Granite Safety Issue Rekindles

The controversy over radon emissions from granite used in common residential applications such as kitchen countertops has resurfaced in recent months with a newly formed nonprofit organization raising alarms and an established organization representing the natural stone industry again going on the defense.

In response to newly expressed concerns, the Marble Institute of America (MIA) released a new study concluding that the most popular types of granites used in countertops in the United States are safe.

The latest study, designed to determine whether radon gas sometimes released by natural stone poses any health risk, was conducted by Dr. L.L. Chyi, professor of geology and civil engineering at the University of Akron, Akron, Ohio. Included in this study were 13 of the most popular types of granites used in countertop applications, representing up to 85 percent of the granite countertops sold in the United States.

The MIA has created a fund to counter what it calls “spurious allegations” and has invested $50,000 in unbudgeted funds, according to Jim Hogan of Carrara Marble Company of America and current president of MIA. He said that amount could increase dramatically by year’s end.

The controversy dates at least back to the mid-1990s, when an industry publication raised the issue of radon emissions. Makers of radon detectors and manufacturers of competing countertop materials have weighed in periodically since then.

Green Building

FTC Examines Green Claims

Responding to increased public interest in “green” products, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has accelerated its review of its decade-old green marketing guidelines

The FTC, which was scheduled to review those guidelines in 2009, held the first of a series of public meetings in January.

The commission’s third workshop held in July examined green claims about building products. Workshop participants discussed, among other things, consumer perception of green claims; substantiation for the claims; third-party certifications or seals for green building products or buildings; and the need for new or updated FTC guidance in this area.

Energy Efficiency

Appliances Show Gains

Major home appliances have shown dramatic decreases in energy consumption since 2000, according to data released by the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers (AHAM)

Refrigerators, dishwashers and clothes washers account for a 43 percent combined decrease in energy consumption since 2000, says AHAM. From a global climate change perspective, the energy savings realized in 2007 shipments of refrigerators, dishwashers and clothes washers would offset the CO2 emissions of more than 698 million gal. of gasoline consumed or the annual CO2 emissions from 1.3 coal fired power plants.

Clothes washer energy consumption has decreased by 63 percent since 2000 while tub capacity has grown by 8 percent. Dishwasher energy consumption has dropped nearly 30 percent and water consumption has declined 29 percent since 2000. Refrigerator energy consumption has also decreased 30 percent since 2000 and efficiency, measured by a unit’s energy factor, has increased 39 percent. The average refrigerator sold today consumes less energy than a 60-watt light bulb left on 24 hours a day, the manufacturer’s association states.

Sustainable Rebuilding

Manufacturers Aid Ravaged Town

DuPont and four-time NASCAR cup series champion Jeff Gordon announced that DuPont will partner with customers and make an initial donation of more than 30 sustainable products and services worth nearly $750,000 to help rebuild homes and businesses in tornado-ravaged Greensburg, Kan. Residents are rebuilding their town using sustainable materials. The donation also includes funding for two Habitat for Humanity homes.

The town was leveled by one of the largest tornados in U.S. history in 2007. Very few structures remained in the aftermath of the deadly EF5 tornado and more than 1,500 people, who were displaced, are waiting to return to their homes. With 95 percent of the town destroyed, residents and officials decided to rebuild potentially as the “greenest town” in the country.

Among the DuPont products provided are: the full line of the company’s Tyvek weatherization systems; Corian and Zodiaq surfaces; SentryGlas interlayers; and the StormRoom with Kevlar. DuPont also is donating laminate flooring, garden products and air filtration products.

Key DuPont customer donations include: Mohawk carpet products and Johnson Controls air-conditioning systems, which use energy-efficient, non-ozone-depleting DuPont refrigerant.

Another manufacturer, Caroma USA of Hillsboro, Ore., has donated 200 of its water-saving dual-flush toilets to Greensburg. The town estimates it will save at minimum 3.6 million gal. of water on an annual basis (and probably closer to 5.8 million gal., since most of the toilets in the destroyed homes predated 1994) by using the 200 toilets Caroma donated, company officials stated.

The United States Department of Energy (DOE) sent a team of experts from its National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) to conduct studies, develop renewable energy and energy-efficient business strategies, and assemble financing and ownership options to produce or procure renewable energy technologies. DOE opened an office in Greensburg and helped the city develop and pass a resolution that all large city buildings achieve LEED Platinum certification, the highest green building rating available under the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system. Greensburg is the first city in the United States to pass such a strict green building.

Interior Design

California License Act Dies

In the continuing controversy surrounding the licensing of interior designers, a California state Senate bill that would have established strict licensing requirements for tens of thousands of designers has died in committee.

Opponents said passage of the bill would have made it “virtually impossible for the vast majority of the design community to continue to practice their profession” in California.

The bill would have required that any person offering design services, including kitchen and bath design, first obtain an interior design degree, complete a two- to four-year internship under the direct supervision of another licensed designer, and pass an exam.

Appliances

GE Considers Sale, Other Options

GE announced that it was reviewing strategic options for its appliances business. The company is currently considering three possibilities for the unit: a strategic partnership or joint venture; spin-off; or the sale of the business.

“This review is consistent with the strategy we have been executing to transform our portfolio for long-term growth,” GE chairman and CEO Jeff Immelt said. “Since 2003 we have exited slower growth and more volatile businesses, generating $52 billion in gross proceeds from dispositions. These proceeds have been reinvested into a transformed portfolio of faster growth, higher margin businesses, stock buybacks and other restructuring activities.”

Engineered Stone

Cast Polymer Demand on Rise

Demand for cast polymers, driven largely by an increasing consumer desire for engineered stone, is forecasted to increase 3.6 percent annually, to 265 million sq. ft. by 2012, according to a market study by The Freedonia Group, a Cleveland, Ohio-based research firm. Solid surface materials will continue to account for the largest share of cast polymer demand, with 42 percent of the total in 2012, researchers said. Countertops will continue to account for the largest share of cast polymer demand, comprising 84 percent of the total, researchers predicted.

However, solid surfacing is forecasted to have the lowest growth rate of all cast polymers, due to increased competition from such surfacing materials as engineered and natural stone, “which are seen as more high-end materials, and competition from such less expensive materials as decorative laminates and tile,” Freedonia says. Solid surface demand will benefit from increased use in nonresidential applications, the research firm noted. Demand for engineered stone is seen increasing 7 percent annually, to 84 million sq. ft. by 2012.

Associations

NARI/Rebuilding Work Together

Rebuilding Together, a nonprofit organization working to preserve affordable home ownership, and the National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI) have agreed to an alliance that will allow both groups to serve low-income homeowners, especially the elderly and disabled. Partnership elements will include local Rebuilding Together affiliate outreach and collaboration with NARI chapters, referral and information sharing, and strategic alignment with other industry organizations.

Celebrating their 20th anniversary, Rebuilding Together has accomplished more than 100,000 home renovations for those in need, through nearly 225 affiliates nationwide. To date more than 3 million volunteers have committed time to Rebuilding Together, helping to deliver more than $1 billion in market value work to nearly 2,000 communities.

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