Mushrooms may soon be the material of choice for home building
Mushrooms are trendy, whether you’re stuffing them for a chic party appetizer or sporting a colorful mushroom-printed designer dress. But have you heard about the latest innovation in the world of ‘shrooms? Carpenters and furniture designers are actually using something called “mycelium” to create new, low-impact building materials and sustainable products. Move aside bamboo because mushrooms might be the way of the future.
What Is Mycelium?
Mycelium is the fibrous structural part of a mushroom’s anatomy that lives underground. When you think of a mushroom, you might envision the cute little toadstools you find out on a hike or the ready-to-eat caps at your local grocery store. However, most of the physical mushroom lives underground in a complicated root system called the mycelium. The mycelium is a network of dense threads that reach throughout the soil to gather water and nutrients for the mushroom’s fruit (what you see aboveground). Amazingly, scientists believe that the forest’s mycelium network distributes nutrients and communicates throughout the entire forest ecosystem.
When the mycelium fibers are mixed with organic matter like hay or sawdust, they continue to grow and bind the materials together like super-strong glue. The result is a spongy, malleable product. Textile manufacturers can then break up the mycelium-based materials and mold the pieces together, creating everything from building blocks to particle boards to wall tiles. The materials can be baked as well, killing off living organisms — otherwise, you might have mushrooms sprouting from your walls.
A Brief History of Mushroom-Based Textiles
While mushroom-based architecture and fashion seem like new inventions, there is actually a long history of mushroom innovations among indigenous cultures. One study demonstrates that early 20th-century Native Americans in the United States and Canada were using mushrooms to make mats, medicines, dyes for painting, and other sustainable products. In one case, researchers discovered a 100-year-old pair of sturdy leather-like bags that traced back to an indigenous Alaskan community. The bags’ material was a mystery, but modern technology has revealed that the sturdy, pocket-like bags were, in fact, made from mycelium.
In more recent years, some fashion designers and architects have successfully experimented with integrating fungus into their work. In 2014, a New York company crafted a 40-foot tower made entirely out of mushroom “bricks.” The “bricks” were a combination of mycelium and corn stalks. In 2021, Stella McCartney debuted a mushroom-based “leather” luxury purse at Paris Fashion Week (it costs about $3,000).
Building Homes with Mycelium
So how exactly do these mushroom-based materials help build a home? The possibilities are pretty endless, with innovators creating everything from wall paneling to flooring. Mogu, an Italy-based company, is committed to making mycelium-based building materials available around the world for commercial use. Their mycelium wall panels help with sound absorption for optimum acoustics, and the flooring tiles are durable yet soft.
Mycelium-based materials are exceptionally strong and safe for building, as well as being lightweight when dried. Plus, the mycelium tissues can help trap heat, presenting possible insulation benefits. One 2010 study suggests that dried mycelium is even stronger than concrete.
Sustainability and Benefits
Besides its surprising durability and adaptability, the real benefits of mushroom-based building materials are in their sustainability. The construction industry relies heavily on fossil fuels and is one of the leading greenhouse gas emitters in the United States. There are many negative variables in the construction industry to consider.
While some building materials (like lumber) can technically regenerate, it can take decades for trees to grow, and the construction industry consumes lumber far faster than that. Plus, deforestation leads to erosion, habitat destruction, and increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Other materials, like drywall and vinyl siding, are made from chemicals potentially harmful to humans. Manufacturing some common building materials (especially steel) releases billions of metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every year.
Construction materials can be extremely heavy and are often sourced from far away (about 30% of the lumber used in U.S. construction comes from other countries). Shipping and trucking these weighty loads create increased use of fossil fuels in the transportation sector. Finding strategies to implement green energy sources and lightweight, sustainable products would make a big difference in the industry’s transportation footprint.
The construction and demolition (C&D) industry accounts for nearly one-third of the world’s total waste, and the majority of C&D trash ends up in (you guessed it) the landfill. As mentioned above, a significant portion of this waste footprint is made from potentially toxic chemicals, which can leach into the groundwater surrounding landfill sites.
Considering the facts above, it’s no surprise that sustainability-minded architects, designers, and manufacturers are latching on to this idea of mushroom materials. The mycelium can grow in controlled environments, requiring little water, no fossil fuels, and no electricity. Moreover, mushrooms can grow super fast, unlike other natural resources like trees. Mycelium can grow to its full potential in less than a month. It’s non-toxic and can flourish
Based on the discussion above, you might be wondering why we all aren’t actively living in mushroom houses of our own. Because of its relatively small market currently, mushroom-based materials are costlier than other common building materials like wood and synthetic plastics. There are also limited examples of these fungal innovations, so many consumers are unsure of long-term durability and strength. Mushrooms also have a little bit of an image problem. While plenty of people like to eat and design with mushrooms, they might just not like the idea of living in a structure made out of fungus.
There are plenty of creative ways to integrate mushroom textiles into our modern world, including fashion-based items and packaging materials. Mushrooms have intriguing medicinal and psychedelic properties. Plus, many varieties are just downright tasty. Getting people excited about mushroom-based homes and outfits does pose some marketability hurdles, but experts feel confident that the future is fungi.
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By evee Life Contributor
Published January 4, 2023 2:42AM
Eveelife is an eco-oriented lifestyle platform that helps consumers make more purposeful choices about how they live and what they consume. We do it by curating content and products that help them make more conscious, carbon-free choices while amplifying their EV ownership experience.