Green Building Materials

A green roof
By Greg Whitburn

Green building materials is an umbrella term for building materials that are manufactured using sustainable practices and resources, reduce allergies or toxins in the environment, or are green because they can be used in a sustainable manner.

Below are a few of the latest green building materials on the market.

Green insulation
Green insulation is often bonded using heat instead of chemical bonding.

Before purchasing, you can investigate the green-ness of the specific building product you’re considering.

Do your research by looking for awards and green certification on the manufacturer’s website.

Write a list of the different ways in which different brand options are ‘green,’ and ask product reps to explain manufacture processes and sustainability of the product.

Green Insulation

A major problem with traditional fibre-glass insulation is that it’s allergenic – it causes a reaction when it touches your skin.

This is most noticeably a problem when installing insulation, however fibreglass fibres can also get through the miniscule cracks in your house and into the air. This can contribute to long term allergic and respiratory conditions such as asthma.

Green insulation comes in many varieties, and is often manufactured with non-chemical and environmentally friendly processes, such as heating instead of chemical bonding.

Commonly, green insulation is made from polyester fibres, which can be sourced from recycled PET plastic – such as your recycled drink bottle.

Polyester-only insulation can be easily recycled once again at the end of its life.

The biggest advantage of non-toxic and non-allergenic green insulation for the end user is that it creates a healthy home environment – installation doesn’t cause itchy allergic reactions and the air inside the home is free from miniscule fibres that can contribute to health problems.

Green Roofs

Building a roof is a great place to take advantage of green building materials as there are so many different ways to make sustainable choices.

Green roofs can be extreme and show of your environmentalist side if you’re that way inclined, or can seamlessly fit in with normal roofs while employing sustainable methods.

The first and foremost consideration is durability and maintenance commitments.

Recycled Metal Roofing

This is a pretty standard but good option. Metal roofs can be considered green if made from recycled metal, which many roofing companies offer.

Metal roofing sheets can again be recycled years down the line.

With this consideration, metal roofing is a much greener option than an asphalt or concrete tiled roof – which use environmentally harsh chemicals and manufacture processes.

Solar roofing

Solar roofing is a great way to reduce your reliance on fossil fuel electricity, and a great use of a roof's surface. Solar technology has come ahead in leaps and bounds in the last few years.

Options for solar roofing include high-efficiency but bulky traditional crystalline silicon solar modules, or new technology thin-film solar panels.

Thin-film solar panels are lower efficiency but much more flexible in terms of applications.

Solar roof-tiles are a new thin-film application. The roof tiles are durable, and look and are installed the same as conventional roofing tiles, but provide your home with electricity.

Rooftop solar water heating is another popular option, whereby your water is heated on the roof then connected to your hot water tank.

Living green roofs

Imagine your roof covered in grass! These roofs are becoming more popular, and have many advantages if you’re happy with the extra effort.

green roofs
Living green roofs provide excellent insulation but it's imperative they're built properly first time round.

Living green roofs consist of a protective layer, then soil, then grass or other plant [3].

The main advantage of living green roofs is that they provide excellent insulation in winter and cooling in summer.

They can also last longer than exposed roofs, look unique, provide fresh air, encourage neighbourhood awareness of green living, and make good use of rain water.

Of course, green roofs are expensive, require upkeep, and it’s vital you have quality construction to avoid leaks.

Green Adhesives and Green Paints

Adhesives and paints offer huge benefits as green building materials. The manufacturing processes of adhesives and paints are often extremely environmentally un-friendly, involving harsh chemicals and toxic by-products. Furthermore, large volumes of these materials end up in landfill.

Today there is a growing variety of green adhesives and paints available. The most common characteristic of these products is that they are water-based and solvent free.

There are green options for most types of applications used in the building process, from green carpet adhesive to roofing glue, paints, and even powder coating methods that at least minimize environmental impact.

The best advice is to read as many trade-reviews of green building materials and look at specifications on the websites of manufacturers before using them.

The technology and quality of products is constantly and rapidly getting better, however there are some green products that will do an inferior job or require different application methods.

Green Concrete

green building materials - concrete
Recycled concrete helps to reduce environmental damage through reduced landfill, manufacturing waste, and energy usage.

Concrete is widely known as a major environmentally problematic building material. Producing one ton of cement, a core ingredient of concrete, creates approximately one additional ton of CO2 [1].

Cement production requires a lot of harsh chemicals and is extremely energy intensive. Concrete also contributes huge volumes to landfills.

But wait, there are options for greener concrete!

Recycling concrete is a comparatively very green option. One option is to use recycled aggregate, such as crushed old concrete, for non-structural applications like driveways and paths [2].

Another option is to use materials such as fly-ash (a waste by-product of coal) to replace cement used in concrete. In North America, fly-ash is used to reduce cement use by up to 8% [1].

Both options recycle materials (old concrete and fly-ash) that generally have no other purpose, therefore would otherwise go to landfill. Both options also reduced energy intense extraction of raw materials and refining processes.

If recycled concrete were the world standard, it would be a huge contribution to preservation of the environment as concrete is the most used building material around the world [1].

Concrete can also be used as a green building material through exploiting its thermal qualities. Concrete conducts and holds the sun’s heat, which can be used for winter heating if placed correctly.

Final note on green building materials

When considering which green building materials to use, remember that green business practices are just as important as the materials sold.

Many companies these days outline their sustainable company initiatives on their websites or brochures – such as how they minimize waste by-products and transport distances, or even that they plant X number of trees or reduce X kg’s of waste paper. These are all good indicators of a company that actually practices an environmental awareness ethos, as are the many sustainable workplace certificates and awards that businesses can participate in.

Article References

[1] EcoSmart Concrete. (retrieved December 2011). Environmental impact: cement production and the CO2 challenge. retrieved from and

[2] Park, S, G. (2001). Effect of recycled concrete aggregate on new concrete. Branz, SR101: Judgeford.

[3] Keenan, A., Georges, D. (2002). Green Building: Project Planning and Cost Estimating. Kingston: Construction Publishers and Consultants.

First published January 10, 2012
Last updated February 4, 2021

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One comment on “Green Building Materials”

  1. Good morning, I´d like to receive information about companies interested on develop green roofs in Mexico. I´m in Monterrey mexico and is a big oportunity to reduce cost in home and buildings.


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