Green home is here today

By Dawn Wright


The Partnership for Advancing Technology in Housing spends a lot of time thinking about the future of housing. What will make homes safer and more efficient? How can homes be constructed faster?

Coordinated through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, PATH is a private-public partnership between leaders of the homebuilding, product manufacturing, insurance and financial industries and representatives of federal agencies concerned with housing. Their Top Technologies list, first introduced in 2004, takes a glimpse into the future of homebuilding and alerts homeowners to valuable innovations ready for adoption.

Selected for their strengths in one or more of the following areas - quality and durability; affordability; energy efficiency; environmental performance; safety and disaster mitigation - these top technologies hold the promise of making homes more durable, stronger and more resource efficient.

Mold resistant gypsum

Owners of homes inundated by flooding the past few years wouldn't have such extensive loss of property if mold-resistant gypsum had been available years ago. Treated gypsum wallboard products resist mold because they don't absorb moisture as easily as typical gypsum board. The paperless surface of such products does not support mold growth.

Solar power for shower

Solar water heaters have been around since the 1800s. However, with new federal tax credits through the end of this year, they are now a more affordable alternative ($1,000 to about $3,500) and one that is growing in popularity because of environmental benefits as well as energy cost savings.

Concrete goes green

Byproducts of the industrialized world have found a better final resting place in alternative concrete substitutes and aggregates. Recycled materials such as granulated coal ash, blast furnace slag and various solid wastes like fiberglass and granulated plastics can substitute for sand, gravel and stones. Different admixtures can improve workability, curing temperature range, fire control, set time or color. And relying less on mined materials is a benefit for everyone.

Make power and heat

Combined heat and power is not just for isolationists anymore - commercial and industrial facilities have been using it for years and now it's available to homeowners.

Whether those homeowners want to be entirely off the power grid or they just want to supplement the utility power, CHP systems can supply electricity much more efficiently than power plants.

Using fuel such as natural gas to produce heat and electricity simultaneously, a CHP system can act as a built-in emergency generator. The electricity can power any household device, such as lights and appliances, and the heat produced can provide water heating or heat spaces.

Home-sized units range in capacity from 1 to 6 kilowatts and are about the size of a major appliance.

Savings everywhere

Horizontal axis washer/dryers are two-in-one units that run clothes automatically from wash to dry so users don't have to throw clothes from one machine to the other.

The compact size makes them perfect for apartments and condominiums, and the units cost less than two separate units. Such machines run quietly and require no venting, so they can be installed almost anywhere.

The high efficiency horizontal-axis washer reduces water and energy consumption, and the high rotations per minute spin cycle means the dryer uses less energy to dry the clothes.

Windows do windows

Now homeowners can get self-cleaning and glare-reducing windows that also reduce the risk of window failure during tornadoes and hurricanes. Hydrophilic, impact-resistant windows have a coating that causes water to run off the glass, preventing permanent water spots and making the glazing easier to clean. Plus, glass laminated with composites provides strength to allow windows to withstand high winds, projectiles and even bullets.

A ?cool' way to cook

Induction cook tops offer flexible, safe and energy-efficient cooking. The can go from extremely low to extremely high settings and back again nearly instantly.

The stovetop doesn't actually heat up or radiate heat from its surface because the heating elements under the ceramic-glass surface use electricity to produce a magnetic field that heats only the cooking container. Food heats faster, which saves energy.

Induction cooking is about 90 percent energy efficient, while gas and electric are about 50 percent and 60 percent efficient, respectively.

Surfaces for all seasons

Rainwater seeps through permeable pavers and pavement systems and filters naturally through soil on its way to groundwater aquifers and surface waters. That means less unfiltered, nitrate-laden stormwater running off paved surfaces into drainage gutters. And since engineered curb and gutter storm drainage systems are costly to design and build, permeable pavement systems can mean lower construction costs for developers or municipalities.

Dawn Wright is president of the Topeka Home Builders Association.