Building Materials


man caulking cracks in windowsillEventually, all homes need fresh caulking to fill gaps and cracks that may appear in walls and where different types of materials are joined. Checking and repairing caulk should be one of those maintenance projects that gets done around the house every year or two. It not only saves on heating and air conditioning bills, it prevents moisture and even insects from entering your walls.


concreteBecause of the extreme heat needed to produce cement, the manufacturing process is relatively energy-intensive. It also releases large amounts of carbon dioxide, both from the fuels burned and the chemical reactions that occur in the product as it is created. Since concrete is used in such large quantities, the building industry has developed alternatives to regular concrete that are more sustainable and environmentally friendly:

  • Fly-ash concrete, available in many regions, offers an alternative to conventional concrete
  • Recycled aggregates and lightweight aggregates can replace the usual sand and gravel in some concrete applications

Ducts & Vents

ventIt’s a good idea to have your duct system examined for leaks, blockages, and just poor design. Air conditioning companies familiar with duct testing can perform the examination.

By sealing duct leaks, a homeowner can save an average of 10% of the energy required to heat and cool a new home. Also remember to regularly clean your air filters, supply vents, and return grills.


man rolling insulationThe effectiveness of a piece of insulation is measured by its R-value. The R-value in insulation designates its resistance to heat flow. The higher the R-value, the greater the insulating ability — in other words, the more effective it is. Generally speaking, each time you double the R-value of insulation, you cut your conduction heat loss in that area in half.

Adding insulation to an uninsulated attic is the most cost-effective, energy-saving measure you can do. Make sure that it is installed correctly: compressing it or leaving gaps through which air can flow can cut insulation’s effectiveness in half.


lightbulbIt’s important to understand energy use in lamps. The amount of light given off is measured in lumens. One lumen is the equivalent of the light given off by one candle. A watt, on the other hand, is the amount of electricity a light bulb uses to produce light — it’s not an indication of brightness. One of the easiest and fastest ways to cut your home or office energy bill is to improve its lighting efficiency.

Types of lights:

  • Incandescents
  • Halogen lights
  • Fluorescent lights
  • Compact fluorescent lights

If you replace 25% of your lights in high-use areas with fluorescents, it will save you money, with environmental benefits too.

A compact fluorescent lamp will initially cost more than an incandescent bulb, but because it lasts longer and costs so much less to run, it will prove to be a better bargain over time. Just keep in mind that light bulbs cost much more to run than to buy in the first place.

Use compact fluorescents for lights you use often. The more a light is used, the faster a compact fluorescent will pay for itself.

Outdoor Lighting

lightbulb on string outsideCompact fluorescent lights are the perfect choice for outdoor lighting. Not only can they save you money, but they are also energy efficient. Devices such as timers or photocells can be used to turn lights on and off at appropriate times. Other types include:

  • Specialty lights — There are three kinds of high-intensity discharge (HID) lights: mercury vapor, high-pressure sodium, and metal halide. All require ballasts, much like fluorescent lighting.
  • Solar-powered lights — You can also use solar energy to power outdoor lighting. During daylight hours, a photovoltaic (PV) panel generates electricity that is stored in a battery in most of the low-power light fixtures.

You can cut your home and workplace lighting costs by simply turning off lights when you don’t need them. There are a number of simple, inexpensive lighting controls – both automatic and manual – that will turn lights on and off, helping you to reduce your energy costs.


sod roof on houseMost roofs are replaced — or at least repaired — every 10 years. By carefully choosing your home’s roofing material, you can reduce the cost of replacement. In the long run, you’ll use less building material, fill up less landfill space with discarded material, and put less demand on our natural resources. Other environmental benefits from your roofing choices include selecting a light-colored surface or a material that doesn’t absorb heat from the sun. When your attic stays cooler, your cooling bills go down.

There is a wide choice of materials used to roof a house, ranging from thatch – dried grass, to slate — pieces of stone. Modern products like plastic, fiberglass, and concrete are available, and some innovative, energy-efficient homes are being roofed with sod. New products are being developed to overcome the shortcomings of older roofing materials, meet the demands of modern building techniques, and conform to increasingly stringent building codes.

Shades & Awnings

white window curtainsShading your home – with trees and other vegetation, or with exterior and interior shades – can reduce the temperature indoors by as much as 20° on a hot day.

Shade Devices Outside Your Home

  • Awnings
  • Louvers
  • Shutters
  • Screens

Shade Devices Inside Your Home

  • Use draperies and curtains made of lightly woven, light-colored, opaque fabrics that reflect much of the sun’s rays
  • Some newer blinds are coated with reflective finishes

Structural Insulated Panels

foam between two layers of woodStructural insulated panels (SIPs) sandwich a layer of polystyrene foam between two layers of wood. They can be used for walls, ceilings, roofs, and, on raised foundations, flooring. The panels greatly reduce the amount of lumber needed to build a house. In addition, construction is faster and less labor-intensive. Homes built this way are extremely energy-efficient, quiet, and manufacturing of the raw materials needed for SIPs uses little energy.

Weather Stripping

thin foam with sticky backingWeatherstripping seals around doors and windows help make your home airtight.

These are the major designs you’ll find for use around the house:

  • V-strip
  • Adhesive-backed foam or tape
  • Felt
  • Interlocking metal
  • Tubular rubber and vinyl gaskets
  • Thresholds

Make sure to weather strip electric wall plugs and switches. Although they aren’t in the same category as doors and windows, electrical wall plates do allow cold air into a house in the wintertime.


wood panel windowYou can either fix your windows to make them as efficient as possible, or you can replace them with some of the new technology that has been introduced in the last several decades.

  • Dual-pane windows work to cut down the flow of heat
  • Use wood, fiberglass, vinyl, or vinyl-clad wood window frames
  • Low emissivity (low-E) glass coatings can help to increase a window’s thermal performance
  • Window tints such as bronze and green keep out more of the sun’s heat than clear glass

Wood Frame

wood panelsBy being a knowledgeable consumer, you can insure that wood framing is as efficient and ecologically sound as possible. Consider these suggestions:

  • Avoid larger-sized framing members
  • Use engineered wood products
  • Try to purchase domestic wood

Other programs are being developed specifying a sustainable harvested wood standard in building construction. Consider using salvaged timber and wood products available from operators who disassemble old buildings and bridges and then clean, grade, and often re-saw the timber.