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Eco-friendly building materials: What tradespeople need to know

With the threat of global climate change impact every day life, tradespeople can do their bit for their environment. Sometimes choosing to be more sustainable means switching to different materials.

Tradespeople are learning more and more how to be sustainable. While sometimes that means getting better at planning your finances, sometimes it means thinking about the wider picture.

Our planet’s natural resources are gradually going down, and so people are now looking to reduce their environmental impact.

As a tradesperson, there are many materials you could be using. If you use building materials for your jobs, why not think about changing to a more environmentally friendly option.

What are eco-friendly building materials?

In construction, and for tradespeople, earth, bricks, concrete, and wood are often used. But that means the continued felling of trees for timber and the mining of resources to produce cement. Even without knowing how building materials are made, you could do your part to help the environment.

Eco-friendly building materials are created to make sure they do not harm the environment. That means they will be sustainably sourced. But it also means that they can be recycled again or re-used more easily.

Environmentally friendly building materials tend to be more naturally occurring or have been recycled already. As the UK works towards reducing carbon emissions, everyone can be doing that bit more to help achieve the goals.

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What are the types of eco-friendly building materials?

As a tradesperson, you’ll know the different materials that are relevant to the jobs you do. Whether that is related to windows, insulation, construction or flooring, there are a number of options that you could consider.

Recycled steel

One of the most used metals in the world, did you know that all forms of steel can also be recycled? It is largely generated as a waste product from homes and industrial manufacturing. Recycled steel is made by melting down all waste and purifying the metal, to be re-formed into sheets – ready for using again!

For tradespeople, and especially in the construction industry, recycled steel has a number of uses. Just like regular steel, the recycled alternative is used for beams, supports, lighting fixtures and roofing. It can also be used for pre-fabricated sheds and air conditioning systems.

Recycled uPVC

Much like recycled steel, the uPVC in both windows and doors can also be re-used a number of times. Schemes such as those offered by FENSA offer a way to recycle the uPVC from frames as they start to reach the end of their lifespan.

As customers are increasingly replacing old double glazing in their homes, the material can be taken off the glass and melted down. The raw uPVC pellets are then sold on and are ready to make more frames for doors and windows.

Recycling schemes are an eco-friendly way for tradespeople to manage their business and help the environment.

Bamboo building material

With a number of practical uses, and rapid grow time, bamboo is incredibly eco-friendly. Some bamboo plants have been reported to grow up to 1 metre in length in just 24 hours.

Spreading and growing without having to be replanted, bamboo is very good at regeneration. Currently bamboo is not being utilised in buildings to the same extent as throughout the world.

With a high strength-to-weight ratio, bamboo is definitely not being used as well as it could. As a tradesperson, why not think about including bamboo-based products in your work? It can be used in gardens just as well as for beams, blinds, and a range of other products.

Precast concrete panels

Most of a building’s carbon emissions happen during its life. The reason why precast concrete is one of the eco-friendly building materials for houses is that the carbon production is offset. The concrete will then reabsorb about 40% of the carbon over the lifespan of the structure.

Panels of precast concrete are produced away from the construction site in climate-controlled factory conditions. That means that critical factors like temperature and humidity are tightly regulated.

The panels can then be used for walls and other supporting elements in building.


One of the oldest building materials used in the world, straw is also one of the most eco-friendly. As a natural by-product of farming, straw makes up about half of the yield of crops such as barley, oats, rice and wheat.

Humans moved away from straw for building purposes for hundreds of years. More recently though, it has been claimed that as a low impact, low carbon material, straw could be the future for sustainable buildings.

Reclaimed wood

Used for a number of purposes, tradespeople can be that bit more environmentally friendly by choosing reclaimed wood rather than new. Recycled timbers will give a stylish look, as well as proving good for eco-conscious homeowners.

Wood can be used for so many purposes, including furniture, flooring, panelling, decking and garden screens. Whether that material is new or reclaimed doesn’t have an impact upon how you can use it in your trade business.


Usually equated with wine or 1970s tableware, cork is actually something of a dark horse when it comes to the environment. The naturally occurring material can provide a model of a sustainable industry and has many uses for construction.

Cork is both renewable and recyclable, as it regenerates its bark, without any impact on the plant when it gets harvested. As well as an insulating product, it can also be used for flooring, panelling, and even as external cladding.

All of this makes cork a very versatile, and a very eco-friendly building material.

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Plant-based rigid foam

Created from a mixture of natural materials, there are a growing number of eco-friendly rigid foams for insulation. Made from biopolymers such as hemp, kelp and bamboo, these plant-based products have a much smaller carbon footprint.

Compared to fossil-fuel based counterparts, plant-based foam is just as excellent at sound insulation and heat resistance. In some scientific studies, it has proven better at insulating than fibreglass.

Less energy-intensive to extract than regular building materials, plant-based foam is still resilient to changing moisture and heat levels. A degree of protection against mould and pests is also a standard trait.

Sheep’s wool insulation

Although a very naturally occurring product, sheep’s wool has not really been used for building for hundreds of years. Largely fire retardant and insulating, it can also help prevent condensation.

As a building material, sheep’s wool can be used for insulation, but it is one of the more environmentally friendly. Building materials that are naturally occurring, and also come as by-products (such as from the clothing industry) are definitely worth investigating for your trade business.

How do you use environmentally friendly building materials?

Part of the Government’s plans include making the UK net-zero on emissions by 2050. To create a sustainable future for businesses, both economically and environmentally, all people need to try and reduce their carbon footprint.

We’ve put together a handy guide on how you can choose to build with materials that have much less impact on the environment.

Click here to download and read our free guide today!

How do you price a job using eco-friendly building materials?

Getting paid the right amount for a job includes marking up materials and factoring in all of your overheads. You want to make profit on jobs, and that means passing on the cost of any materials you use.

At Checkatrade, we’ve put together a handy pricing template to help you get started.

Eco-friendly building materials are becoming more and more important for tradespeople. Getting a good idea of what choices are out there means you can not only use them, but use them profitably for your business.

Key takeaways

  • Eco-friendly building materials are better for the environment
  • Reduced impact in terms of carbon
  • More sustainably sourced
  • Natural properties such as insulation
  • Help the UK reach net-zero carbon emissions
  • Consider different pricing strategies

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