Back to Nature: Pros and Cons of using Natural Building Materials

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Author – Mattea Jacobs

The need for new construction has increased exponentially due to rapid development and population growth. Architectural design and construction activities have witnessed significant improvements, especially when it comes to building practices and materials used. Due to negative aspects such as climate change, global warming, and rising levels of pollution, efforts are being made to live more “green” and build sustainably. One such effort is to create homes and buildings that are sustainable by using building materials that are natural and practices that do not harm the environment, which in turn reduce our carbon footprint as well.

Green building is not a new trend in India, as the shift to innovative, cost-effective, eco-friendly, energy-efficient, and disaster-resistant building practices were already in place way back in 1990s. However, due to globalization and visible effects of global warming, the number of green buildings in India is increasing drastically.

Let’s take a look at some of the best and most common natural building materials used in green building construction. Like any other building material and method, these ones also have their pros and cons. Your choice should depend on your specific needs, as well as location and building aspects, skills and budget:

Rammed Earth

Rammed earth is one of the oldest methods used in construction, which has been used for centuries with good reason – the structures created are strong and long-lasting. Damp soil or some other raw material, such as gravel, chalk or lime is rammed and compressed tightly into a framework. After it is strong enough and densely compressed, the framework is removed, and your natural rammed earth wall is ready.

Pros: Rammed earth is a simple construction method that needs local materials to work with, and it can be easily mastered even by novices in construction. The raw materials are very easily acquired, as you can use your local building materials and soil, which also significantly reduces the construction costs.

Cons: However, you have to be very careful and thorough in selecting the right soil for your construction purposes, as not all types can be successfully compressed. In this method, it is very difficult to create any other form (especially circular) except for square or box shape. And finally, if you decide to hire a contractor for your home construction, the costs are likely to increase substantially.

Earth Bags

Source: The Better India

Earth bags is another construction method that is age-old, yet very reliable and simple. It utilises a mixture of soil and clay, which are then put into bags (burlap or polypropylene). When the bags are filled up, they are stacked and tamped, creating a solid base, after which you can add as many layers, using the same principle.

Pros: One of the main benefits of earth bags is that any amateur can easily build their home using this method on their own. You do need some knowledge and specialized skill of selecting the right raw material. It is a very low impact and environmentally friendly natural building material that can also function as great insulation for your home, and its costs are lower than other conventional methods.

Cons: The earth bag-based construction requires a lot of strenuous labor, as well as knowledge, so you need to make sure you are properly prepared for the process. Structures made from earth bags will require a bit more maintenance than usual, so be prepared for some extra repair work as well.

Bamboo House

Bamboo-House-India
Source: The Alternative

Bamboo has been intensively utilized as a building material since ancient times. Although India is the second largest producer of bamboo in the world, there is lack of awareness of its uses in building houses or home furnishings. This void has led a few entrepreneurs and organizations in India to promote and provide bamboo house and handicrafts for everyday use as a substitute. They have adopted several innovative techniques that could sustain the environment by imbibing traditional methods along with modern technology for building houses, which are not only cost effective but also eco-friendly.

Bamboo houses are simple to construct, consume less time and are eco-friendly as well. Despite the odds, bamboo-based building materials are slowly penetrating into the mainstream housing market and modern homes. Treated bamboo poles and flat panels that are coated with fire-retardant chemicals are now easily available. Further, bamboo modular units are easily dismountable, reusable, non-corrosive, withstands extreme weather conditions. Cons: There is a lack of skilled artisans who can effectively use bamboo for housing. Further, the bamboo poles are costly and are not easily available across india, which restricts their use.

Straw Bales

Straw bales can be used as both structural elements for building load-bearing walls, or as insulation for your home. With the correct method of packing and density of arranging them, they are a very strong and efficient building solution. Bales are usually made of wheat straw, but they can also be of rice, rye, barley, and similar products.

Pros: Bales create very thick walls, and therefore also function as great insulation for your home. This also leads to your home being more energy-efficient, reducing your carbon footprint, as well as your utility bills. The great density of straw bales contributes to their high fire resistance, making them more resistant than other conventional building materials. They are made from recycled, waste product, which reduces the amount of energy needed for its production, and causes less pollution.

Cons: As straw bales are not a conventional building material, it may be harder to find a construction specialist. Your contractor may first need to learn some new techniques, which can, in turn, increase your overall costs. Straw bales may also create some delays in your construction, as your plans need to be approved by the local authorities, especially if bales are not yet a part of the building codes in your area.

As the construction sector is turning greener, using more innovative practices and natural building materials, the exploitative use of the conventional resources is getting considerably reduced. With this, the construction industry is lessening its harmful impact on the environment and its carbon footprint in both the material production and the building process.

Author bio: Mattea Jacobs is a freelance writer and a green activist who mostly writes about both interior and exterior home design, and environmentally-friendly ways to improve homes. You can reach her on Facebook

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1 COMMENT

    • Hi Anurag,
      we have not heard of hemp being used for building houses. if you have any info, please pass it onto us

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