In an effort to promote sustainable living in North America and, in the United States in particular, the most common approach to residential construction is wood framing with siding. The siding can range from wood, aluminum vinyl, and fiber cement products. 

Roofs are almost always asphalt shingles followed by a close second with clay and concrete tiles. Roofing is often accomplished with slate tiles, wood shingles and shakes, and even steel panels.

For many homeowners and residential contractors, this sums up the practical possibilities for home building. But there are far more alternatives and many of them far greener and sustainable.

The State of Alternative Sustainable Building Practices in the U.S.Green and sustainable building practices and policies have been implemented throughout the world and are being applied to commercial and residential construction around the globe.

A website page from the World Green Building Council (WGBC) states

“New research by the law firm Baker & McKenzie has highlighted which countries are leading on green building around the world. 

The report, the Global Sustainable Buildings Index, examined 25 countries across Asia Pacific, Europe, the Middle East and the Americas on their sustainable policies, schemes, trends and practices.

The report finds that among the countries included, European countries lead, with the Netherlands, France, Germany and the UK ranking highest overall.”

However, the United States, where LEED originated, remains the world’s largest market for LEED-certified construction projects. And, according to the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), client demand remains the top reason to build green in the U.S. and occupant health and well-being emerged as the top social factor.

The U.S. is also becoming increasingly active in pursuing alternative and sustainable building practices for residential construction. And a large part of this movement involves making use of green and sustainable building materials for homes.

As an article from The Philadelphia Inquirer reported,

“Nearly two-thirds of Realtors surveyed in March said the promotion of energy efficiency in listings could help attract buyers, according to a report by the National Association of Realtors. More than half said their clients were interested in sustainability, and nearly a third reported they were involved in the buying or selling of a property with “green” or eco-friendly features in the last 12 months.”

And this movement is going beyond “smart home” technology and energy efficiency.

Alternative Materials for Residential Construction: Going Mainstream

While this list is not, by any means, exhaustive, it does provide a succinct overview of many of the more common alternative building and construction materials available.

Reclaimed wood, Reclaimed metal, and Recycled steel

  • Reclaimed wood can be used for flooring, fencing, doors and window frames.
  • Metal materials like plumbing or electrical wiring can be reclaimed and reused. 
  • Steel is almost infinitely recyclable, and 60 to 80 million tons of steel scrap are recycled each year into new steel products in North America.


Bamboo is a sustainable alternative for many different applications, such as:

  • Tiles
  • Trim
  • Flooring
  • Lumber
  • Countertops


  • Cork is flexible, strong, resilient, resistant to moisture and absorbs noise well.
  • Cork is a solid option for flooring or as a subfloor instead of using plywood.


  • Ferrock uses recycled materials including steel dust to create a concrete-like building material.
  • Stronger than concrete, it also absorbs more carbon dioxide than it creates.


  • Wood byproducts in a cement mixture, Faswall® is lighter than traditional concrete blocks. The lighter weight reduces transportation costs and the material uses waste wood material.


  • Made from hemp plant cores, lime, and water, hempcrete is used for structural blocks and prefabricated panels for exterior walls.
  • Hempcrete is an excellent insulation alternative to subfloors, walls, attics, in dry climates.
  • Hemp plaster offers sealing and rain protection with the look of conventional stucco.

Straw Bales

  • Straw bales are made from agricultural waste as a substitute for framing lumber.
  • The well-insulated walls have a high R Value and are resistant to fire.

Homeowners who want to build or remodel using more sustainable options for building materials have a wide range of choices. By using organic products, reclaimed materials, and local resources, the energy expended and waste created while building, improving, and living in your home can be substantially reduced

Increasingly, more energy-efficient homes meeting net-zero or passive house requirements are built in the U.S. While on average, they cost about 10 percent more than homes built to code that are energy-hungry and expensive to maintain, they are far more affordable in the long term.

And their reduced impact on the environment is priceless.

A Green Building Consultant Can Be a Valuable Asset for Residential Construction

Green building is a sustainable approach to residential construction that can be pursued by anyone.

However, having the assistance of experienced and knowledgeable professionals can make the process much easier for homeowners, contractors, and others who want to benefit from the advantages of implementing green and sustainable building practices.

Whether you’re a contractor about to build a home, a homeowner planning to build your own home or an addition, or a business owner who wants to create a more sustainable facility, investing in sustainability consulting will benefit you.

A sustainable construction consultant can provide guidance and direction for any aspect of a project, whether it involves new construction, retrofitting for energy efficiency, adding or upgrading energy saving components, or home hardening best practices.

An experienced construction consultant can also guide you in all the phases of your project and answer any questions.

To learn more, email us at or give us a call at (707) 865-5157.

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