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The Right Building Materials: A Strategy for Future Viability of Low-Income Housing

Published on 3/10/2023
Spring bulbs are poking through the soil… can the building and remodeling season be far behind? As you contemplate major projects and as construction begins on several low-income housing developments in the County, we hope homeowners and contractors will look to products that are better-performing and climate-friendly. This is especially important as the City and County begin to address the needs of low to moderate types of housing. While these innovations might be more expensive up front, they will save dollars for years on repair and upgrades with the added bonus of being good for the planet.

Let’s start at the top. Have you considered a metal roof? Metal roofs (either aluminum or steel) reflect back into the atmosphere and away from your house which can help cool your home by 20-30 percent. They require little maintenance, outlast traditional shingle roofs by decades, and make your home safer from the increasing risk of wildfires. They are pricier so if a metal roof isn’t in the budget opt for a lighter color shingle roof that helps reduce heat gain as our summers get warmer.

Moving around the house, look for low-e windows. They have a coating to block heat and sunlight’s ultraviolet rays, and can reduce energy costs up to 25%. Choose fiberglass over vinyl. Yes, they are pricey, but here are just some of the benefits:
  • Made from recycled glass and do not release chemicals in the atmosphere during manufacture
  • Fireproof and 15% more efficient than vinyl
  • Can stand up to extreme temperatures to resist warping, cracking, and discoloration
  • They outlast vinyl by 20 years

Last, let’s look at insulation. Don’t think pink, think sheep. Wool has some great properties for insulation! It's:
  • Fire-resistant
  • Hypoallergenic, long-lasting, renewable, and compostable at disposal
  • An air-cleaner in the home, as it breaks down hazardous volatile compounds in plastic and other building materials

The materials we use matter, as we are charged with reducing carbon emissions from the built environment by 6-7 % between 2020 and 2030 to meet our goals for the built environment. Electrification for all new-construction municipal buildings is a great first step, but using the right building materials is also important to meet our climate goals as well as reducing expenses in the long run for the homeowner or agency. 

Adapted from “Home Improvement as a Weapon Against Climate Change” article in Whatcom Watch, by Vicki Thomas, Co-Chair of the Climate Issue Team