Railway ties that were unearthed from road reconstruction.

Reclaimed wood has many uses, including for flooring, fencing, doors, window frames and furniture. (Getty Images)

The visible and devastating effects of climate change have many consumers trying to reduce their carbon footprint and make more conscious shopping decisions. In some cases, it’s small efforts like buying metal straws in place of plastic ones, and in other cases consumers are making big changes like opting for an electric car – or foregoing one altogether.

Homeowners who are building or remodeling can choose more sustainable options for building materials. By using organic products, reclaimed materials and local resources, you can reduce the energy expended and waste created while building, improving and living in your home.

Here are sustainable building materials to consider for your home:

  • Earth shelter.
  • Reclaimed wood.
  • Reclaimed metal.
  • 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.
  • Recycled plastic.

[Read: 11 Popular Home Updates That Are Worth the Money]

Earth Shelter

An earth shelter home is primarily covered by a hill, which either already existed or was built from flat land to cover the structure. You’ll want to use a home builder who has experience with earth shelters to avoid water leakage issues or structural instability. For these structures, the reported benefits lie in the added protection from the elements and reduced utility costs since temperatures in the home stay relatively temperate.

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.

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.

Bamboo

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 construction in the future. It's most often seen today as a flooring option.



Cork


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.

Mycelium

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 in July on the potential uses for mycelium in food production and the advancement of medical technologies.

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

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.

Adobe

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

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.

[See: 6 Alternatives to Traditional Air Conditioning]

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 Steel Recycling Institute, roughly 60 to 80 million tons of steel scrap are recycled each year into new steel products in North America.

Ferrock

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.

Timbercrete

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.

Grasscrete

Unlike many of the above 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.

Papercrete

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.

Hempcrete

Like timbercrete, hempcrete is a lighter weight than traditional concrete, which cuts down on shipping costs. Hemp farming has largely been kept at a minimum in the past due to marijuana laws that make hemp, which is a strain of the cannabis plant. However, at the close of 2018 the U.S. legislature made hemp an ordinary agricultural product, thus making it legal to grow. Individual states have overturned laws that outlaw hemp farming as well, 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.

[Read: 10 Home Landscaping Rules You Should Never Break]

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.

Recycled Plastic


Research continues on how to recycle plastic into a useful building material to cut down on the amount of plastic waste in the world. Recycled plastic lumber, which is essentially a recycled plastic product with the capabilities of wood, is developing as a viable construction option. To ensure the process of recycling the plastic and its use as lumber is beneficial to both the environment and the public, the American Society for Testing Materials has developed standards for the creation and use of recycled plastic lumber.


The 20 Best Places to Live in the U.S. for the Weather in 2019

Avoid the extremes in these metro areas.

(Getty Images)

How you take to the weather where you live can be a major factor in how much you enjoy living there. U.S. News went on the hunt for the metro areas – out of the 125 largest in the U.S. considered for the Best Places to Live rankings – that offer the most moderate temperatures and plenty of sunshine. Data is from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Centers for Environmental Information, and it factors in the average number of cloudy days and the average number of days above 90 degrees or below 32 degrees Fahrenheit. Those with the fewest cloudy days and the most balanced temperatures made our list. Read on for the Best Places to Live in the U.S. for the Weather.

20. Little Rock, Arkansas

20. Little Rock, Arkansas

Little Rock, AR, USA - June 12, 2015: View of W Markham Street in downtown Little Rock city, Arkinsas

(Getty Images)

Best Places 2019 Rank: 88
Metro Population: 730,346
Median Home Price: $147,150
Median Annual Salary: $43,780
Days Below Freezing: 55
Days Above 90 Degrees: 75
Mean Number of Clear or Partly Cloudy Days: 219

The capital of Arkansas typically has 55 days with lows below 32 degrees and 75 days above 90 degrees during the year. With 219 days of clear or partly cloudy skies, there are plenty of opportunities for residents to enjoy the weather in Little Rock.

Learn more about Little Rock.

18. Memphis, Tennessee (tie)

18. Memphis, Tennessee (tie)

"The Historic Main Street Trolley in Memphis, Tennessee, with buildings, an elegant station, and water fountains in the background."

(Getty Images)

Best Places 2019 Rank: 118
Metro Population: 1,344,058
Median Home Price: $151,900
Median Annual Salary: $43,590
Days Below Freezing: 53
Days Above 90 Degrees: 68
Mean Number of Clear or Partly Cloudy Days: 214

Tied with the next place on the list and located along the Mississippi River in southwestern Tennessee, Memphis offers residents an average of 53 days with a low temperature below freezing and 68 days that peak above 90 degrees.

