Gallery of natural building materials

owd_logoThis article was published on and is being reprinted with the authorization of Kelly Lerner, an architect of prestige for her investigation of natural building materials, especially straw bales. In the e-magazine No. 22 we reported on a project in China managed by the author.
Solid, sustainable, and energy efficient are just some of the prolific benefits of natural building. In this Gallery, view some of the key materials used in production of our structures. 

Strong, durable and beautiful, wood is an amazing, sustainable, building material that can be used (and re-used) responsibly.  Using reclaimed wood (like the Douglas Fir in these cabinets) not only looks good, it saves thousands of acres old growth forest.  New wood from sustainable managed forests is certified through the independent Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). Wood is a high value material that should be used in high visibility features like exposed trusses, windows and doors, built-in furniture and countertops.

Together with earth, straw has been used as a building material since the beginning of time. Beginning in the late 1900’s, settlers used straw bales to build the walls of their houses. Now, straw bales are a favoured building material for those who want a highly insulated, energy-efficient home constructed with less processed, environmentally-friendly materials. Straw bale homes are durable, warm in the winter and cool in the summer, fire resistant, expressive, and comfortable.

Natural finishes
Modern latex paints, for the most part, produce flat uninteresting finishes that are often toxic with volatile organic compounds (v.o.c.’s). Natural paints are easy to make and require only a few inexpensive ingredients including clay, lime, chalk, marble, and mineral pigments from the earth. They can be applied to almost any type of wall surface including latex, gypsum, cement, sheetrock, or wood. “Milk Paint” is one example of a traditional natural finish that is finding it’s way back into modern usage.



Cork is the environmentally friendly renewable bark from a cork oak tree that grows primarily around the Mediterranean Sea.  It is stripped from the tree every nine years without damage to the tree.  Due to the unique characteristics of cork, the bark is used for a large variety of products ranging from wine corks to gaskets to floor tiles.  Cork is light in weight and floats, soft but durable, expandable and flexible.  It is moisture resistant yet allows some absorption.  It insulates, isolates, absorbs sound and vibrations, and is anti-static.  There is no other material – natural or man-made – that possesses all of these qualities.

Bamboo is attractive as a building material because it is very hard, strong, and dimensionally stable. Used as flooring, bamboo is just as hard as Maple (1450.3 psi) and 50 percent more stable than Red Oak. Botanically, bamboo is not a wood at all, but rather a grass. Environmentally, it's hard to argue with a wood-substitute that matures in three years, regenerates without need for replanting, and requires minimal fertilization or pesticides. In fact, these larger species of bamboo have been used in construction for thousands of years, and even in modern Asian cities it's not uncommon to see a large concrete building being constructed from bamboo scaffolding.

You are here: Home Past editions Edition 25 - May 2007 Gallery of natural building materials


Wilfredo Santana
Business Administrator
Project management, operational setup of projects, control mechanisms (financial and administration)


EcoMateriales: Teja de MicroConcreto y Paneles de FerroCemento

The EcoSur network presents a short professional video on two major technologies, the Ferrocement panels and the Micro Concrete Roofing Tiles. Filmed in Nicaragua and Salvador, it shows production and application and gives a summary overview of those two materials that have a relatively small ecological footprint and have widely proven to be sustainable in the three classical dimensions ecology, economy and social acceptance.

Read more ...