The Green Puzzle: Putting It All Together

Consumers expect to double their spending on green products and services during 2008, totaling an estimated $500 billion annually or $43 billion per month.

You want some of that expenditure? If so, you have to put the pieces of the green puzzle together.

And a puzzle it is, because now going green involves far more than using products that don’t smell bad. In fact, today, 82 percent of American consumers believe it is important for companies like yours not only to use green products but to “implement environmentally friendly practices.” Indeed, consumers are looking across the entire supply chain to make sure a product is green throughout its entire life cycle, from the communities affected by lumber harvest to the children breathing the air inside a newly remodeled bedroom.

Is it worth the effort and the research required to go green? Well, 70 percent of consumers said they were “more or much more inclined” to invest in a green home (however that is defined) over a conventional home in a down market. And check out this new-home statistic from The Wall Street Journal, because it will soon apply to remodeling: “Green homes” in the Seattle area sat on the market only half as long and achieved an 11 percent premium on price. That is actually a historical event. It means that the emergence of third-party, whole-house green rating systems (LEED, NAHB, Energy Star) are finally allowing sellers to get away from square-foot pricing. The sellers, buyers and realtors can point to a reputable third-party appraisal of the home’s qualities to justify a higher price.

"Is it worth the effort and research required to go green?”

More great green stats: 63 percent of green home owners said that their green purchases were motivated by lower operating and maintenance costs that come with energy- and resource-efficient homes. However, in addition to lower operating and maintenance costs, “environmental concerns” and their “family’s health” were significant motivating factors for going green, cited by 50 percent of those surveyed (McGraw-Hill Construction). With half the people citing their family’s health as a significant motivating factor, the price of a building product or building practice will not always be the metric by which its value is appraised. The final metric may be found in a product’s performance and how it affects indoor air quality. So, when you say to a client: “Well, I can build that green with a nontoxic alternative, but it will cost you more,” the likely answer is going to be: “I don’t care if it costs a little more; my kid’s health is more important than money.”

It’s products. It’s practices.

As I have pointed out in an earlier Qualified Remodeler column, the greatest impact you can make when going green is to button up the thermal envelope; put an air-exchange strategy in place to control mold and moisture; and buy products certified by reputable third parties, which is especially important if you have not yet developed the critical judgment to determine if a product without a label is green. That said, I know that boning up on green is a tall task. Standards are proliferating, and building codes at all levels are requiring green practices and performance. With so much to read and digest, I did some advance work for you. I looked at the leading green building standards and determined five consensus green principles. I then looked at what products could help you comply with these standards. By familiarizing yourself with these consensus green principles, you can develop the confidence and critical judgment to sell green products, with or without green labels.

Green Principle No. 1

A product is green if it improves the indoor air quality or reduces chemical exposure within a home, thereby improving the health of the people who live in it or work on it. (This would include all products that reduce mold because mold can dramatically compromise indoor air quality.)

Products to help you comply:

  • Duct seam sealants
  • Green-certified carpet
  • High-efficiency HVAC air filters
  • Isocyanate-free, formaldehyde-free spray foams
  • Low- or no-VOC adhesives, caulks, floor finishes and paints
  • Low-emitting or formaldehyde-free batt insulation
  • Low-emitting or formaldehyde-free lumber (or at least phenolic resin formaldehyde glue, instead of urea formaldehyde)

It also includes products that control moisture, air infiltration and mold:

  • Paper-free drywall
  • Drainable house wraps
  • Balanced HVAC systems
  • Window flashing kits

Other products that protect a person’s safety:

  • Carbon-canister masks
  • Green cleaning products
  • Lead test kits
  • N95 dust masks

"A product is green if it reduces the carbon footprint of a home."

Green Principle No. 2

A product is green if it lowers pressure on the environment through the use of materials that are renewable or “sustainably harvested.” That is, harvested in a way that doesn’t permanently deplete the source of the material.
Products to help comply include any building products with high recycled (or recyclable) content:

  • Insulation made from recycled products
  • Recycled paint
  • Recyclable carpet or carpet made from recycled materials
  • Wood flooring
  • Certified lumber
  • Decking (PVC, composite, wood)
  • Metal roofing
  • Roof shingles

Green Principle No. 3

A product is green if it reduces the use of water throughout a home, thereby lowering demands on freshwater sources and the energy-intensive infrastructure required to pipe, store and purify it.

Products to help comply:

  • EPA’s WaterSense-rated products.
  • Low-flow faucets
  • Low-flow shower heads
  • Low-flow sink components such as aerators
  • Low-flow toilets
  • Permeable pavers
  • Rain water harvest
  • Water filtration systems (point of use or whole-house)

Green Principle No. 4

A product is green if it reduces pressure on the waste stream by being made from recycled or recyclable materials. Under this principle look for high-recycled-content ratings, either in label statements or statements like “made from recovered and recycled material.” This will likely include engineered lumber, wood flooring and some decking.

Take a role in recycling products or pointing out the recyclability of products such as:

  • Metal of all kinds
  • Plastics
  • Vinyl
  • Whole-house recycling
  • Wood

Other products that help comply:

  • Mercury-free thermometers and controllers
  • Proper recycling of batteries.

Green Principle No. 5

A product is green if it reduces the “carbon footprint” of a home. The carbon footprint is CO2 emitted by the energy burned to heat and cool a structure over its lifetime, the CO2 emitted by energy burned to generate power for the home and the CO2 emitted by energy used to manufacture the building components.

Products that help comply:

  • Insulation (batt, blown, board)
  • Cementitious siding with fly-ash additives
  • CFL lighting
  • Energy Star rated appliances and lighting
  • Energy Star rated three-tab or metal roofing
  • Energy Star rated windows
  • High-efficiency HVAC systems
  • LED lighting

To wrap up, green is the only sector of this dismal building economy that is still growing, but to take advantage of it you are going to have to make a relatively serious commitment to product research, professional development, enough training to provide the critical judgment and knowledge you’ll need to be an informed salesman; a skilled practitioner of green building techniques; and, yes, a good steward of the planet or at least your little piece of it.