Learn more about Memphis.

18. Greenville, South Carolina (tie)

18. Greenville, South Carolina (tie)

Greenville, South Carolina, USA downtown buildings.

(Getty Images)

Best Places 2019 Rank: 22
Metro Population: 872,463
Median Home Price: $172,067
Median Annual Salary: $43,230
Days Below Freezing: 61
Days Above 90 Degrees: 40
Mean Number of Clear or Partly Cloudy Days: 221

Located in the northwestern portion of South Carolina, Greenville enjoys milder weather partly due to its proximity to the Blue Ridge Mountains. Of the 221 days residents can spot some sun throughout the year, a little over half are clear days, with an average of 100 partly cloudy days.

Learn more about Greenville.

17. Birmingham, Alabama

17. Birmingham, Alabama

Birmingham skyline at twilight, Birmingham, Alabama, United States of America, North America

(Getty Images)

Best Places 2019 Rank: 89
Metro Population: 1,144,097
Median Home Price: $171,450
Median Annual Salary: $47,300
Days Below Freezing: 51
Days Above 90 Degrees: 61
Mean Number of Clear or Partly Cloudy Days: 210

Birmingham comes in at No. 17 with a decent number of both hot and cold days, although residents experience, on average, 10 more days above 90 degrees during the year than they endure temperatures below 32 degrees. With 155 completely cloudy days out of the year, Birmingham residents typically see just 99 fully clear days annually.

Learn more about Birmingham.

15. Modesto, California (tie)

15. Modesto, California (tie)

Sunset light on magnificent oaks growing along Dry Creek in Modesto, California.

(Getty Images)

Best Places 2019 Rank: 120
Metro Population: 803,074
Median Home Price: $289,168
Median Annual Salary: $46,176
Days Below Freezing: 22
Days Above 90 Degrees: 82
Mean Number of Clear or Partly Cloudy Days: 261

Modesto enjoys a good deal of days above 90 degrees, with 82 hot days a year, on average. But cold nights are far less frequent. The Modesto area typically hits freezing temperatures or below 22 days throughout the year.

Learn more about Modesto.

15. Stockton, California (tie)

15. Stockton, California (tie)

Webber Point Silhoutted Red Sunset Reflection, Stockton Callifornia

(Getty Images)

Best Places 2019 Rank: 123
Metro Population: 724,153
Median Home Price: $352,350
Median Annual Salary: $46,770
Days Below Freezing: 22
Days Above 90 Degrees: 82
Mean Number of Clear or Partly Cloudy Days: 261

Similar in population size to Modesto, neighboring Stockton also occupies the No. 15 spot. With an average of only 104 cloudy days per year, residents are lucky enough to enjoy some sun more than 70 percent of the year.

Learn more about Stockton.

14. Sacramento, California

14. Sacramento, California

Clouds over cityscape of Downtown Sacramento at sunset.

(Getty Images)

Best Places 2019 Rank: 82
Metro Population: 2,268,005
Median Home Price: $389,858
Median Annual Salary: $55,010
Days Below Freezing: 18
Days Above 90 Degrees: 73
Mean Number of Clear or Partly Cloudy Days: 265

A bit milder on both the cold and hot ends of the spectrum, Sacramento is about 75 miles north of Stockton and Modesto. The Northern California metro area – and the state’s capital city – averages 265 clear or partly cloudy days per year.

Learn more about Sacramento.

13. San Juan, Puerto Rico

13. San Juan, Puerto Rico

Cheap beach vacations

(Getty Images)

Best Places 2019 Rank: 125
Metro Population: 2,193,264
Median Home Value: $124,200*
Median Annual Salary: $29,820
Days Below Freezing: 0
Days Above 90 Degrees: 65
Mean Number of Clear or Partly Cloudy Days: 276

Puerto Rico’s capital city sees 65 days that hit above 90 degrees but no days dipping below freezing temperatures. San Juan’s location in the Caribbean means it has an elevated risk of storms during hurricane season. But those storms certainly aren’t the whole story, as the San Juan area averages 276 clear or partly cloudy days annually.

Learn more about San Juan.

(*The median home price for San Juan was not available, so median home value per Data USA is listed.)

12. Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

12. Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

Myrtle Beach South Carolina aerial view at sunset

(Getty Images)

Best Places 2019 Rank: 75
Metro Population: 432,772
Median Home Price: $181,800
Median Annual Salary: $35,890
Days Below Freezing: 41
Days Above 90 Degrees: 44
Mean Number of Clear or Partly Cloudy Days: 215

The popular tourist destination in coastal South Carolina doesn’t reach above 90 degrees more than 44 days a year, on average. Still, residents and visitors don’t have to worry about too many gloomy days – typically 215 days per year are either clear or partly cloudy.

Learn more about Myrtle Beach.

11. Fayetteville, Arkansas

11. Fayetteville, Arkansas

Houses in a neighborhood in Arkansas

(Getty Images)

Best Places 2019 Rank: 4
Metro Population: 514,166
Median Home Price: $177,942
Median Annual Salary: $45,830
Days Below Freezing: 72
Days Above 90 Degrees: 77
Mean Number of Clear or Partly Cloudy Days: 218

This Arkansas metro area has roughly 30 more cold and hot days per year than Myrtle Beach, but the weather extremes balance each other out. Additionally, Fayetteville sees three more clear or partly cloudy days per year.

Learn more about Fayetteville.

10. Atlanta

10. Atlanta

Atlanta, Georgia, USA downtown city skyline.

(Getty Images)

Best Places 2019 Rank: 57
Metro Population: 5,700,990
Median Home Price: $209,658
Median Annual Salary: $51,390
Days Below Freezing: 44
Days Above 90 Degrees: 43
Mean Number of Clear or Partly Cloudy Days: 217

Atlanta gets some cool nights and its fair share of hot days, but those almost completely cancel each other out across an entire year. With an average of 149 cloudy days per year, Georgia’s capital has more gloomy days than others on the list, but the sun is certainly present most days.

Read more about Atlanta.

9. Tulsa, Oklahoma

9. Tulsa, Oklahoma

Tulsa downtown skyline with trees and the Arkansas river in the foreground.

(Getty Images)

Best Places 2019 Rank: 83
Metro Population: 977,869
Median Home Price: $149,000
Median Annual Salary: $45,260
Days Below Freezing: 76
Days Above 90 Degrees: 73
Mean Number of Clear or Partly Cloudy Days: 235

The first of two Oklahoma metro areas on the list, Tulsa comes in at No. 9 with a difference of just three days between the average nights dipping below freezing and average days peaking at 90 degrees or above.

Learn more about Tulsa.

8. Oklahoma City

8. Oklahoma City

(Getty Images)

Best Places 2019 Rank: 68
Metro Population: 1,353,504
Median Home Price: $150,925
Median Annual Salary: $46,070
Days Below Freezing: 76
Days Above 90 Degrees: 71
Mean Number of Clear or Partly Cloudy Days: 235

While Oklahoma City experiences plenty of cold nights and hot days, a near-even balance between the two makes either extreme seem more tolerable for a full year. Of those 235 days where residents see at least some sun, 139 of those, on average, are completely clear.

Learn more about Oklahoma City.

7. Los Angeles

7. Los Angeles

Downtown Los Angeles at sunset.

(Getty Images)

Best Places 2019 Rank: 107
Metro Population: 18,585,594
Median Home Price: $526,214
Median Annual Salary: $53,803
Days Below Freezing: 0
Days Above 90 Degrees: 21
Mean Number of Clear or Partly Cloudy Days: 263

Not the only SoCal metro area on the list, Los Angeles averages just 103 cloudy days per year. With no nights of freezing temperatures and 21 days over 90 degrees, the City of Angels makes for a great place to enjoy warm weather without extremes.

Learn more about Los Angeles.

6. Honolulu

6. Honolulu

Typical picturesque sunset along Waikiki Beach with hundreds gathering to watch

(Getty Images)

Best Places 2019 Rank: 60
Metro Population: 990,060
Median Home Price: $581,658
Median Annual Salary: $54,030
Days Below Freezing: 0
Days Above 90 Degrees: 24
Mean Number of Clear or Partly Cloudy Days: 271

That tropical vacation wasn’t too good to be true – Hawaii’s weather really is that nice all the time. Honolulu’s island location is the perfect spot if you want to avoid freezing lows at night while experiencing just a handful of days above 90 degrees.

Learn more about Honolulu.

4. San Jose, California (tie)

4. San Jose, California (tie)

Mixed-use european style buildings of the upscale Santa Row shopping district in San Jose, California.

