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Is Stone a Sustainable Building Material?

Published Categorized as Sustainability
Stone is one of the most prolific building materials in existence. Known for its ultimate durability, stone structures are often celebrated for beauty that stands the test of time. We know that stone makes for an excellent building material, but is it sustainable?

Stone is a sustainable building material, but it’s not a renewable resource. However, it can last for over 100 years, requires fewer repairs, and is easily recycled for different purposes.

In the rest of this article, I’ll go through all the reasons stone is considered a sustainable building material. I’ll also discuss how long it lasts and the advantages and disadvantages of using it to build a structure. Let’s dive in!

Why Stone Is Considered a Sustainable Building Material

Stone is probably the oldest still used building material in the world. We know the longevity of stone from the existence of structures such as the Great Pyramids of Giza, which were made from a mixture of granite, limestone, and mortar. Since these incredible structures still last to this day, we can know for sure that stone is a long-lasting material. The fact that stone is known to last a long time is, in itself, a reason to consider it sustainable. If it doesn’t need replacing too often, then we’re saving resources in the long term. There’s no need to replace a stone wall within a decade because it will likely still look the same as it did when it was built – which is what makes it stand out from other building materials. Additionally, stone is easily restructured and , so we can easily reuse stone from one structure in another. Its strength and durability make it easily reclaimed making it a sustainable material to build with. Stone is also cheaper to manufacture since it is most often used in its original form, so its carbon footprint is relatively low compared to other building materials.

Is Stone a Renewable Resource?

Stone is not a renewable resource. Renewable resources are typically thought of as resources that can be reproduced naturally at a rate quicker than it is being used. While sunlight is naturally regenerated, stone takes thousands of years to restore.

While stone is not considered a renewable resource, it is still a highly valuable and environmentally-friendly material for construction purposes. Compared to other materials such as metal, its carbon footprint is still quite low. The only problem with stone not being a renewable resource is that we are quickly using more stone than can replenish – so if we continue to use as much stone as we currently are, we may soon need to find an alternative.

How Long Does Stone Last?

So we know that stone is generally thought of as a sustainable building material. However, other things need to be taken into account when deciding which materials to use for building, and longevity is one of the most critical aspects of that decision.

Stone can last over 100 years if carefully maintained. This is because of the nature of the material and how resistant it is to the elements and the external environment. Stone is an excellent choice if you’re looking for a sustainable, long-lasting building material.

The fact that stone lasts a long time isn’t just great for the builders, it’s also great for those who reside in those structures. Stone is known for being an , aesthetically pleasing construction solution that can be restructured, if needed, using only the original materials. are also known for their long-lasting nature and can often last over 200 years. Stone walls typically use non-manufactured stone stacked on top of each other to create environmentally-friendly boundaries that outlive other materials, such as wooden fencing. While stone exterior walls will last a long time, it’s good to remember that stone structures, such as kitchen counters, may not last quite as long. This is because stone, in its natural state, is relatively porous. Any food or liquid spilled onto a stone counter will be soaked up by the stone, weakening the material over time.

Is Stone Stronger Than Brick?

Brick is well known for its strength. It’s also a bit cheaper than stone when it comes to building – but is it stronger than stone?

Stone is stronger than brick by a long stretch. Stone will last through strong winds and other extreme weather conditions, whereas brick tends to erode over time. The oldest buildings are all made from stone, so it wins in the durability department.

is renowned for its strength, but stone lasts much longer, therefore being the stronger of the two. Brick often needs replacing or updating every few decades, whereas stone will stand firm for over 100 years in the right conditions. Brick is also much easier to chip, whereas it takes a colossal amount of strength to chip a stone. However, in many cases, architects prefer brick over stone as a building material because it tends to be much more cost-effective.

Disadvantages of Using Stone as a Building Material

So we’ve covered the fact that stone is robust, easily recyclable, aesthetic, and better for the environment than other building materials. However, like everything, it does have a few disadvantages.
  • Stone is very heavy to transport between locations. It takes a lot of effort to use stone if it has to be brought in from another place, which often makes it more expensive to move.
  • Stone can be an expensive material compared to others. Brick is often preferred due to its short-term cost-effectiveness.
  • Stone walls tend to be very . The thickness decreases the accessible surface area in the interior space of the building.
  • Renovating a stone structure requires construction workers with special skills. Not every company is equipped with the skills needed to work with it.
As you can see, although stone tends to be considered very sustainable compared with other materials, it has disadvantages. One of the ways you can mitigate the first disadvantage of weight is to use stone from local quarries. This means transporting it is relatively more straightforward than importing stone from another area.

