This is a hard question to answer, and has been the topic of many classroom and late night bonfire discussions. For us, it breaks down to a few basic principles:
We try to use materials that are found or produced locally and have as little embodied energy as possible. We want to support the local economy and the people within it. I would love to use bamboo, but if I have to ship it across the Pacific, it’s probably not the best material to use.
We use materials that are not harmful to the people producing, installing, or living among them.
Not only do we want the inhabitants and the environment to be healthy, but also the building itself. Too many of our new homes are riddled with moisture issues and bad air quality. By creating a breathable wall system, we don’t trap moisture where it doesn’t belong and allow it escape harmlessly and without negatively impacting the performance of the building.
Low embodied energy, with the least extractive methods possible.
This term gets thrown around a lot, and seems to have lost some of it’s true meaning. There are three tiers of sustainability: Economy, People and the Environment.
- Economy – We want to use products that are literally dirt cheap. With cheaper materials, the customer saves money. Sometimes these materials require a little more labor, which puts more money into the pockets of local tradesmen instead of going to the large corporation.
- People – We try to use local materials that help support people in our community. We also try to make sure these materials are non-toxic to anyone who comes in contact with them.
- Environment – We try to use materials with the least embodied energy possible, and try to think in a cradle-to-cradle mindset. We want our building to last forever, but at the point it reaches its end of life, it shouldn’t contribute to the waste stream.