(Getty Images)

Best Places 2019 Rank: 14
Metro Population: 1,969,897
Median Home Price: $1,080,017
Median Annual Salary: $77,180
Days Below Freezing: 0
Days Above 90 Degrees: 2
Mean Number of Clear or Partly Cloudy Days: 260

Tied for fourth place with a close Bay Area neighbor, San Jose averages only two days above 90 degrees per year and doesn’t experience any freezing temperatures. It’s no wonder the city is the capital of Silicon Valley – tech startups can’t resist the ideal weather.

Learn more about San Jose.

4. San Francisco (tie)

4. San Francisco (tie)

Aerial view of San Francisco and the Oakland Bay Bridge. See other photos from USA:

(Getty Images)

Best Places 2019 Rank: 7
Metro Population: 4,641,820
Median Home Price: $768,517
Median Annual Salary: $69,700
Days Below Freezing: 0
Days Above 90 Degrees: 2
Mean Number of Clear or Partly Cloudy Days: 260

Known for its rolling fog, San Francisco coming in at No. 4 may be a surprise. But that fog often burns off by the afternoon – and 260 days out of the year are typically clear or partly cloudy.

Learn more about San Francisco.

3. San Diego

3. San Diego

Last minute vacation in San Diego, United States

(Getty Images)

Best Places 2019 Rank: 36
Metro Population: 3,283,665
Median Home Price: $555,325
Median Annual Salary: $56,410
Days Below Freezing: 0
Days Above 90 Degrees: 3
Mean Number of Clear or Partly Cloudy Days: 263

With no freezing days and an average of just three days over 90 degrees, San Diego is No. 3 on the list of Best Places to Live in the U.S. for the Weather. And with just 102 cloudy days per year on average, you’ll be spending plenty of time on the beach enjoying the blue skies and sunshine.

Learn more about San Diego.

2. Salinas, California

2. Salinas, California

"Agricultural lands ready to be planted in the Salinas Valley, California USA"

(Getty Images)

Best Places 2019 Rank: 117
Metro Population: 433,168
Median Home Price: $581,342
Median Annual Salary: $48,290
Days Below Freezing: 6
Days Above 90 Degrees: 3
Mean Number of Clear or Partly Cloudy Days: 267

Located just inland from Monterey Bay and south of the San Francisco Bay Area, Salinas offers residents only six nights below freezing and three above 90 degrees, on average, throughout the year.

Learn more about Salinas.

1. Santa Barbara, California

1. Santa Barbara, California

Girls getaway

(Getty Images)

Best Places 2019 Rank: 73
Metro Population: 442,996
Median Home Price: $463,750
Median Annual Salary: $54,320
Days Below Freezing: 6
Days Above 90 Degrees: 3
Mean Number of Clear or Partly Cloudy Days: 286

A little northwest of Los Angeles along the California coast, Santa Barbara benefits from beach breezes and the beauty of Los Padres National Forest. With as few as 79 cloudy days per year, on average, Santa Barbara tops the list of Best Places to Live in the U.S. for the Weather.

Learn more about Santa Barbara.

The Best Places to Live in the U.S. for the Weather include:

The Best Places to Live in the U.S. for the Weather include:

USA, Florida, Stuart, Aerial view of suburbs

(Getty Images)

  • Santa Barbara, California
  • Salinas, California
  • San Diego
  • San Francisco
  • San Jose, California
  • Honolulu
  • Los Angeles
  • Oklahoma City
  • Tulsa, Oklahoma
  • Atlanta
  • Fayetteville, Arkansas
  • Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
  • San Juan, Puerto Rico
  • Sacramento, California
  • Stockton, California
  • Modesto, California
  • Birmingham, Alabama
  • Greenville, South Carolina
  • Memphis, Tennessee
  • Little Rock, Arkansas

Read More

Tags: real estate, housing, environment, energy efficiency


Devon Thorsby is the Real Estate editor at U.S. News & World Report, where she writes consumer-focused articles about the homebuying and selling process, home improvement, tenant rights and the state of the housing market.

She has appeared in media interviews across the U.S. including National Public Radio, WTOP (Washington, D.C.) and KOH (Reno, Nevada) and various print publications, as well as having served on panels discussing real estate development, city planning policy and homebuilding.

Previously, she served as a researcher of commercial real estate transactions and information, and is currently a member of the National Association of Real Estate Editors. Thorsby studied Political Science at the University of Michigan, where she also served as a news reporter and editor for the student newspaper The Michigan Daily. Follow her on Twitter or write to her at dthorsby@usnews.com.

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