Building a greener future

Cambridge builders, Refresh Renovations, offer sustainable design and build services for homeowners looking for new-builds, home renovations and extensions in Cambridge

Solar panels on roof - sustainable building material ideas

There’s little doubt that concrete remains the default material in any domestic construction project, but changes are afoot. As attention turns to sustainability and the future of the planet, developers and builders are becoming ever more mindful of keeping their projects as green as possible. Prices are becoming more competitive and the levels of knowledge are also increasing rapidly. At Refresh Renovations, we’re committed to staying ahead of the game when it comes to sustainable development, and our Cambridge franchisee Simon Kelliher is passionate about embracing innovations in environmentally friendly construction.
There’s a long way to go in terms of universal acceptance of sustainable development, but looking beyond concrete - our top five recommendations for green materials are as follows:


It might sound primitive, but the use of straw harks back to a time when all buildings were constructed from affordable locally available materials. It’s possible to seal straw bales to provide high-quality insulation, and to use them as a replacement for concrete, plaster and gypsum. In budgetary terms, straw bales are cost-efficient and they are extremely environmentally friendly. As with all materials, straw does have its drawbacks, but they are far from insurmountable. One key issue is that straw bales can rot if their moisture content rises above 20%. It’s therefore advisable to keep the time that the bales are exposed to the elements to an absolute minimum, with the best practice being to create a design that permits the roof to be in place before the straw is introduced. It’s advisable also to sheet in scaffolding or at least hang tarpaulins to keep the wind and rain out of the site.

Recycled plastic

To avoid plastic material ending up in landfill sites, there is a move to create building materials from recycled bottles and packaging. As an alternative to the manufacturing of new concrete blocks, the use of recycled plastic is beneficial in reducing greenhouse gases and provides a solution to the ever-increasing mounds of used plastic. Recycled plastic is also extremely durable and does not suffer damage from sunlight due to its resistance to UV. Most commonly, construction materials manufactured from recycled plastic contain one of three components: polyethylene, which is found in plastic bottles, bags and wrap; polystyrene, which is used for cups and packaging; or PVC, which is utilised for windows. Whether made entirely from recycled plastic or using a combination of used plastic and recycled wood, the most prevalent construction materials are currently damp proof membranes, pipes, ducting, soffits and fascias, roofing materials and decking and flooring products. It is worth noting that while packaging is the largest user of plastic in the UK, it is followed by construction which accounts for a staggering 23% of all plastic use


One of the most sustainable materials, wood is not only flexible and naturally available but also, remarkably, actually removes carbon from the atmosphere instead of adding to it. Wood requires very little energy-sapping treatment prior to use and can bring unparalleled natural beauty to any project. It enables structures to be erected very efficiently and offers the strength of steel at a fraction of the weight, making it increasingly popular with architects and developers. And as construction teams come under greater pressure to maintain clean and healthy building sites, engineered wood scores highly in reducing waste and mess as well as requiring fewer delivery vehicles than conventional concrete. When considering the merits of wood against concrete, it is worth remembering that a single tonne of cement issues close to one tonne of carbon in its preparation, while the equivalent tonne of wood will actually remove twice its weight in carbon from the atmosphere through the trees that make it up.


When you consider that around four billion tonnes of concrete are manufactured annually, the amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere as a result is a cause for genuine concern. Such concern has given rise to one of the new kids on the construction block – ferrock – which combines different recycled materials to form a material that closely resembles concrete but boasts even greater strength. Ferrock is made from steel dust and silica from ground glass, which when molten can combine with carbon dioxide to generate iron carbonate which solidifies to lock in the CO2. Ferrock offers flexibility, so is ideal for use in construction projects where seismic activity can be an issue, and is also chemically inactive, making it an excellent choice for coastal projects. The main benefits, however, are its cost-effectiveness and its ability to absorb carbon dioxide as it dries and hardens, making it in effect a carbon-neutral building solution.


Once the preserve of trendy environmentalists, bamboo has in fact been used in construction for thousands of years, albeit in locations blessed with natural availability. However, its light weight and relative strength make it a credible alternative to concrete in certain environments. Bamboo takes around three to five years to grow fully, and it doesn’t require replanting because its root is left intact during harvesting. Increasingly popular for flooring, bamboo regenerates in a fraction of the time necessitated for traditional hardwood, which can take up to 120 years to regrow. Overall, bamboo has excellent renewable credentials and can offer a unique finish for any renovation project.
As Simon Kelliher of Cambridge builders, Refresh Renovations, comments, anything we can do collectively to protect the environment when specifying a renovation or extension project should be welcomed. ‘It’s no secret that the production of concrete generates high levels of greenhouse gases which are inevitably released into the atmosphere and in turn contribute to climate change globally,’ comments Simon. ‘At Refresh we are conscious of the impact that our projects can have on the environment, so we always encourage our clients to give due consideration to sustainable materials. Given that recycled materials can be lightweight, durable and cost-efficient, we believe that it’s worth looking at all the alternatives before drawing up a conventional specification. Clearly, recycled materials aren’t suitable in every situation, but we are nevertheless committed to ensuring that environmental stewardship is high one everyone’s agenda.’

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Refresh Renovations UK are Cambridge builders offering sustainable design and build services. To discuss how Refresh can manage the environmental impact of your new-build, renovation project or home extension, please get in touch today using the enquiry form listed alongside, or if you would like to submit a more comprehensive enquiry, you can do so on the Get In Touch page.

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