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Green, Sustainable Building Materials as an Alternative to Traditional

Save Money Over Time Using Insulated Concrete Forms, Energy Star Appliances, and Engineered Wood Products

© 2011 by all rights reserved; content may not be copied, rewritten, or republished without author’s written permission. Author’s Google profile

Insulated concrete forms prior to the pour, photo courtesy Kelly Smith

Sustainable building practices are more than about being a friend of the environment, reducing your carbon footprint, and saving the planet.

It actually is possible to back off from the political stances and political correctness and focus on the bottom line.

What’s the bottom line from a realistic point of view? Conserving natural resources while saving money in the long run by using the new engineered building materials.

What’s your situation? There are (generally speaking) two situations where you can green up your house while saving money on utility bills at the same time.

Two Opportunities to Go Green

For many homeowners, that translates to retrofitting the attic with additional insulation, installing radiant barrier foil (or paint) in the attic, and replacing old appliances with newer power-saving Energy Star models.

The second situation is when you are starting from the dirt up and building a green (hopefully LEED Certified) home. Whichever situation you are in, it’s a win-win. But how do you go about making energy-saving changes?

Sometimes it’s about changing the way you do things; other times it’s just a matter of substituting a traditional building material for another one. But usually. it is a combination of the two.

Keep in mind that there is a new construction and remodeling concept called remodeling deconstruction in which properties are deconstructed for building materials rather than demolition.

Starting with Concrete Foundations and Walls

Most homes are built with a pier and beam foundation, a concrete slab on grade, or with a basement. Either way, concrete is going to be a big component. Traditional concrete is a mixture of Portland cement, various aggregates like sand and pebbles, and water.

So what can we do to improve on this mixture? Simply enough, by replacing some of your Portland cement with fly ash. This is essentially a waste product from coal-powered power generation plants.

Traditionally, this by-product ends up in the land fill, but times are changing as engineers view it as a resource rather than trash. It is also an ingredient in EcoRock, which is a newer, greener type of drywall.

A promising new concept is constructing exterior walls with building components called insulated concrete forms (ICFs). They are especially recommended for protecting homes against hurricanes and wildfires.

ICFs are used in putting together exterior walls in a modular style and then inserted with rebar and poured with concrete.

Assembling Walls Using Finger-Jointed Stud Framing

The phrase finger-joint studs is self-explanatory; these studs are composed of shorter pieces of wood or scrap studs that in other circumstances would end up in the local landfill.

The chunks are glued up with a finger joint, similar to the box joint used in wood projects joinery.

Surprisingly, the resulting framing studs are even stronger than regular studs. Also, they’re much less likely to be warped due to the manner in which they are assembled.

New Home Construction Using Engineered Wood Products

Engineered wood products have been entering the new home market at an expanding rate. I-joists and OSB are two examples good examples.

I-joists are used in both floor and ceiling construction. Much like the studs discussed above, they are straighter and stronger than solid-sawn timber.

OSB stands is an acronym for Oriented Strand Board and to a large extent has replaced plywood for applications such as roofing sheathing and subflooring. It’s manufactured of strands as well as chips of off-cast wood that would otherwise have been discarded in the land fill.

The processed wood is compressed into sheets utilizing waterproof glue. An additional benefit of building with it is that the sheets of OSB eliminate the need for subfloor vapor barriers.

The bottom line of all this is that it is increasingly possible to build homes in a greener, more sustainable manner, save cash in the long run, and reuse our valuable natural resources.

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