’ve been specifying green and more sustainable products since we opened 22 years ago because it just makes sense. Products and materials have come a long way in that time too and the definition of what is green. Here’s what we focus on:
    • All of our cabinet lines are made in America and are sustainable, eco- friendly, low VOC
    • What can be kept as part of the structure?
    • What can be donated for re-use
    • Water saving through WaterSense Certified products
    • Energy efficiency through LED lighting if possible for the project.
    Just yesterday I spoke with a client about her ship lap flooring. It was in good condition and by screwing it down tightly to the existing floor joists; there was just no reason to remove it. Why send more material to the landfill? The current living room, hall and two bedrooms on this floor are resting on this same material.
    I have to be honest, we sometimes lose the gains with our clients when they use green but add more. When you go from a single fridge to a three in the kitchen; or when a second shower head is added and heated towel bars. I can’t say I blame anyone for making their home more comfortable and I’m pleased that most of the time they are still better off from an energy standpoint than when we started.

  • Terry Ferguson @ Ideas Unlimited Educational Concepts 05/11/12

    We don’t build anything but we,as a company, and as individuals realize that recycling is a necessary and definitely- the- right- thing -to- do, for our planet and our future generations of people.I recycle my beer bottles,and brew more to refill them, sort the garbage to minimize the amount going into the landfill, try to make it easier for the bear to get his dinner from the garbage,less to sort through, and turn aluminum in for money.I like the refurbished doors and beams used in building homes, the bamboo floors, the recycling of sheetrock and etc.We are doing things right!I’ll keep on recycling my beer bottles,too!

  • Sam @ ServiceMaster by Best 05/11/12

    We are the only green seal certified cleaning company around Wichita and Kansas for building maintenance services; we use environmentally friendly cleaning products. We encourage our clients to purchase these services, however not everyone is willing to pay extra for these extra services which is what I see as the biggest drawback.

  • Steve Sparhawk @ DeckTec 05/11/12

    In our industry, sustainable is synonymous with renewable. We build beautiful and long-lasting decks from woods grown and managed for community sustainability. We make sure to buy our products (primarily redwood and cedar) from reputable forest management experts who make sure that the woods are not treated with any earth damaging chemicals and make sure that as one tree is cut another is planted in its place. The longevity of wood in our warm, fairly dry climate means that no replacement planks will be needed for years to come. We use less to begin with, take care of our clients’ decks throughout their ownership, and replace only after years of good service. It is a waste-not, want-not policy from seedling to sustainable outdoor living.

  • Katie @ Roomations 05/12/12

    While “natural” and “renewable” materials like bamboo, natural linoleum and cork have been growing in popularity and have great aesthetic qualities, I still find the most sustainable AND affordable materials to be “reclaimed” or “salvaged” materials. People talk about the embodied energy in a material or product – meaning how much energy it took to make the new product. Well, if you re-purpose what is already here in the world you are saving the energy that would’ve otherwise been expended to create a brand new product. Best of all, salvaged architectural products have a ton of character. Sometimes this character is a result of being designed and crafted in another time. Other times character is a result of the beautiful way in which a material has aged and worn.

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