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Where to Find Alternative Materials for Green Home Building

Updated on October 2, 2010

Alternative home building means that you use non-traditional methods and materials of building to construct an eco-friendly home. There are many different materials that you can use depending on where you are located. There are earth-based materials, other natural materials and recycled materials. It is important to think about where you might be able to find these materials if you are interested in building a green home.

Earth-Based Materials

One of the best things about building with the earth is that you do not have to go too far to find it. The best earth to use is almost always that which is indigenous to the area in which you are building. This makes obvious sense; if it is good enough to be there naturally, then it is likely to stand up to the natural environment of that area. Of course, you will have some choices to make about exactly which mixtures of soil, clay, grasses, and other earthy materials you want to use. And you will also have choices to make about the methods you want to use to shape and build with these materials. Do you want to create bricks for building or use poured earth construction methods? Do you want a home that is mostly clay held together by a bit of straw or a home that is mostly straw held together with a light pouring of clay? These are the things that you will consider during the planning stages of building your alternative home and the questions to answer as you start locating the materials you will be using for the building.

· Adobe. Adobe homes are primarily seen in the Southwestern United States. That is because the clay soil there is conducive to making the material. However, adobe soil can be found on sale all throughout the nation because it has become such a popular choice for alternative homebuilding. The thing to consider is that importing adobe is highly expensive, so if it is not natural to your area then you can find it but it might not be the most cost effective choice.

· Cob. People who want to build with adobe but who live in an area where importing it is expensive often try locating cob instead. Cob is similar to adobe but requires a different proportion of earth and other materials and so may be less expensive. You can import the necessary materials that are not indigenous to the area but locate some of the other materials locally. This reduces costs and still allows you to have the kind of home that you are seeking.

· Compressed Earth. You can get your own earth from areas around you. You want to look for places where natural erosion of the soil has already made it easy to harvest the earth.

· Earth Plaster. Since earth plaster is used for the finishing of the home, not for the full construction, you will not need too much of it in comparison with the other materials. This means that it would be an inexpensive item to import from other areas if need be. For this reason, people often buy their earth plaster from companies selling it specifically to alternative homebuilders. However, earth plaster can also be made on your own.

· Earthbag/Papercrete. You can be somewhat inventive in locating materials for earthbag construction. First, you will need to find the bags. Second, you will need to find the filler material. Both parts of the construction allow you a lot of choices, which means that you can take a look at what is available locally and at a low (or no) cost. For bags, polypropylene is a popular choice. However, any type of bag that will last a long time, giving you durability and longevity on one package, should be considered for use. For filler, you will want to look at what earth is available near you in abundance. Consider more than just soil; if you have volcanic rock or gravel in your area that you can get at a low cost, you should see if this will work in the building of your home. Do your research; you want to make sure that the earthbags will stand up to the test of time – but do not limit yourself to simple options when considering this kind of alternative home construction. It is one of the materials that really give you a lot of leeway for making creative choices.

· Light Clay and Straw. If you live in an area in which straw is prevalent, you will want to see if it can be bound together with light clay to create building material. The obvious place to look for such straw is on farms. See if you can do some networking within the local farm community to get your hands on some straw that is not currently being used and might be put to good use in the building of your alternative home.

· Rammed Earth. The difference between rammed earth and the other kinds of earth-based construction is in the methods used to make the building. For this reason, you will want to concern yourself not only with locating the materials that are needed for the construction, but also with finding the machinery that you will need to use to complete this method of alternative home building. You do not want to have to import machinery because of the damage this can do to the environment so start looking around early on in the planning stages to see if this method of building is going to be feasible where you live. If it turns out that this machinery is not readily available in your region, consider using one of the alternative methods of building with earth to get the home you want in the most efficient way.

· Sod. Hopefully your interest in building with sod comes from the fact that there is plenty of it around your area. This means that you will just need to locate the right kind of sod for the most efficient alternative home building. Sod should be cut into bricks using a plow to create a uniform building material. Find land that has a moisture content that facilitates such cutting. The primary location for finding sod is in the Midwest. Anywhere that the earth is soft but can be held together by the roots of readily growing grass will be an area that might be conducive to harvesting sod for building. Of course, there are also sod growers out there who would be happy to ship you some sod if you want to build a sod home elsewhere. Before doing so, you should look carefully into the shipping costs (both to yourself and to the environment), as well as the efficiency of building a sod home in your area.

Other Natural Materials

Here is a look at where to find some of the most common other types of natural materials

· Bamboo. Most people think of bamboo as an exotic material. This is interesting because bamboo grows so readily in so many different regions of the world. It is actually quite prevalent and therefore is relatively inexpensive to ship because it can usually be found in an area that is not too far from the desired home building location.

