Unusual Building Materials

By Dave Hartman

As “going green” becomes more common, it’s easier for the average consumer to find everyday products that are sustainable to some degree. However, there are a bevy of products available that are rather more unusual. Today, we’ll look at four: Straw Bale, Fly Ash, Reclaimed Wood and Recycled Newspaper (cellulose).

Straw Bale

Straw bale is a tightly bound rectangular bundle of straw, commonly from wheat, rice, rye or oats. The bales are stacked in a running bond formation and wrapped with a vapor barrier. The exposed surfaces can then be treated with stucco or plastered. Currently, it’s more commonly seen in residential building although some commercial examples can be found in Colorado and the west coast. It offers superb insulation, is fire resistant, good noise control and is very durable. When using straw bale, it is very important to consider the building orientation, window insulation, site shading and ventilation.

Fly Ash

Fly Ash is a by-product of coal burning and can be used as to partially replace cement in a concrete mixture. Concrete made with fly ash uses 10% less water, is more pliable, easier to work with and is more durable than concrete made purely with cement. When incorporating fly ash into concrete it is important to not over-use it, as the end product will “sheet” when cured and will have a tendency to chip. Replacing 1 ton of cement: 1) saves enough energy to power a typical US home for 24 days; 2) reduces CO2 emissions equivalent to 2 month’s automobile use; and 3) conserves landfill space, equal to what an average American household uses in 455 days.

Reclaimed Wood

Using reclaimed wood is not a new practice – it was popularized in the 1970’s. It can be used as siding, flooring, cabinetry and furniture. What makes reclaimed wood unusual is its unique origins:

boxcar bottoms, beer vats, picking vats, old barns, mushroom boxes, snow fences and bridges. Using reclaimed wood in your project is a great way to add a bit of legacy and interest to your space.

Recycled Newspaper (cellulose):

A good way to re-use old newspaper is to pulp it and use the cellulose as insulation. It has the highest average recycled content of all insulation types and uses a fraction of energy of wool and fiberglass. Unlike other types of insulation, scrap cellulose generated during installation can be reused and it is extremely low in Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs). Although it’s 25% less costly than fiberglass, installation can be more expensive.

For some interesting presentations on green building visit the USGBC website: http://www.usgbc.org/DisplayPage.aspx?CMSPageID=1720

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