Home, Home and Garden

Easy Guide To Eco-Friendly Building Materials

Dip your toes into the world of eco-friendly building materials, with this quick primer on the materials to look for and those to avoid when renovating.

Environmental author Ellen Tout is releasing a new book outlining hundreds of practical ways to help combat the climate crisis. Called How To Reduce Your Carbon Footprint, in it, Ellen helps you to turn over a green leaf in every aspect of your life with this comprehensive guide.

Packed with practical, reliable and up-to-date advice about making achievable and sustainable changes, Ellen’s book shows how you can cut carbon in almost every aspect of your life. Whether it’s a simple change of habit or a forward-thinking home improvement project, you’ll find plenty of suggestions to help the environment.

Ellen has kindly let me share an excerpt from this book, outlining what your carbon footprint actually is. From there, Ellen shares some of the eco-friendly building materials to consider the next time you are renovating your home. From wood to sustainable alternatives to cement and more, there are lots of low-carbon alternatives out there.

What Is A Carbon Footprint And How Do We Reduce It?

We’ve been hearing about carbon footprints for a while – in the news, at school and from scientists. The concept isn’t new but until recent years, your carbon footprint might not have felt so tangible. The Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns, COP events, Extinction Rebellion protests and IPCC reports, to name just a few examples, have shown that the climate crisis is a very real factor in our daily lives.

The fact that almost every area of human activity contributes to our carbon footprint might sound like an overwhelming problem. But this means that there is scope to reduce our footprint in every aspect of our lives. Every single little positive step each of us takes does make a difference – it has a ripple effect,
inspiring more people, sparking more small tweaks and adding up to real change.

The phrase carbon footprint may not be a new concept to you – but it’s not always easy to know where to start when trying to measure or reduce it. A carbon footprint is the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) emitted as a direct or indirect result of an activity. Almost everything we do results in carbon emissions – from breathing to travelling, warming our homes or buying food.

Human and other forms of life impacting the environment by emitting carbon dioxide is a pattern as old as the hills. Life itself has always depended on and affected the planet’s carbon cycle. All organic matter contains carbon, and this is released and reabsorbed in a continuous flow. What’s new is the scale of the impact humans are having, and the imbalance it’s causing in the biosphere.

Introductory Guide to Eco-Friendly Building Materials

Flat lay of building materials and tools with a blue text box that reads introductory guide to eco-friendly building materials

While businesses and those in power are starting to wake up, there are so many things we can each do as individuals to reduce our own carbon footprints.

When it comes to our homes, whether you’re doing a spot of DIY or commissioning a dream home, try to minimise the energy that goes into making your building (its “embodied energy”) and use building materials with a low carbon footprint.

Wood For Good

Substitute wood for other building materials where you can. Not only do trees absorb CO2, but, in its processing, wood has the lowest energy consumption and the lowest CO2 emissions of any common building material. It’s also a great insulator. Make sure to use reclaimed or sustainably produced timber.

On average, using a cubic metre (35 cubic feet) of wood generates 800kg (1,760lb) less CO2 than using the same volume of other building materials.

Avoid Cement

Producing 1 tonne (2,200lb) of cement releases around 700kg (1,500lb) of CO2 into the atmosphere. Cement production accounts for about 5% of man-made CO2 emissions.

Cement is one of the most energy-intensive products in the world. If you need to use cement or concrete, try Hemcrete® – a highly insulating, low-carbon alternative made from lime and hemp. Hemcrete® actually absorbs carbon – locking in 110kg (240lb) of CO2 per cubic metre.

Concrete can’t be penetrated by rainwater and can increase the build-up of surface water by 50%, contributing to flash flooding. Instead, choose shingle, pebbles, grass or paving with permeable edges for paths, driveways and outdoor socializing areas.

Share And Swap

Find or set up a local tool library to share things like power or gardening tools. Building materials can often be sourced from local community groups and places like Freecycle, leftover from other people’s building projects.

Green Your Roof

More and more people are creating “green roofs” by planting their roofs with vegetation. They provide excellent insulation. The plants absorb solar radiation, which stops it from entering the building – this is particularly desirable in cities, where the “heat island” effect can raise the local temperature by up to 10%.

Green roofs also reduce storm-water run-off and provide habitats for a broad range of plants and creatures. If a green roof on your house isn’t feasible, consider one for your shed, bike storage or garden shelters.

Salvage

Make an art of salvaging. This is a great way to save money, keep valuable materials out of landfill and give your building project a unique character.

Eco-Friendly Insulation

A school in Sheffield, UK has been super-insulated – far beyond any official regulations – with 4,000 pairs of recycled jeans.

When it comes to financing eco-friendly building materials, it is worth asking if your local government has a green homes scheme or grant to help fund improvements to reduce your home’s carbon impact.


If this has given you inspiration on what eco-friendly building materials to look for, then do look out for Ellen’s book for more practical ideas to apply to almost every aspect of your life. It will be on sale, available at any good book retailer from Watkins / Penguin Random House Publishers Services, from 12th July 2022.

