Earthship house

After experiencing the dangerous escalation of climate impacts like drought, wildfire, flooding, and extreme weather, people want to make better and more sustainable choices to reduce their environmental impact. It is no surprise then that they want to be less wasteful when building or upgrading their homes.

Conventional houses release large amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, both in the building process and as we live in them. The materials we choose make a difference in the carbon footprint of the home. For example, one report indicates that a brick-built house creates twice the carbon footprint as a wood-built house. The United Nations Environment Program found that buildings and their construction account for 36% of global energy use and 39% of carbon dioxide emissions. This means our traditional building methods are responsible for over one-third of energy-related greenhouse gas emissions.

To meet the Paris Agreement’s target of being net-zero carbon by 2050, everyone needs to do their bit. So if you’re planning on building a new home, designing it with minimal waste in mind — both in regards to energy and building materials — is the best route forward.

Here are five of the least wasteful ways to build your home.

Log Cabin

Log cabin in snow
Many log cabin owners find they spend less on heating and cooling. Image: 12019, Pixabay

Building with logs can be an environmentally friendly way to build your sustainable home. Many companies now sell log cabin kits that mimic the increasingly sustainable practices of the manufactured homes industry. For example, Katahdin Cedar Log Homes uses responsibly harvested trees like the Northern White Cedar, which is abundant in their area, instead of shipping logs across the country or around the planet. The strategy reduces fuel costs to transport materials and lowers emissions. They also have a zero-waste policy regarding their logs; if certain logs don’t meet the criteria to be used for the walls, they’ll be used for something else in the build.

If you choose to build your own log home, the process of harvesting logs requires much less energy than producing traditional manufactured building materials. This is one way that building a log home produces fewer greenhouse emissions than a traditional home.

In addition, many log cabin owners find that they use less energy. The logs are naturally insulating because they store and release heat like thermal batteries, so log homes require less heating and cooling. A 2006 report by the Edinburgh Centre for Carbon Management estimates that greenhouse gases could be reduced by 86% by using logs and timber instead of conventional building materials like concrete, steel, and aluminum.

Reclaimed Materials Home

Stone and timber may be obvious material choices for building an eco-friendly home, but there are a whole host of other options. One of those is using reclaimed and recycled materials in the construction of the home.

Homes built from recycled materials do not need to look old and recycled. There are some companies that turn old waste products — such as rubble, glass, and clay — into bricks that look brand new. If you want to build a home sustainably but want to achieve a new modern look, this is a great option.

This reclamation yard offers reclaimed materials you can use to build your home
Using reclaimed materials, such as flooring, glass bricks, and salvaged beams, may be more sustainable than buying newly manufactured materials. Image: Pauline Eccles (CC BY-SA 2.0), via Wikimedia Commons

Other, more unique options, include using reclaimed materials such as pallets, old windows, flooring, siding, or salvaged beams. By choosing reclaimed materials, you omit the need to manufacturer any new materials altogether, therefore avoiding the carbon emissions associated with manufacturing your building materials.

Bottle Wall Home

House with glass bottle wall
Glass bottle walls give a home a striking appearance. Image: Douglas Sprott (CC BY-NC 2.0), Flickr

If you’d rather not cut down trees to build a log cabin, how about building your home with glass bottles? This method uses recycled glass bottles and a binding material such as mortar and clay.

Alfred Heineken has created a brick bottle with flat sides. He designed this after seeing many discarded bottles on a trip to the Dutch Antilles. Unfortunately, his idea did not get the support of the Heineken brewery that makes many of those bottles, but many individuals do choose to add glass bottle walls to their homes. Bottles can be used to create beautiful designs in the walls, filtering light into the home while maintaining privacy.

An alternative to using glass bottles is to use plastic bottles stuffed with other non-biodegradable plastic waste. These are known as ecobricks. In Panama, an entire town was built using discarded plastic bottles.

Shipping Container Home

Shipping container integrated into house design
By building with shipping containers, you can reduce the amount of concrete you need to build your home. Image: Paul Bartlett (CC BY-ND 2.0), Flickr

Incorporating shipping containers into home construction is a great way to recycle a product that might otherwise be left to rot away in a container lot. These huge containers can be used as building blocks to create a frugal and sustainable home. Shipping container homes reduce the amount of concrete needed in traditional building. The production of concrete and cement accounts for 5% of global CO2 emissions.

The container also lowers the carbon footprint of daily living. REACH Homes, for example, designs low-impact container homes and estimates that container homes reduce carbon emissions by just under 15,000 tonnes per year.


Over 40 years ago, architect Michael Reynolds designed the first Earthship, a house that requires little to no energy to build and to live in. Earthships are self-sustaining structures that use renewable energy sources for electricity, passive solar heating and cooling, and water captured from rain, snow, and condensation.

Earthships are made from natural materials, such as compressed earth and adobe mud, and reclaimed materials, including plastic bottles, tires, cans, and glass. The idea is to mix these materials to create strong and durable insulating walls that help regulate indoor temperatures. The structures are built to coexist with and blend into the surroundings, yet are visually striking.

Build your Earthship home with a mixture of natural and reclaimed materials.
Earthships use a mixture of natural and reclaimed materials and are built to be self-sustaining.  Image: Jenny Parkins (CC BY-SA 2.0), via Wikimedia Commons

By choosing to build your home with any of the above materials and methods, you’ll get a beautiful, unique home. Better yet, you’ll save money and be kind to the environment.

About the Author

David Woods is a carpenter, outdoorsman, and author with more than 30 years of professional woodworking experience. David is the author of best-seller How to Build a Log Home and has educated more than half a million people on how to build a log cabin via his website Log Cabin Hub.

Feature image of Earthship is courtesy of Dominic Alves (CC BY 2.0), via Wikimedia Commons

By Earth911

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