Solar heating, water recycling, and energy-tracking systems might get all the headlines, but according to a new report, it’s a resurgence of low-tech building materials that’s helping a growing number of designers and property owners go green.

A new study by Boulder-based Navigant Research shows that age-old building materials like wood, straw, and bamboo are making a comeback in the modern green building industry. With relatively low environmental impact in addition to price, these simple materials are increasingly in high demand by those who want to live and work in healthier buildings.

construction truck with bamboo
Image via Tracy Hunter/Flickr

“Although the downturn in construction activity has significantly affected materials producers of green and conventional products alike, the green buildings market appears to have slipped less than the buildings market as a whole,” points out the report. This trend is expected to contine, as Navigant Research forecasts that the worldwide market for green construction materials will grow from $116 billion in 2013 to greater than $254 billion in 2020.

“Innovation in green materials is driving, in a sense, a regression, in which materials made from bio-based or quickly regenerating resources that are low in embodied energy and carbon, are re-emerging,” Eric Bloom, senior research analyst with Navigant Research, told Biz Journals. “Examples include timber structures and cladding, straw-bale construction, lime renders and mortars, cellulose insulation, bamboo flooring, and natural mineral and fiber floor coverings,” Bloom said.

What’s truly interesting about this trend is that while building materials themselves are skewing towards low-tech, they’re often offset with cutting edge technology. It’s not uncommon to see a straw bale house augmented with solar panels, or bamboo floors in the same home as a sophisticated energy monitoring system.

When combined, bio-based materials and energy-conscious technologies provide a healthier environment for inhabitants, and result in higher energy efficiency for the building.

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