· Straw Bale. As with light clay (described above) you can typically find straw bales on local farms.

· Wool Carpet. Unless you have a sheep farm and a penchant for crafting your own home from start to finish, you are probably not going to want to locate the raw material for making a wool carpet. Instead, you will probably buy the wool carpet ready made for installation. This means that you need to be looking for a seller of natural carpeting and flooring materials. There are plenty located all throughout the nation, so you will want to find one close to you to reduce shipping costs and the toll that shipping takes on the earth. Additionally, you will want to make sure that you are working with a seller that is truly interested in green building practices. Some places merely sell this because there is a market for it. Others are actually genuinely interested in treating the environment kindly. This means that they employ green practices throughout all areas of business. Working with such a seller will give you the healthiest experience possible in installing wool carpet in your home.

Recycled Materials

There are many different places you can begin looking for recycled materials. The first place to look is your own home. If you are starting to think about building an alternative home using recycled materials, begin collecting what you can to start the process. You can also ask friends and family to do the same. Neighbors are often more than happy to give you their trash, especially if you are willing to do the work of hauling it away from them. If you are already getting going on your building and need more recycled materials more quickly, you have additional options. Go dumpster diving, check the local dump for salvaging rules, and place a classified ad. You would be surprised at how much trash is out there just waiting to be used.

· Baled Cardboard. One of the most common kinds of cardboard used in baled cardboard building is the common household cereal box. Think of how many of these you go through in a month. Then, think of how many children are in your neighborhood and how many they go through in a month. If you get active about gathering these, it should be no time at all before you have your hands on enough of these boxes to build your home. Probably all you will need to do is put the word out. See if the local elementary school will get involved in collecting boxes for the cause. Let the neighbors know that you would be happy to come by weekly to pick up their boxes if they will just kindly save them for you. Almost no one is using their old cereal boxes so there is no reason that you should not put them to use.

· Beer Cans. Beer cans are not the only cans you can collect to create siding or construction for your home. All aluminum cans serve the same purpose. And since so many people are drinking something out of aluminum cans these days — whether it is beer, soda, or energy drinks — there are plenty of these available to you. Start with collecting them in your own home. Run a campaign in the neighborhood to get the community to pitch in. And branch out further by working with local recycling plants and salvage yards to get the materials you need.

· Bottles. If you go to a high school campus right after lunchtime has ended, you will see that there is a whole array of plastic bottles littering the ground. Same goes for the floor of stadiums after big sports events. And if you start looking in trash cans around any big event, you will see that the number of plastic bottles available for the taking is strikingly high. Start looking around, and you will be able to locate the plastic bottles that you need to complete the building of your alternative home.

· Earth Rammed Tires. Tires are one of the few recycled materials that you probably are not going to have on hand yourself. After all, how many tires do you really go through in your lifetime? And how many of those do you actually keep lying around? Not many, most likely. However, there are people who do. A great place to start looking is small mechanics’ shops. They often keep tires around in bulk in the back lot just because they have not gotten around to disposing of them yet. Others actually use recycled tires on cars to give customers a cheap alternative to replacing used tires on their vehicles. You may be able to work out a deal with places like these to get a bulk number of used tires at a very low rate. And, if you happen to find a small mechanic who was just going to trash them anyway, there is even a chance that you will get them for free. You will also want to keep an eye on the classifieds to see if anyone is seeking removal of tires. People have them stocked up for all kinds of different reasons and sometimes advertise to get rid of them. They may even pay you to do the removal.

· Wood. When using wood for building while maintaining an earth-conscious approach to construction, you will want to look at urban harvested wood (the wood that would have been wasted in landfills), as well as recycled wood. The easiest place to start looking is right at home. Many people have found that they can actually use wood already on their property to start the construction of their new home. A tree out back that is going to be in the way of construction can be taken down and used to add a room to the house. When remodeling, old portions of the home can be deconstructed and then reconstructed, limiting the amount of new materials you need to get started on your home. If you do not have what you need in your own backyard, expand the walls of your yard a bit. No, not literally. Just think about the community around you as a backyard ripe for harvesting. Contact your local arborist and find out if there are any trees that have fallen recently that are going to auction (or worse, to a landfill). You can save the trees and save costs at the same time. Word-of-mouth is the main way that this business currently operates, so get out there and start talking to people. Someone’s brother’s cousin just might have some trees that he was going to have removed, and he may be more than happy to give them to you for the construction of your new home.


Submit a Comment

  • Aris Budianto profile image

    Aris Budianto 

    8 years ago from Lying along the equator Country

    Great hub, I like everything natural, great suggestion, thanks.


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