Comprehensive List of Eco-Friendly Building Materials

Installation of solar panels to the side of a building.
Justin Horrocks / Getty Images

With the proliferation of green or eco-friendly building materials, no longer is there a need to compromise. You can even furnish an entire house with eco-friendly products.

Buying products for your green home remodel can be a challenge: how can you distinguish the genuinely eco-friendly building materials from those that are green only in name? The eco-friendly building products on this list are either sourced from renewable materials or from recycled content. Some products, notably Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) lumber, are sourced responsibly and the supply chain is transparent. Other products like low- or no-VOC paints and coatings are healthier than their chemical-laden counterparts.

Hard Flooring

Bamboo Flooring

Bamboo is not a wood, but a fast-growing grass that is harvested under cultivated conditions as a cash crop. Bamboo grows to harvestable maturity in only about five years, making it a very eco-friendly building material.

FSC Wood Flooring

FSC stands for Forest Stewardship Council, a non-profit organization that seeks to make sure timber is harvested in an environmentally sustainable way that is also socially beneficial. When you buy flooring products labeled as FSC certified, you can be assured that it has been harvested with the best interests of both forests and citizens in mind.

Salvaged or Reclaimed Wood Flooring

Old wood planks salvaged from demolition jobs can make great material for floors, lending them an antique charm. Salvage yards and architectural antique stores may stock large quantities of salvaged solid wood flooring and other wood planks.

Recycled Ceramic or Porcelain Tile

Used ceramic tile may be available from salvage companies and architectural antique stores. The styles are often very unique.

Eco-Friendly or Not?

No product is 100-percent eco-friendly; there are only varying degrees of green. Plus, there is no single standard for eco-friendliness. LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification is the closest to a category-wide system, but even LEED ignores nuances and critics view it as a way of gaming the system. Not only that but a lot of green building materials are labeled green as a marketing gesture even though their environmental friendliness might be questionable.

Resilient Flooring and Carpet

Linoleum Flooring

As an alternative to vinyl tiles and sheet flooring, linoleum is a more eco-friendly choice. Linoleum is manufactured from linseed oil resins mixed with wood and cork particles. Linoleum is easy to recycle, as well. As long as the linoleum is free of adhesives, it can even be composted.

Cork Flooring

Cork is a renewable material harvested from Mediterranean cork oak trees. The bark renews itself rather quickly after it is stripped from the trunks of the trees. Cork is an important renewable cash crop in some Mediterranean nations, so its use is both eco-friendly and economy-friendly.

Cork is the only flooring that doesn't require the source material to be extracted or cut down. New cork is stripped from trees that remain in place. Other cork is sourced from recycled wine stoppers.

Natural or Recycled Carpeting

A great many carpeting products are made from synthetic fibers made from chemicals, but there are also natural-fiber carpets available, including wool, seagrass, coir, jute, and sisal. Salvage companies may also carry moderately worn carpeting from demolition jobs.

Recycled Rubber Flooring

A variety of flooring materials are available that are fabricated from recycled rubber products, such as old tires. Rubber flooring tiles or rubber sheet flooring can be a great choice for recreation or workshop spaces. Recycle rubber underlayment padding is also available for use under carpeting.

Paint, Stains, and Sealers

Low-VOC Paint

VOC stands for Volatile Organic Compounds, referring to organic chemicals such as formaldehyde, which can outgas into the air. VOCs are what give oil-based paints their unpleasant smell. Low-VOC paints have a smaller ratio of these organic compounds.

Zero VOC Paint

Some paints do away with all VOCs. They can be expensive but may be the best choice for people with high sensitivity to VOCs.

Natural Paint

Natural or organic paints use only natural earth materials and are biodegradable. A real natural paint is entirely free of petrochemicals, which are present even in most zero-VOC latex paints.


Milk paint and chalk paint are similar (though different) paints that use calcium carbonate as a base and do not use VOCs. You can even make your own milk paint from scratch with lemon, borax, skim milk, and pigments.

Non-Toxic Stains and Sealers

Non-toxic stains and sealers are made without VOCs and combustible materials.

Walls and Ceilings

Recycled Content Drywall

Drywall panels such as EcoRock are made with as much as 80-percent recycled materials.

FSC Wood Framing

For structural framing work, you can opt for lumber that carries the FSC certification.

Salvaged Structural Members

Salvage yards very often will have large quantities of 2X framing lumber. If you are willing to pick through large quantities of lumber for good pieces, you can save a considerable amount of money while ensuring that no trees have been killed to remodel your house.

Special Finishes

Recycled Glass Countertops and Tiles

A variety of countertop materials and wall and floor tiles are available that make use of pulverized and recycled glass.

Grasscloth Wallpaper

Most wallpaper is vinyl-based, but you can also use grasscloth wallpapers that use renewable grasses.

Caulks and Adhesives

Soy-Based Caulks and Sealants

Most caulk uses chemical acrylics. But for an eco-friendly alternative, buy soy-based sealants. 

Low-VOC Adhesives and Sealants

As with paints, low-VOC adhesives have lower ratios of VOCs such as formaldehyde and petrochemicals.


Soybean Foam Spray Insulation

Instead of fiberglass batt insulation, spray insulation made of soybean foam can offer the same insulating value.

Shredded Paper or Cellulose Insulation

Shredded and treated with fire retardants, shredded newspaper, and other cellulose materials makes for excellent pour-in insulation for attic joist cavities.

Shredded Denim Insulation

Shredded blue jeans and other cloth materials also makes good pour-in insulation for attic spaces.

Recycled Plastic Insulation

Along with cellulose insulation, another injectable insulation is made from pellets of recycled plastics, such as milk cartons.

Sheep's Wool Insulation

As an alternative to fiberglass batts, rolls of sheep's wool insulation can be used to insulate wall cavities and ceiling cavities. With a cost of about $60 per roll, sheep's wool is a bit expensive but has an excellent R-value.

Wood and Millwork

Salvaged Millwork and Trim

Salvage yards and architectural antique stores often carry a substantial inventory of wood trim and millwork, often in styles that are hard to find elsewhere.

FSC Wood Millwork and Trim

If buying new wood trim and millwork, look for products carrying the FSC certification.


Recycled Metal Roofing

Look for metal roofing panels made from recycled aluminum, steel, copper, or alloys that combine different metals.

Slate Tile Roofing

Slate and other stone roofing products contain natural earth ores and are chemical-free.

Clay Tile Roofing

Roof tiles made from clay consist of natural earth ores that are baked; they contain no petroleum or chemicals.

Fiber Cement Shingles

As an alternative to asphalt shingles, fiber cement is entirely free of petrochemicals.

FSC Wood Shakes

If you would like natural wood shakes for your roof, look for products that carry the FSC certification, which ensures that the lumber has been harvested in a manner that is environmentally and socially sound.

Living (Plant-Based) Roofing

As a coming trend, green roofs integrate living plant material into the roofing surface. Green roofs have been popular in parts of Europe for decades, but are now becoming very popular all across the world. Green roofs have extremely good insulating properties.

Exterior Cladding

FSC Wood Siding

If opting for wood siding, choose products that carry the FSC certification.

Reclaimed Wood Siding

You may be able to find weather barn wood, and other recycled siding materials at salvage yards and stores specializing in used building supplies.

Article Sources
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  1. Marmoleum Circular. Forbo Flooring Systems

  2. Natural Cork Flooring. National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)