Front cover of the book How To Reduce Your Carbon Footprint by Ellen Tout.
Arts & Crafts, Ethical Fashion, Life & Style

Fixing Your Clothes: How To Repair & Mend Almost Anything

Don’t come apart at the seams when it comes to the idea of fixing your clothes. Follow these easy guides to repair and mend almost anything.

To help support the running costs of Moral Fibres, this post contains affiliate links, denoted by *. This means that Moral Fibres may earn a small commission, at no extra cost to readers, on items purchased through these links. This income helps keep this site running.

I am a bit of a broken record, but as I’ve said before, and will say a million times again, the most sustainable clothes are the ones you already own. Prolong the life of your clothes and you not only save a vast amount of carbon emissions, water and other resources associated with the manufacture of clothing, but you also save yourself a serious amount of money.

One way to prolong the life of your clothes is to follow the laundry care labels of your clothing and to avoid over washing and tumble drying. Another way is to fix your clothes when things come a cropper.

Mending rips and tears, and replacing buttons can seem like a daunting task. However, don’t worry if you don’t know your way around a sewing kit. There are a literal ton of resources out there to help make clothing repair as easy as possible for absolute beginners.

The Ultimate Guide to Fixing Your Clothes

Ripped jeans and sewing supplies, with a blue text box that says fixing your clothes: how to repair and mend almost anything.

I’ve done all the searching for you, and found the very best resources out there to help you fix and mend the most common clothing faults that can occur. From buttons and hems, to zips and tears, it’s all here:

How To Replace A Button

Replacing a button is the ideal first step for novice repairers. Even if you can’t sew, you don’t actually need to know how to sew to replace a button on most items of clothing.

For shirts, blouses and other similar items, all you need is a needle, a pin, some thread and a pair of sharp scissors and a good tutorial.

Here are some of the best tutorials for replacing a button:

Jeans and denim jackets and shorts are a different kettle of fish when it comes to replacing buttons. Sewing is tricky because of the thickness of the fabric. Instead, ditch the sewing needle and raid your toolbox. This is because the easiest way to fix your denim clothing that is missing a button is to use a no-sew button* and a hammer!

If you need a tutorial for this then here are the most useful ones I’ve found:

  • This video guide to replacing a button on denim is incredibly straightforward.
  • This blog post on replacing buttons on jeans goes into much more detail. So if part of your button is still attached to your jeans, or the fabric is torn, it tells you how to make these fixes too.

How To Fix A Rip Or Tear On Your Clothes

If your favourite item of clothing develops a rip or gets torn or munched by moths, then don’t worry – most holes and tears can be patched up in some way or other.

Fixing Your Clothes With Visible Mending

A pair of ripped jeans fixed using visible mending techniques

If you’re looking for a more fun way to patch up rips, tears or moth holes, then why not consider visible mending?

Visible mending is the fun and creative art of mending your clothes using colourful threads and stitches that aren’t hidden from view. It turns your fix into a visible and wearable work of art to be proud of.

Technical sewing ability isn’t important when it comes to visible mending. When it comes to fixing your clothes using this technique, all you need is some creativity and the willingness to have some fun with your mending.

Need some resources to get started? Here are some of my favourites.

Patch Jeans Or Other Items of Clothing

If the idea of visible mending appeals to you, but you find the process too daunting, then another visible mend is the patch. Ideal in particular for jeans or denim jackets that develop a rip or tear, patches are a fun and easy way to fix your clothes, whilst injecting some personality into them.

You can buy patches in almost any design imaginable – my favourite place to shop for patches is Etsy*.

Once you’ve picked your patch – which is always the trickiest part – here’s how to affix it to your clothing:

How To Replace A Zip

person fixing a zip on their clothes.

I’m not going to lie. Replacing a zip is a daunting job, even for more experienced sewists. Personally, I always take clothes to a tailor for fixing when I’ve had a zip-based disaster. However, if you are feeling like you can take on anything then there are some seriously useful resources out there that will teach you how to replace a zip.

I’m gearing myself up to fix a dress of mine with a bust zip. This is what I’ve been watching and reading, and found seriously useful.

How To Hem Trousers or Skirts

If you’ve found the perfect pair of trousers or dress or skirt, but it’s just too long, then you can take up the hem to make them shorter. There are a variety of different methods to hem your clothing – whether it’s by hand sewing, by sewing machine or the no-sew way using fabric bonding tape*. Here are the full how-to’s, whatever your desired technique:

No-Sew Ideas

If sewing isn’t your thing at all, then you can still fix and/or upcycle your clothes with no-sew techniques. Here are ten easy no-sew ways to upcycle clothes for beginners to start you off.

I’ve tried to cover the most common clothing woes, so hopefully, this is enough to get going with! As always, I’m constantly on the lookout for new tutorials to add to this guide so do come back to this post later if you’re looking for more tips or ideas to repair and mend your clothes.