New and innovative sustainable green building materials are helping architects and builders create buildings that are healthier and more eco-friendly than ever. You may be surprised to learn that one of the most sustainable building materials available isn’t a new innovation, in fact it’s been in use for over 200 years. When it comes to green building materials, steel is the king of sustainability.
The Long-lasting Appeal of Steel
When steel was first used to frame buildings, it wasn’t being used as a green building material. Architects and builders turned to metal frames in the 1700s in order to fireproof buildings, particularly in the agricultural and textile industries. Iron was first used to frame factories and other commercial buildings, but soon proved to be too weak to handle extreme structural loads.
Steel was able to overcome iron’s shortcomings, and was soon being used in towering skyscrapers, across expansive bridges, and in stylish residential homes. In 1933, steel made a grand-debut at the World’s Fair in Chicago, where a “home of the future” exhibit featured three homes completely framed with -- and making extensive use of -- cold-formed steel.
Today’s “homes of the future” are continuing to use steel as a building material, in ways that could never have been imagined in that 1933 exhibit.
Steel has many beneficial properties that continued to make it the building material of choice throughout the years, such as strength, durability, and non-combustibility. But it’s sustainability that is truly making steel shine as a star building material today.
Is Steel the Greenest Building Material Available?
Did you know that steel is the most recycled material in the world? Each year in North America, more steel is recycled than paper, plastic, and aluminum combined. More than 650 million metric tons of steel are recycled every year.
Every piece of steel used in construction contains recycled content. Unlike many other recyclable materials, steel can retain all of its properties without sacrificing quality. In other words, steel has a potentially unlimited life cycle. A steel beam can become a car, a can, an appliance, or even another steel beam -- all without losing any strength.
According to the Steel Recycling Institute, a 2,000 sq foot two story house can be framed from the steel recycled from six cars. It would take nearly an acre of trees to produce the wood needed to produce a comparable wood frame.
And steel isn’t just for framing, either. Recycled steel can be used in many facets of the home. Steel is ideal for windows and doors, where it’s strength and durability can hold large expanses of glass within the narrowest of frames.
Recycled steel can also be turned into countertops, furniture, tiles, cabinets and flooring, as well.
Many traditional building materials can off-gas pollutants, like the formaldehyde often used in manufacturing furniture, flooring, cabinets, and building materials such as plywood and wood panels. Choosing a steel alternative can lead to a healthier home with healthier indoor air quality.
Steel and Green Building Codes
With continually stricter green building guidelines to adhere to, steel is well positioned to help architects and builders meet even the tightest of energy code standards. Steel is recognized in all major green building code standards, including:
- National Green Building Standard (ICC-700) for residential buildings
- ASHRAE Standard 189.1 for commercial construction
- US Green Building Council’s LEED program for all building types
The steel manufacturing industry is constantly looking for new ways to improve its energy use and levels of greenhouse gas emissions. Since 1990, US steel production has achieved a 32% reduction in energy intensity and a 37% reduction in greenhouse gas intensity.
Steel is a green building material that will continue to be utilized into the future. Steel structures can last for hundreds of years, making them as cost effective as they are sustainable. Steel is resilient, able to withstand hurricanes, earthquakes, fires, and blasts. It does not warp, split, or creep, and it resists moisture and pests. Steel’s durability not only equals a short term conservation of resources, but also a long term decrease in carbon emissions over time.
And when the time comes for that steel to come down, it can be recycled and reused again… and again.
From steel building frames to steel windows, stainless countertops, cabinets, and furnishings, steel has proven to be the king of sustainable building materials.