Natural Organic Building Materials
Wearing clothes and using home products that don't harm you or the Earth
This article was written in 1997. So much progress has been made on the natural organic building material front. Hempcrete and hemp insulation, for example, are now available, though at a much higher price than standard conventional building materials.
Top photo: The wood is hand-oiled with organic hemp, linseed, and tung oil: zero outgassing. Plus the wall smell nice for many days, like a salad dressing. The oils deepen the color of the wood, bring out the grain, and harden to a soft protective sheen over time. Choose solid wood whenever possible as plywood and composites contain industrial chemicals and glues that outgas volatile organic compounds for years.
Ever since I became aware of the impact of wrong lifestyle choices in 1993, I have sought out products that are made naturally, that would not harm me, or the environment. Our house is a cedar log home (so there's no need for objectionable insulation materials — well, except for under the roof, and for that we chose to go with spray foam, which became benign after it dried a day or two after application). The walls were hand-oiled with organic hemp, linseed, and tung oil.
The best building materials to use are ones that biodegrade and that do not outgas. They are:
Untreated wood or wood treated with natural organic oils like tung oil, hemp oil, or linseed oil (from flax linen). Natural oils take a while to soak into the wood and dry to a soft sheen, darkening and protecting the wood surface at the same time. Watch out for "mineral spirits" and other additives which are often derived from harmful petroleum substances. If you see skulls and bones, then stay away from the product if possible. Many people are allergic to the natural oils in wood such as Western red cedar or yellow cedar, so either used aged wood with no new filing or sanding (the dust will irritate those allergic to it) or choose other types of wood altogether. Cedar and teak are great for outdoor use as they stand up well to the weather. Fir is also good for this.
Cob or brick made from clay, sand, manure, straw, and other natural organic substances. Thick clay walls insulate well on their own without the need for insulation materials.
Strawbale construction is very good if you have access to organic straws (wheat, rye, or oat straw from organic farms are the best), as non-organic straws are likely to contain high levels of pesticide and petrochemical residues.
Since we do all the building ourselves, it's doubly important to us that the materials we use are as natural as possible so we don't ingest any harmful chemicals during and after the building process. Thankfully, there are many safe alternatives out there. You just have to look hard and ask tough questions. Your health is worth it!