To Live with Respect in Creation – Building Materials

Building Materials

When we are renovating or building is a perfect time to make our buildings more energy efficient.    When I do energy assessments, I always include these paragraphs:

  • “If you replace windows, I recommend buying the best windows you can afford.  Look for windows that are ENERGY STAR® rated for Zone C as a minimum, or Zone D if available.  Also, if you need operable windows, casement and awning windows seal better than sliders.”
  • “During a renovation or repair is a cost effective time to add insulation.  The more insulation you add, the lower your heating and cooling costs will be.  When doing an insulation project, I recommend adding the most insulation you can afford.”

Those are some of the “obvious” things about doing energy efficient renovations.  However, we also make a lot of energy and environment related decisions when choosing our building materials.

Some questions to ask when choosing building materials are:

  • Is it made with a renewable resource?
  • What will happen to it at the end of its life – is it reuseable, or recyclable, or is it going to end up in a landfill?
  • How much energy did it take to create this product?
  • Does it have high thermal mass?  (Thermal mass is the ability of a material to store heat.  High thermal mass materials, like cement, tile, rock, and water, take a long time to heat up or cool down, regulating the temperature in the building – which is a good thing.)

These are a lot of factors to consider.  As you can see from the examples below, none of the materials listed are perfect.  They all have tradeoffs.

Sadly no, I don’t know of a good source of information to compare all the things you’d like to compare.  Really, when we buy anything we need to think it through, and ask a lot of questions.

Instead of buying new, can you buy used through a website like, or from the Habitat Re-store?  Can you use wood reclaimed from another project?  All appliances should be ENERGY STAR® qualified.  All lumber should be FSC certified.  All paints should be EcoLogo certified.

Special thanks to my co-worker Pam Belcher, for doing research for this column as she was creating SES’ Smarter Science Better Buildings program.


Renewable resource

Energy to create

End of life

Oak Hardwood



Long lasting, reuseable








Reuseable, recyclable


Renewable resource

Energy to create

End of life

Asphalt shingles

Recycled paper backing.  Asphalt is a hydrocarbon (not renewable)


Recyclable.  One recycler in Saskatchewan

Metal roofing



Long lasting, recyclable

Recycled rubber shingles

Made from recycled tires


Long lasting.  Recyclable.  No recyclers in Saskatchewan

angie small

Angie manages energy conservation projects for the Saskatchewan Environmental Society, and is an active member of McClure United Church in Saskatoon. You can contact her at


To learn more about the work of the Saskatchewan Environmental Society, go to

“The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it.” (Psalm 24:1)



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