21 Sustainable Building Materials to Consider for Your Home

As hurricanes and wildfires get increasingly violent, homeowners are looking for ways not only to help the environment, but to protect their own homes, too. In 2023, there were 28 major weather and climate disasters in the United States, with an estimated cost of more than $90 billion, according to the National Centers for Environmental Information. This is causing insurance rates to balloon, and more catastrophically, people are losing their homes and livelihoods.

As more homeowners choose materials better suited to our changing climate, big disasters can become smaller ones, as homes become more resilient to the weather that threatens them. You can also reduce your home’s climate impact with these more sustainable building materials by choosing those that take less energy to produce or that reduce waste in their production. They may also reduce waste due to their longevity.

Here are 21 sustainable building materials to consider for your home:

— Reclaimed wood

— Reclaimed metal

— Fiber Cement Siding

— Precast concrete

— Bamboo

— Cork

— Mycelium

— Shipping container

— Cob

— Adobe

— Rammed-earth tires

— Earthbag

— Recycled steel

— Ferrock

— Timbercrete

— Grasscrete

— Papercrete

— Hempcrete

— Sheep’s wool

— Plant-based polyurethane rigid foam

— Straw bale

[6 Easy Ways to Make Your Home Eco-Friendly]

Reclaimed Wood

Rather than buying newly cut wood from a lumber yard or home improvement store, give used wood new life. Reclaimed wood can be used for flooring, fencing, doors and window frames, as well as for furnishings like tables and chairs.

The Architectural Salvage Warehouse of Detroit makes finding reclaimed housing materials possible on a large scale, as the company disassembles buildings rather than demolishing them with a wrecking ball. By doing so, flooring, doors, cabinets and other materials can be purchased and reused for new building projects.

Reclaimed Metal

Just like with wood, metal materials can be reclaimed from a house that’s set for demolition. Plumbing or electrical wiring that hasn’t sustained damage or excessive wear and tear over the years can be used again.

Fiber Cement Siding

Fiber cement siding is exactly what you might expect — it’s siding made from cement and reinforcing fibers. This combination makes for an extremely durable siding material that’s also resistant against all kinds of weather and is recommended in fire-prone areas.

“Fiber cement won’t burn or add fuel to a fire, nor will it ignite when exposed to a direct flame,” says Jill Kolling, vice president, ESG and chief sustainability officer at building materials supplier James Hardie. “Wood-based siding products, even if coated with a fire-retardant, are not able to make this claim.”

Kolling adds that these products are built to last and are more durable than either wood or vinyl, making them a sustainable option for homes in a range of environments.

[Can You Build a Fireproof Home?]

Precast Concrete

When a sturdier material is necessary to create the outer walls of a building, concrete is often still a preferred option. But to reduce the energy required to produce it, prefabrication is becoming more common. This means the slab is created in a factory setting and shipped to the construction site instead of being poured on site.

Prefabrication of this type is more likely to be seen in construction for large-scale public construction like sewers, roads or bridges, commercial buildings, hotels and potentially large-scale apartment buildings.


Trees such as pine, oak and maple take years and even decades to grow back to the point that they can be harvested again for wood. But bamboo, which is stronger and more flexible, grows much faster — in fact, it’s the fastest-growing plant in the world, according to the Guinness Book of World Records.

“The limitation right now is the bamboo stock is not domestically located. Most of it is in China, Malaysia and places like that,” says Gilbert Galindo, creator of Bamboo Grove, a website dedicated to informing the public about the benefits of bamboo.

Galindo says he continues to see growing interest in bamboo farming and usage in the U.S., and expects it to become a key material in sustainable construction in the future. It’s most often seen today as a flooring option.


Cork is another tree product that is physically flexible, strong and resilient. Resistant to moisture and known for absorbing noise well, cork is a solid option for flooring or even as a subfloor in place of plywood.

Like bamboo, cork mainly grows outside the U.S., primarily along the Mediterranean Sea. This makes the material largely cost-prohibitive compared with more common materials in the U.S., and it requires more energy to ship. However, the farming of cork oaks may increase as homeowners and builders pursue different material options.


When it comes to building material options, you can’t get much more natural than mycelium, which is the vegetative part of a fungus. Mycelium bricks are made by combining the fungi with organic waste, and they are resistant to water, mold and fire, which makes them an ideal material for building construction.

But mycelium doesn’t just show potential in the construction industry: Scientific American reported on the potential uses for mycelium in food production and the advancement of medical technologies in 2019.

[READ: How to Create an Eco-Friendly Lawn That Won’t Drive Your Neighbors Wild]

Shipping Container

If your interests lie in recycled materials and you appreciate a more modern design aesthetic, a shipping container home may be for you. While a 40-by-8-foot container may provide the perfect exoskeleton for your new tiny home, be sure you research all the costs first.

A shipping container has no natural insulation, so it can get very cold or hot depending on the outside temperature. Along with adding insulation, you’ll need to cut window and door spaces into the outer structure.


Cob, a clay soil mixture with sand and straw, has been used for centuries in Europe as a building material. The mixture doesn’t require framing and can simply be packed together and molded, drying from the heat of the sun.

Because they’re made by hand, cob cottages are often small and created by the owner, though two-story structures with fully operational windows also exist.


