Good concrete alternatives align with our overall goals. Sustainability is huge today, and it’s quickly becoming crystal-clear that everyone has to do whatever they can do to help keep the planet as green as possible, and this involves looking at and using healthier alternatives to historically traditional building elements like concrete.
In this instance, concrete isn’t the best building material. But just like plastic, we have become so dependent on it that it seems virtually impossible to dig ourselves out of this dependence and find viable, long-lasting concrete alternatives.
However, it’s essential that you start somewhere because simply ignoring the problem and hoping it goes away isn’t an option anymore. With this in mind, let’s take a quick look at 27 concrete alternatives. Many of the things on the list are green materials, and all of them do less harm to the environment than we’ve previously been doing.
Concrete is an immensely popular building material due to how strong, durable, and long-lived it is. However, there are many options you can choose that are more eco-friendly. Concrete pouring by Axel Drainville / CC BY-NC 2.0
27 Popular Concrete Alternatives
You can utilize the following concrete alternatives or anything from small DIY projects around the house to large-scale building projects. Since concrete is a tradition that you want to ditch, here are your options.
Aircrete is one alternative that can replace concrete for your projects, but is it as eco-friendly and sturdy as some other options? This material mimics the look of cement in driveways and you can use it the exact same way. It is eco-friendly and cost-effective, but aircrete blocks usually have a weaker structure that is prone to cracking.
During the past five years or so, this concrete alternative has grown in popularity due to the sustainable features and how cost-effective it is. You can use this material for driveways, walls, the sub-level, and floors. This material’s high performance levels make it a wonderful cheap and long-term solution for any areas where you would usually have concrete, both indoors and out.
You’ll buy your aircrete through a foam and detergent mixer, or you can buy an installation. The machine typically costs $500 by itself, and independent blocks can cost between $50.00 and $60.00 each. So, it may be worth it to teach yourself how to use the machine and DIY.
Instead of using traditional materials for this concrete alternative, manufacturers use fly ash. Fly ash is a byproduct of burning coal, and roughly 10% of the components are recyclable. Anything that involves recycled materials is a great thing.
3. Blast Furnace Slag
This is very similar to fly ash as it’s a by-product that you can recycle and use to make eco-friendly concrete. It is granular and glassy, and companies make it by quenching molten iron slag from a furnace into water or stream. So, this is where the name comes from. This concrete alternative is able to replace 70% to 80% cement. Also, it emits a lot less heat in the process and it helps improve how durable your concrete is.
Asphalt is a very attractive patio surface, and it’s very similar to traditional concrete. However, it uses tar as the main adhesive instead of cement like concrete uses. Asphalt is cheaper, and it usually has a rougher look due to the smell, texture, and black coloring.
This is a solid building material that you find used to pave roads, walkways, and driveways. Generally speaking, asphalt isn’t as popular of a concrete alternative because it has a reputation for breaking apart and cracking. It’s more cost-effective than cement, but it won’t last long if you pour it incorrectly.
An asphalt driveway usually depends on the size and length of the driveway. It can be different for smaller walkways. You can’t use this concrete alternative to build structures or houses, and you’ll pay between $2.50 and $4.00 a square foot for this material.
Asphalt is a very popular building material used in driveways all over the United States, but you have to allow several days for it to cure after you lay it. Asphalt Paving by Pam Broviak / CC BY-SA 2.0
Perhaps this one is a surprise or it isn’t, depending on which part of the world you call home. Many bamboo types have been popular for use as concrete alternatives for years in some regions in the world. But, since the bamboo gets locally sourced, it’s becoming popular to reinforce concrete.
Bamboo is very lightweight with a very impressive tensile strength. This makes it structurally sound and easy to use to build with, and many contractors prefer to use this concrete alternative for small shelters and buildings without involving concrete. It’s useful in disaster-prone regions because the construction is much cheaper. Also, bamboo is renewable, and it grows very quickly compared to other plants.
6. Composite Cement
The Bautex wall system uses foam beads and composite materials in the build as a great concrete alternative. It’s very strong, and it requires much less energy when you compare it to traditional cement and concrete. Any walls built using this material are storm resistant, fireproof, and it’s useful for sound proofing.
7. Concrete Debris
This is a very smart way to use any waste materials from concrete while you reduce your consumption of resources. It will save you a lot of landscape space too, and reusing your debris helps decrease raw material exploitation.
Ferrock is another concrete alternative that is a type of by-product. You can easily mold it into building blocks and bricks, and you can use this material to build walkways, walls, and it also works well for use in sub-floor levels.
Ferrock is an alternative that uses industrial waste in the makeup. This waste material is typically steel dust, and it works a lot better than traditional concrete. It also absorbs better than concrete. You’ll pay between $5.00 and $10.00 a cubic foot for this material.
Finite features desert sand, and this is a very unusual choice for construction materials considering any sand from a desert landscape is very fine. However, a company based in London called Finite has found a way to make this a viable material.
