Learning from the Past: Local Materials

Today’s glance at the past to help with green building in the present is more about a building ideology than a building type. When most people built their homes and businesses a hundred years ago, they didn’t order bamboo flooring that took months to cross the pacific from Asia. Instead, they used the materials readily available around them. And we can do the same. What would be the benefits of building your home with local materials? To put it bluntly, the benefits encompass the pros of sustainable living, socially, economically, and environmentally! For one thing, your use of local materials would decrease the cost of transportation and the effects of transportation for those resources. It would also be a way to support your local businesses and economies, which in turn vitalizes and strengthens your community’s culture. Also, your home will be easy to maintain for the future (with repairs and additions) because the materials are close by.

What kinds of local materials are there in Texas?

Mesquite, cedar, pine, and oak trees are found growing abundantly in different areas of our state. These woods can be used for a building’s structure, or for its interior as cabinetry and flooring. There has even been some experimentation with sawdust and ground wood blocks for insulation purposes.

Our Texas soil is also a resource that can be used as a raw building material. Caliche, a soil rich in calcium, can form sturdy bricks when mixed with sand, pozzolan, and lime which are also local soil materials. Adobe can be made from the sandy clay soil in the dry areas of north-western Texas. Rammed earth is always another building option that uses compacted soil to make very dense thermal mass walls. Gypsum found in local soil can be used to make Plaster of Paris (a wall finishing material) when fired and mixed with water. There is also beautiful local stone in Texas, such as the limestone in the central Hill Country.

Think about your water supply as a local material. There are methods that help you collect rainwater from your home for use in your home (no transportation necessary). You can also reuse water grey water in your gardens to prevent overuse of local drinking water sources.

There are even products developing from experimentation with local recycled content or “waste”. Some of these can be purchases through companies that resell materials like lumber from building demos. Others take non-building materials like recycled glass and turn it into tile and countertops for use in your home. Fly ash, a by-product of coal-burning power plants, has been experimented with in Texas to make cement for building.

As new green building products continue to be developed, be sure to research where they come from and use local materials whenever possible. Stearns Design Build has made this a goal for our company. We strive to bring high-quality local products into all varieties of projects, helping your home become a green home.