Advantages of Using Stone as a Building Material

Although there are some disadvantages, there are, of course, many advantages to using this material.
  • Stone is found almost , so it is very easy to source. You typically won’t have to travel far to find a stone quarry, making building with it much more manageable.
  • Building with stone from scratch is quite a simple process. It doesn’t require any special skills or techniques (like you would need if you were renovating an old stone building), thereby making it much easier to source workers for the job.
  • Stone is very low-maintenance. You shouldn’t need to do anything to your exterior walls if they’re made of stone, even if they’re pretty old.
  • It will last a very long time. You shouldn’t have any problems with stone, even if you live in an area with extreme weather.
  • Stone is also fire-resistant. This is excellent for those who worry about fire and other such hazards.
  • Stone typically retains the value of your home over the long term. You won’t have to worry about resale declining over time since stone is durable enough to maintain it.
  • If you care for the environment, stone is an excellent choice. Other materials have a higher carbon footprint due to their manufacturing process, so stone stands out above the rest as a sustainable building material.
  • It’s a good insulator. If you live in a cold climate, you’ll find that stone will keep you warmer than any other building material.

Is Stone an Expensive Building Material?

Stone is considered to be a relatively expensive building material. Ultimately, the installation cost will depend on what kind of stone you use, the size of the building, and whether you’re using natural stone or manufactured stone.

Although stone might be expensive in the short term, in the long term, it pays for itself tenfold. This is because it is durable enough to outlast any other material, all the while lifting your resale value.

Types of Stone for Building

If you’re looking to build with stone, you’ll need to decide what kind of stone you want. There are many different types, each with its advantages and disadvantages. Here are a few types of stone that you can consider:
  • Granite
  • Slate
  • Sandstone
  • Marble
  • Limestone
  • Basalt
  • Travertine
All types of stone can be used as a building material, and often the difference between them comes down to aesthetics and expense.

What’s the Most Sustainable Building Material?

Although stone is relatively eco-friendly, it’s actually not the most sustainable material out there. And since sustainability is fast becoming one of the most critical aspects of construction for many people, alternative materials have cropped up that may soon take over in popularity.

The most sustainable building material is bamboo. This is because bamboo tends to regenerate without needing to be replanted, sometimes within just a few hours. Bamboo can be found in many places throughout the world, so it is fast becoming popular as a building material.

is also considered to be very sustainable, as well as recycled steel. Recycled steel is relatively eco-friendly, but it does have a higher carbon footprint due to the manufacturing process required to create it.

Bamboo

Bamboo takes such a short amount of time to regenerate that using it as a building material seemingly doesn’t have any environmental impact at all. It is also a relatively strong material for a plant that is technically a type of grass! Additionally, bamboo is relatively cheap compared to other materials. This is because bamboo naturally grows in nature and doesn’t need help regenerating after it has been harvested. Bamboo also doesn’t have much of a carbon footprint. It can be used almost immediately after harvesting and doesn’t require any kind of manufacturing process to make it viable for construction purposes. This is what makes bamboo so ideal.

Cork

Cork is naturally very lightweight, so it makes for easy transportation between sites and the manufacturing process is relatively simple. It’s also an incredible insulator despite its lightweight nature, making it an material for exterior wall cladding and other insulating projects. Cork comes from Oak trees. The material is scraped off the outer layer of the Oak’s bark and taken to be compressed. The process of manufacturing cork doesn’t destroy the trees and has no negative environmental impacts, making it one of the most sustainable building materials you can choose. Cork is currently being used as an to many materials and is also relatively aesthetic. Cork is fast becoming just as popular a building material as bamboo.

Recycled Steel

While steel itself is not particularly sustainable – primarily due to the extensive manufacturing process and the subsequent high carbon output – recycled steel (along with other metals) is considered sustainable. This is because steel, once it’s made, can be used over and over again without in quality. The recycling stage of this material is what makes it so sustainable. Repurposing an expensive metal many times over stops us from using materials that would otherwise have a negative impact on the environment. However, many people do not like the idea of using steel as an external building material because it is not considered particularly attractive. It doesn’t have the same appeal that stone, cork, and bamboo have and is considered by many to be ultra-modern and ugly. On the other hand, recycled steel is considered quite popular as an internal building material.

Final Thoughts

Stone is one of the most sustainable building materials out there, but it’s not entirely as sustainable as bamboo and cork. Stone is famous for its beautiful aesthetic and long-lasting nature. Being one of the most durable building materials makes it an excellent choice for interior and exterior building projects.

Sources

  • Time Space Existence: Bamboo as a Solution for a More Sustainable Planet
  • National Museums Scotland: Pyramid Casing Stone

By Giovanni Valle

Giovanni Valle is a licensed architect and LEED-accredited professional and is certified by the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB). He is the author and managing editor of various digital publications, including BuilderSpace, Your Own Architect, and Interiors Place.

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