The sand grains get combined to create a solid brick-like material. This is an eco-friendly product that is just as strong as concrete. It also has less than half the carbon footprint as concrete has, and you can recycle these bricks. You can mold the bricks again for several lifecycles, and you can use natural dyes to change the colors to match your needs.
This concrete alternative is more creative. Grasscrete is a design choice where concrete sidewalks or floors get arranged in such a way that you leave gaps in the stone for greenery to show through. It’s fantastic for any outside spaces, and you may have seen it near concrete flooring or in driveways. It’s a very solid choice instead of going with solid concrete walkways or floors.
When you leave your space between concrete slabs, you reduce how much concrete you use but it also gives you space for floral plants or grass without having to use pots. This creates space to absorb carbon dioxide. This is also a great concrete alternative to use in a drainage system. It adds gaps for excess stormwater to sink in, and this reduces the damage to your concrete walkway or driveway for water to flow through.
Are you searching for a concrete alternative that is cost-effective but very versatile for your next large-scale project? Gravel is a great option to create driveways or walkways for your house. There are several different types of gravel to choose from ranging from clay rocks to marble.
Gravel is one of the more popular concrete alternatives. There are several different types you can find in your local home improvement store that can replace concrete in your driveway or walkway project. These things include crushed stone, pea gravel, and quarry process.
The build size will determine how much you spend on your concrete alternative. For example, an average driveway will need roughly 13 tons of gravel, and this will cost between $1,300 and $1,600. However, if you have a smaller-scale project, you shouldn’t need as much gravel. This can lower your costs to $300 to $1,000. Any professionals you have come in will typically charge by hour, and your labor costs can go up to $500 or more.
Geo-Green Crete or Greencrete is still under development. However, it’s quickly becoming a popular concrete alternative that is eco-friendly and great for creating driveways and walkways. It’s also comparable to concrete in durability and longevity. It works as a newer alternative way to use naturally occurring materials and waste as a low-carbon alternative. The material features aluminosilicate in the makeup, and this makes it easy to manufacture and recycle.
Greencrete can also refer to the way that you pour your project because many people are starting to use perforated patterns that let grass push up through the concrete in set blocks. This is considered better for the plants and grass, and we outlined it better in the above point. For the average driveway, you can expect to spend roughly $2,000 for this material and design. If you decide to go with this concrete alternative, you’ll have to pay for the materials to create your patterns, and this can use cement.
This is a material that is very similar to concrete, but it uses the woody fibers from the inner portion of the hemp plant as the main material. The fibers get bound with lime that allows it to create shapes just like concrete. It has a long history of use, and the Founding Fathers grew it legally to make paper, clothing, sealant, and more.
This concrete alternative features light and strong fibers, and this makes it very lightweight. It also means that transporting these blocks requires a lot less energy when you compare it to concrete. Hemp is also renewable and grows fast, so it’s an eco-friendly choice.
14. Micro Silica
Micro silica is an extremely fine powder that is a by-produce of silicon and ferrosilicon alloy production. It comes from silicon dioxide condensation, and it can easily take the place of up to 12% of the cement content in your concrete.
Just like blast furnace slag, this concrete alternative will increase how durable your concrete is. It works by helping to increase the compressive strength while making the concrete less permeable. When your concrete gets made using silica fumes and micro silica, you can use it for any structure that is routinely in contact with stronger chemicals without damage. It’s also a more eco-friendly option.
If you want to design pretty and eco-friendly walkways through your garden and around your yard, mulch is a great concrete alternative. It has a natural aesthetic to it, and you can design mulch walkways that go from your garden to your driveway or patio. Mulch also works to help prevent carbon emissions by removing concrete driveways.
Although you may consider using a wood alternative instead, this is a very affordable and practical choice that makes a low-cost and attractive patio area of driveway. Wood mulch is a material that you can buy and spread to create great walkways without using concrete, and it’s also eco-friendly as you can buy recycled mulch.
For a cubic foot of pine mulch, you can expect to pay around $27.00. However, there are several different varieties available, and you can get recycled mulch styles like Rubber Mulch or GroundSmart.
This is a biomass green building material that has seen a decent popularity boost during the past few years as engineers and architects work to create sustainable structures. A lot of people refer to this concrete alternative as mushroom root material or mushroom block, and you can actually grow mycelium if you want to create a natural driveway, patio, or walkway.
Mycelium is a type of fungi root, and you can grow it to create a sustainable walking area around your yard. This material works to create a living structure material engineers and architects like to utilize in eco-friendly projects to help build playground areas, walkways, and parking areas. If you want to build with it, you should refer to it as a biomass green building material. The prices will depend on the biomass material type.
Papercrete is fantastic as it’s made by recycling paper waste. You reuse this waste to make a concrete alternative. It won’t completely eliminate the need to use concrete, but it can remove some of the issues with manufacturing concrete. It scales nicely in production too.
When housing values focused hard on curb appeal, the paver driveway gained massive popularity. The multi-colored and tiled style for driveways created a phenomenon in structural design and landscaping. You can buy a host of different patterns and tiles, or you can create a customized design using them.
