When discussing sustainable construction, we often focus on solar panels, energy efficient appliances or cutting edge insulation, but local building materials do not receive nearly as much attention. However, they are an integral part of making any building environmentally friendly and cost effective.
So what qualifies as a local building material and why are they so important? And what are the best ways to search for such products?
There is no hard and fast definition of a local building material, but Architect Magazine states that LEED – which is the standard that every green building aspires to – accepts products made within a 500-mile radius of the construction site, which translates into some 800,000 square miles. Of course, the closer the better; in fact, the magazine stresses that, historically, most buildings were built from materials that originated as little as 500 yards from their location.
To see why, it’s enough to list just a few materials that are in abundance in many parts of the country, and can be easily employed locally. Wood for flooring, clay for structural support, straw for insulation, as well as rocks and sand for mortar and reinforcement are only some of them (stone is another obvious choice, and it’s type will vary depending on the region).
There are many ways to search for local building materials, and some of them may be as simple as exploring the area surrounding your planned construction project on foot. Other channels include talking to local residents who may know someone who does carpentry on the side, or has a small shop that makes countertops using locally sourced stone. This is also a great way to find out about local artisans whose works may provide wonderful decorations for your home.
Other sources of information about local products include the Yellow Pages, and – for those who don’t want the distraction of the listings of all the other products and services under the sun – Various Monks!
A word of caution here: the fact that a product is sold locally doesn’t mean it originated in the region, so those who are truly interested in sustainable building should inquire about each product’s supply chain.
A discussion of local building materials wouldn’t be complete without listing the numerous benefits that their use brings. Firstly, they help protect the environment by minimizing transportation pollution and road damage, reducing CO2 emissions, and making buildings healthier overall. But they also have a significant impact on local economies. That’s because their use stimulates job creation and professional skills development at the local level, builds supply chains that are resistant to global market shocks, and strengthens social cohesion.
Moreover, local building materials can help support affordable housing. According to Ashoka Changemakers, an online community that provides tools to those who are interested in contributing to a better world, globally traded building materials’ prices are dependent on international market forces, and any spike can render low-income housing unaffordable. Moreover, they may not be appropriate given local climactic conditions, especially where features such as resistance to erosion or pest infestation are important.
Finally, it’s important to keep in mind that local building materials are great both for new construction as well as retrofitting of existing buildings.