Energy Efficient Building Materials

By Megan Ray Nichols

The green building trend of the 21st century has a number of goals. Increasing the sustainability of our entire environment is at the forefront, while secondary objectives include reduced waste, greater product recyclability, lower operating costs on behalf of local business owners and even an improvement in residents’ quality of life. With these goals in mind, there are plenty of opportunities to implement green building materials into the construction or renovation of a home.

Low-E Windows

Low-e, which stands for low emissivity, refers to a highly specialized window treatment that is seeing increasing use in new construction throughout the U.S. Although they’ve been around since the 1980s, recent advancements have made these windows even more energy-efficient than ever before.

From a technical viewpoint, the coating on Low-E windows acts as an insulator that prevents heat from escaping to the outdoors. These windows pull double duty by reflecting sunlight and excess heat away from the window in the summer, ultimately allowing you to maintain cooler temperatures when it’s hot outside.

The benefits of Low-E windows over traditional hardware are enormous. This efficient green building material can lower construction costs and decreased utility bills are the most obvious, but Low-E windows often feature complementary treatments that prevent air leakage, resist condensation and offset solar heat gain.

Recycled Wood/Plastic Composite Lumber

Recycled or reclaimed wood are typical examples of efficient green building materials. Apart from keeping wood scraps out of our nation’s landfills, recycled wood has many advantages when constructing a home. The added durability of recycled and reclaimed products is typically far greater than newly manufactured beams and studs, while the lack of any significant maintenance costs can even make these materials cheaper in the long run. Recycled planks and lumber that have a nice finish many choose for its aesthetic appeal as well as its sustainable nature.

Plastic composite lumber, on the other hand, makes an excellent green replacement for modern decking and wooden walkways. Low maintenance requirements, a prefinished surface that is resistant to weather and damage, and the ease of installation all make plastic composite lumber a great choice for those who are looking to upgrade their home with green building materials.

Cool Roofing

Among the newest technologies on our list, the modern cool roof lets homeowners take advantage of a relatively unused area: the roof of the house. Designed specifically to reflect sunlight, a cool roof expels more heat into the surrounding atmosphere. This results in a much lower temperature throughout the home in summer.

Cool roofing materials vary. The climate you live in restricts your options. You must also consider the overall slope of your roof, its total exposure to the sun and even the need for additional moisture control before installing a cool roof on your home.

Recycled Steel

According to some sources, 50 percent of all steel is allocated toward construction projects around the globe. With so much dependency on this specific type of material, steel products that take advantage of modern recycling methods have the potential to impact industry sustainability in a huge way.

The benefits of recycled steel mimic that of newly produced steel. When compared to wood, these advantages include increased durability, little to no long-term maintenance and resistance to adverse weather. Moreover, all steel scraps can be recycled at the end of the day and reused in other steel products.


Solar panels and appliances have been used, with varying degrees of efficiency, for decades. Despite their prevalence in some communities, solar energy only makes up approximately 1 percent of the United States’ total energy supply. Recent breakthroughs and advancements surrounding the technology are hoping to change that.

Active solar panel installations, which are by far the most common, are available in sizes and capacities that accommodate everything from households and homesteads to commercial skyscrapers and even alternative energy power plants. Passive solar design, a trend that has seen increasing use over the past few years, takes advantage of the sun’s natural positioning in order to provide structures with heating, shading or any combination of the two.

Insulated Concrete Form Foundations

One of the newest and most recent innovations on our list, insulated concrete forms, or ICFs, involve encasing concrete walls within two separate layers of foam insulation. Fashioned in the shape of interlocking or interweaving blocks, these pieces are then arranged and stacked within the walls of a building.

ICFs have numerous advantages over traditional forms of home insulation. Firstly, they are highly useful in regions of extreme weather due to their ability to withstand the elements better than other construction materials.

These blocks can also affect how much you pay for monthly utilities. According to some sources, a home properly outfitted with ICFs can reduce its energy bills by half when compared to a similar home with standard insulation.

A Growing Industry

Although the green building sector is still in its infancy, its potential to affect a real change regarding the environmental sustainability of modern construction methods is tremendous. While traditionalists and critics are quick to highlight the added costs of green building and the difficulty in obtaining such materials, such issues were solved in recent years.

With interest in incorporating sustainable design into construction projects, the use of these and other efficient green building materials will soon become standard. Not only is eco-friendly construction currently on the rise, but it’s also staged to become the next significant innovation in the industry.