Paver driveways aren’t like asphalt or poured concrete driveways. They won’t come with a curing period like concrete does. Once you install them, this concrete alternative is ready to use. Pavers get used for driveways using an interlocking design. You may hear them called cement pavers, but they’re actually made using aggregate, sand, and water.
Most home improvement stores have a stock of base sand, paver cement sand, and paver base for you to buy. These will range in how much you pay for them, but you’ll spend around $3,000 for a longer driveway.
19. Plastic Waste
The planet is literally covered with plastic waste. So, what better way to put it to good use and remove it than at a construction site. It’s even better to recycle as it isn’t biodegradable. It can replace roughly 20% of the aggregate materials that go into traditional concrete. It’s an eco-friendly pick, but there are strength limits to this concrete alternative.
20. Post-Consumer Glass
Glass is an excellent aggregate replacement in traditional concrete because it’s so versatile. You can easily recycle it and use it several times without having to alter the chemical properties. So, this makes it more durable than concrete as a whole. Today, you can even get bottles formed into shapes that allow you to place them tightly together without any gaps, and the air trapped inside is excellent for insulation.
21. Rammed Earth
Rammed earth has been in use for thousands of years, and it remains a very durable concrete alternative. Modern buildings that feature rammed early typically have rebar or bamboo to make them safe and more stable. This also reduces the amount of labor you’ll need to build strong walls. You can use it as a concrete alternative in driveways as well. All you have to do is add in bigger stones or natural pebbles and it will hold up like Roman roads still do.
However, we wouldn’t recommend it as a solid alternative for a solid concrete garage floor because you need it to be flat for working on your projects. You’ll also constantly have to deal with garage floor crack repair when you have just rammed or compacted earth.
If you’ve never incorporated sand into your building projects before, it’s one of the most eco-friendly concrete alternatives available. You can use sand to create pathways, but it may not work as well as cement does for vertical structures, walls, or driveways.
Everyone knows that sand is very easy to work with on a host of DIY projects around the house. However, it depends on the type of sand you buy. With products like Quikcrete and All-Purpose Sand available on the market, you can create areas easily on your own that mimics the look of concrete. It requires very little money to spread and pour the sand, but you might have to evacuate the area and use it with flagstones.
Traction sand or sand can be bought for less than $1.00 in unit cost, so you can usually buy large amounts to create your walkways or whatever projects you have lined up around your home that you would otherwise use concrete for. If you install a sand driveway, you’ll have to factor in labor costs.
Did you know that steel can be separated? It contains raw materials that are excellent for recycling, so you can use it several times. Steel is a material that is surprisingly easy during construction, and it’s more cost-effective. It also adapts very well, and you can use it for anything from workshops and storage containers to garages.
Steel was most likely not the first concrete alternative to come to mind because you most likely picture mining operations and big factories when you think of this material. When you add it all together, steel will do less damage to the environment than concrete.
24. Straw Bales
Back when houses were made using only locally available and natural materials, straw bales were a very popular choice. They were used to create walls inside a frame and they worked to replace materials like gypsum, wood, and concrete. The same can be said for plaster, stone, and various fiberglass types. Straw bales are great at insulating your space in several environments. They’re sustainable and affordable because they have a high renewability factor.
A lot of eco-friendly homes and tiny houses feature straw bales as concrete alternatives. A lot are going off-grid and building hobbit homes that use straw bales. Using it with concrete will help bulk up the formula to use less concrete overall.
25. Timber sleepers
Timber comes from trees, and this makes it an eco-friendly choice. New or recycled sleepers can go straight into the ground and combine with soil for that rugged and casual look. They can transform a boring driveway while adding strength. The prices will vary depending on the size you need. One that measures 8-inches by 4-inches by 47-inches will cost around $23.00.
You make this concrete alternative by mixing concrete with sawdust. This makes it a lighter material that releases fewer emissions. The sawdust allows you to reuse waste and replaces some of the concrete’s components that tend to use a larger amount of energy.
This is a great material because you can easily form it into bricks, blocks, and pavers. It works well for garage floors and driveways due to how versatile it is. If you use it, you want to ensure that you know the standard size of your project area to ensure that you get enough to finish it all in one go without having a lot left over.
Finally, we all know this concrete alternative. It’s a nice one to use simply because trees work to absorb carbon dioxide. Wood also doesn’t require a forceful process when you use it for construction projects. It is more lightweight and versatile, and it has a much smaller carbon footprint when you think about all of the vehicles and tools you’d need for standard concrete vs wood. All of these factors still apply, no matter if you have a large or small project.
There is some fantastic work being done when it comes to concrete alternatives. By using some of them in place of concrete, you’re helping to protect the environment without sacrificing the durability or longevity that concrete offers. You can mix and match the concrete alternatives we listed to get the best fit for your needs and complete all of your projects.
Jen is a master gardener, interior designer and home improvement expert. She has completed many home improvement, decor and remodeling projects with her family over the past 10 years on their 4,500 sf Victorian house. She is also a passionate farmer who keeps goats, chickens, turkeys cows and pigs on her farm, and an instructor for her community’s Organic and Sustainable Farming project.