Made of a similar mixture to cob, adobe takes on a more structured, brick-like shape. While adobe and cob may both require additional insulation in colder climates, the materials’ thermal qualities provide some heat. In a desert setting, adobe walls will absorb the exterior heat during the day, and then release it inside at night when outside temperatures have cooled.

A historically popular building material in the dry climate of the Southwest United States, adobe is still used by skilled craftsmen in the region today.

Rammed Earth Tires

The combination of recycled and natural materials found on site can be enticing, and rammed earth tires fit that mold. However, the process of packing dirt into individual tires to build the exterior walls for an entire home requires a lot of motivation and physical labor.

For someone set on the style, it’s extremely inexpensive to make, often with dirt near the home being used to pack the used tires, which can be purchased used from a tire shop, tire recycling site or even found discarded on the side of the road.


Earthbag construction uses a similar earth mixture to what is found in rammed earth tires, but the result is more brick-like. The earth mixture is placed in bags, which are often made of a plastic that can withstand the weight and exposure to elements.

To provide better protection from cold weather or the heat in summer, incorporating insulation of some sort is needed.

Recycled Steel

Melting scrap steel to create new products is a fundamental part of steelmaking in the U.S. It allows for steel products to be used again and again, whether that includes old cars or the structural beams from demolished buildings.

According to the American Iron and Steel Institute, roughly 60 to 80 million tons of steel scrap are recycled each year into new steel products in North America.


To better use all products from the steelmaking process, Ferrock uses recycled materials including steel dust to create a concrete-like building material. But with steel as a key component, Ferrock proves even stronger that concrete. The material also absorbs more carbon dioxide than it creates.

It remains in the early stages of development under IronKast, the company that holds the patent for the material.


In the growing list of concrete alternatives, wood is also incorporated by using sawdust or wood chips in a concrete or cement mixture, ultimately creating a lighter final product than traditional concrete blocks or slabs. The lighter weight cuts down on transportation costs, and the material uses parts of wood that would otherwise go to waste.

Timbercrete is a trademarked brand based in Australia, while Faswall is based in the U.S. The two companies have different processes for creating their wood-and-cement building materials that offer a variation of perceived environmental benefits.


Unlike many of the above sustainable building materials, grasscrete does not form blocks or panels for building, but serves to reduce the amount of concrete required in a walkway or driveway. Where paving would otherwise be, a cutout pattern makes it so grass grows consistently while still maintaining a hard surface.

Grasscrete increases the area’s ability to absorb water compared to a space paved over completely, and it also allows a greater area for plant life to grow on the property.


Using a combination of paper with other materials to create a concrete-like material, papercrete allows builders to make something entirely new from recycled materials. A simple Google search can yield do-it-yourself guides for creating your own papercrete, which is easier to make due to the easily accessible ingredients. It can be used as a plaster or formed into bricks.

However, it isn’t the most durable material, and it is more likely to wear away when exposed to the elements or a moist environment.


Like timbercrete, hempcrete is a lighter weight than traditional concrete, which cuts down on shipping costs. Hemp farming had largely been kept at a minimum in the past due to marijuana laws, since hemp is a strain of the cannabis plant.

However, at the close of 2018 the U.S. Legislature made hemp an ordinary agricultural product, making it legal to grow. Individual states have also overturned laws that banned hemp farming, which means hempcrete may become a more common building material in the future.

Sheep’s Wool

Just like a wool sweater will keep you warm in the winter, wool can be used as insulation for your home. The fact that it grows naturally on sheep makes the energy required to produce wool fairly minimal.

A big house will require a lot of wool to insulate the whole thing, however, so you may need to buy wool from a few flocks or even buy it over a few seasons.

Plant-Based Polyurethane Rigid Foam

Another insulation option is to look for plant-based polyurethane foam, rather than the commonly used plastic rigid foam. The insulation made from kelp, hemp and bamboo effectively keeps out moisture and heat or cold.

The use of this plant-based rigid foam came about when Malama Composites Inc., based in San Diego, sought a better alternative to dangerous materials being used in surfboards, and has since expanded to insulation, packaging and other uses.

Straw Bale

Straw bale is rising in popularity as a natural building material, and it’s also known as a good insulator. You just need plaster or a similar material to protect the bales from the elements, making a bale houses fairly affordable to build.

The straw bale works as an effective insulator and can be used as such, even with other building materials for the outer or inner structure of the house.

Reusing Can Be Sustainable, Too

Although some of the materials mentioned are directly recycled products, there’s a lot to be said for the sustainability of preserving fixtures and materials, rather than replacing them. It’s a smaller step any homeowner can do to make their home a bit more sustainable, provided the material is still safe for use.

For example, rather than replace your old floor tiles, repaint your walls to work with them; or preserve old iron bathtubs with updated surrounds, instead of getting a whole new fiberglass tub kit. There are many small acts of sustainability that can happen every day in your home, even if you’re not ready to make a bigger move.

More from U.S. News

How to Set Up a Rainwater Collection System

How to Prepare Your Home for Climate Change

11 Popular Home Updates That Are Worth the Money

21 Sustainable Building Materials to Consider for Your Home originally appeared on usnews.com

Update 06/03/24: This story was published at an earlier date and has been updated with new information.

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