Why Our Building Materials Should Be Almost Edible (Video)

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Screen capture. Lloyd Alter and Andrew Bell

Cork, straw and mushrooms can keep you warm and be a healthy, high-fiber part of a balanced building diet.

Years ago I was called a Luddite for suggesting that we should have a version of Michael Pollan's food rules for buildings – that we should use building materials that are almost edible, at least by cows if not by people. We should "learn from what has happened in the food movement. That's the way people are going; they want natural, they want local, they want healthy, and they reject manufactured chemical products." And that was before anyone was even thinking about embodied energy.

Things have certainly changed, and in advance of a talk at the Interior Design Show in Toronto, The High-Fibre Building Diet: Why Designers Are Turning to Wood and Other Natural Materials, I was interviewed byAndrew Bell of BNN Bloomberg and briefly discussed the issues around embodied energy. I looked at three insulations:

Here are some of the stories I refer to in the video:

Is cork the perfect green building material?

CC BY 2.0. Cork tree in front of factory/ Lloyd Alter

Cork tree in front of factory/ Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

This is really, in so many ways, the perfect insulation, the perfect building material. It lasts forever; this pile of cork is recycled from a 50-year-old industrial cooler. It is totally natural and has an embodied carbon of almost zero. It is healthy and free of flame retardants. It is sound-absorbing, antibacterial, and easy to install. More in TreeHugger

A tiny house mostly made of mushrooms

roof fill

© Mushroom Tiny House roof

After I asked Can we get rid of plastic foam in our buildings?, the tweet came through in response: "YES! We’re growing high-performance insulation materials that are renewable and far safer than EPS or XPS!" It was from the gang at Ecovative, known to TreeHuggers as the inventors of myco-foam technology, where they use fungi to bind agricultural waste into a substitute for stryofoam. Up until now they have been mainly selling packaging materials, but the green building material world is a much bigger market that is screaming for this kind of thing. More in TreeHugger

High-tech Modular Demountable Café Built Of Straw Bale is a "Learning Aid in Low Impact Environmental Design."

Straw Bale Cafe exterior

© Paul Young/ Hewitt Studios

I really lost count of how many TreeHugger buttons this building pushes. The Straw Bale Café by Hewitt Studios is "an extended 100 seat cafe, refurbished kitchen and cafe terrace for the Holme Lacy campus of the Herefordshire College of Technology. The extension is conceived as a College learning aid in low-impact environmental design." More in TreeHugger

And I mentioned, in passing, my hero Fridtjof Nansen, who built the Fram out of wood and cork:

Happy Birthday, Fridtjof Nansen, a pioneer of Passive House

Fram leaving norway

Scan from Farthest North/Public Domain

The sides of the ship were lined with tarred felt, then came a space with cork padding, next a deal panelling, then a thick layer of felt, next air-tight linoleum, and last of all an inner panelling. To form the floor of the saloon, cork padding, 6 or 7 inches thick, was laid on the deck planks, on this a thick wooden floor, and above all linoleum. More in TreeHugger.