Green Living Building Systems

With the increasing awareness of global warming and environmental sustainability, a burst of innovation has emerged in building systems, especially in the materials we use.  While some of these building methods have been around for eons, other newer systems are developed to recycle and to decrease waste.  The best green building systems are non-toxic and low VOC (volatile organic compounds) for healthy indoor air, appropriately insulating for the region and use recycled content or by-product materials from industry or harvest, all with the ability to become great architecture.

DSC_0254Natural Building Systems:  This refers to building methods and materials that most closely mimic nature, and is sometimes thought of as “alternative building”.  For the most part, materials are harvested straight from the earth and processed by hand or with minimal machine power and are usually obtained on or near the construction site.  Examples of wall systems are: cob wall, wattle and daub, sandbag, light straw bale, straw wood chip clay, or straw clay.  The structure for these systems can be timber framing or advanced wood framing using FSC certified or reclaimed wood unless they are self supporting, as is the case with sandbag construction.  The walls can be covered with earthen plasters, like lime plaster or stucco, then finished with paints that are straight from the earth with a large selection of beautiful natural pigments.  Be sure to incorporate adequate roof overhangs for protection in wet climates.

 3-31-2008 Farhmouse Construction 024Green Insulating SystemsConventional stud wall or balloon framing, the way most homes in the country have been built over at least the last century, can have insulation between the wood members, but a lot of heat loss happens across the wood to the outdoors (known as thermal bridging).  Green insulating systems address this issue by providing near continuous insulation around the entire building envelope.  Many of the above mentioned natural building types are included in this category, especially strawbale for its high insulating R-value.  Insulating Concrete Forms (ICF) are blocks that stack a lot like Lego’s with a place for metal bars and concrete to be poured in the resulting form of the blocks.  Two prominent (at the time of this article) systems are in wide use.  One, such as  Faswall, produced in Oregon, uses a mixture of concrete and wood chips from industry waste and an interior layer of natural cellulose wool insulation to make the concrete block forms.  This provides a system that is breathable, and is non-toxic to the environment and indoor air quality.  Another ICF system uses expanded polystyrene (EPS) for the block sides with a plastic webbing to hold the form and metal rebar in place.  The EPS blocks are lightweight to transport and to construct.  The EPS is super insulating (usually achieving R-28) and does not off-gas.  It utilizes a by-product of the petroleum industry that needs another use other than the landfill, until we become less oil dependent.  It can be recycled if deconstructed in the future.  In addition to insulating blocks, the EPS is widely used in a system known as Structural Insulating Panels (SIP’s).  The insulating EPS (usually between 4 – 8 inches) is sandwiched between two pieces of plywood or OSB (oriented strand board) that provide additional structural strength to walls and withstand earthquakes far better than conventional framing.

Very important to remember when making materials choices is that diversity in building materials supports life.  In other words, driving demand for one product results in over-consumption, which we can all see has been a major degrading factor for planetary life systems.  Better to build with systems that respond best to the local weather and are locally available, decreasing the energy consumed for long distance transportation.  Buying locally contributes to local economic sustainability while adding to a regions vernacular character.

About Elizabeth Diane

Elizabeth Diane is the owner of Lucid 9 Design, Inc., a residential building design firm in Olympia, Washington USA, and An accomplished pianist and sand sculptor, with a passion for Sacred Geometry and quantum physics, her fascination with patterns and vibration, led her to incorporate the harmonic proportions of sacred geometry into her building designs. She can be reached at

Comments are closed.