Building Stuff

Materials? What’s That?

In this context, we’re referring mainly to building materials, and to a lesser extent anything else that’s not food (costuming, accessories, gifts). What you’ll use to build your shade structure, your camp’s dance or chill space, your art, or your mutant vehicle does have an ecological impact, even if it doesn’t immediately become trash post-event. The greenest among us may trot blithely to a big box hardware giant to pick up a pallet of the most eco-unfriendly virgin-forest lumber because it’s what’s on sale. Why not re-think that? There are options that are not only more responsible, but cheaper too!

Tips and Hints

  1. Reuse, Reuse, Reuse

    Using used materials in your art is hella eco-friendly, and often hella cheap! In the resource link section below you can find information on used materials and environmentally conscious paints, stains, and flooring.

    When costuming, instead of buying brand new fabric, raid secondhand shops for clothing that can be torn apart and repurposed, or just “adjusted”. Some ghastly drapes might become your new favorite thai wrap pants!

    Secondhand shops, as well as sidewalk/garage sales are great places to look for cheap accessories, bikes, furniture, or footwear.

  2. Build it so you can re-build it

    In the old days, a brick road left unused for too long would become the brick wall of an animal pen or the foundation for someone’s house. These days, we’re more likely to haul exactly the same number of virgin two by fours out to the playa every year, build nearly the same thing with them, then throw them onto a burn pile.

    Why not use screws instead of nails? Or bolts instead of screws? Why not pack out those two by fours and let them be re-born, on-playa or off-, as a new structure? Plan ahead to make your reuse easier and you’ll save energy, money, time and, to some extent, your ecosystem.

  3. Build with environmentally responsible materials

    If you choose to use new materials, there are still some choices that more environmentally friendly than others. Many hardware stores carry “green” products. Check out for directories of retailers that carry green construction products.

  4. Avoid materials that release toxins as they burn

    In addition to painted wood, plywood, and particle/composite board, DO NOT use or burn pressure treated lumber. Typically, though not always, it has staple-like impregnation marks in it, and if it’s new it may have a greenish tint. Not only is the smoke from certain types of pressure-treated lumber harmful to inhale, the ash is as well.

    Most plastic items and non-natural fibers will release toxins if burned — yes, that includes your grandfather’s lime green polyester leisure suit that you wanted to burn on the playa after wearing it for five days straight. Pack those items out for future re-use or recycling

Frequently Asked Question

  • How do I build my structure with eco-safe materials? Using used materials is generally a greener approach than using virgin stuff, unless you’re going to burn it, in which case the toxins issue has to be considered. In the resource link section below you can find information on used materials and environmentally conscious paints, stains, and flooring. If you’ll be using virgin materials, look for products that have been rated as eco-friendlier. You can check with for hardware stores that carry greener goods. It’s also a good idea to ask your hardware store worker about eco-friendlier options.

Resource Links

Used Materials

Resources for recycling/reused information include the following (most municipalities have their own recycling coordinators that can direct residents to local resources):

The above URLs will have some but probably not all of the following used building materials dealers:

These local organizations sell inexpensive donated materials for art projects:

The Build it Green Product and Service Directory also provides some useful information:

Here’s even more sources for cheap and free stuff:

And, wouldn’t want to leave out the online exchanges:

Paint, Finishes, and Flooring

  • Buyer’s Guide to Paints – http://www.greenhomeguide.comThis buyer’s guide lists and reviews low VOC (Volatile Organic Compound) paints. Use it to find the best paint for your specific situation.
  • Buyer’s Guide to Stains – http://www.greenhomeguide.comThis buyer’s guide summarizes the environmental pros and cons and durability of the three major categories of wood stains: natural oil, acrylic or urethane, and water-based. Use it to find the best stain for your specific situation.
  • Buyer’s Guide to Clear Finishes – http://www.greenhomeguide.comThis buyer’s guide compares and contrasts clear finishes on their environmental and health qualities, and includes selection tips.Use it to find the best clear coating for your specific situation.
  • There is an excellent store in Berkeley for low-toxicity paints and coatings called Eco-Home Improvement.
  • For a comprehensive, 9 county Bay Area directory of suppliers for environmentally friendly flooring materials an products, visit Build It Green’s AccessGreen Directory –

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