Green

Shaky housing market fails to make a dent in surging green building sector

You wouldn’t believe it from the sturm und drang rocking the housing and construction markets, but the green building sector is experiencing a quiet surge.

The green building industry, a catchall phrase meant to encompass any practice or technology that increases the efficiency with which buildings consume resources, raked in an estimated $12 billion in revenues last year. Those revenues could top $42 billion by 2015, according to a new report from Frost & Sullivan.

For its forecast, the report considers potential government mandates and the recent advances made in green building products of all sorts. It concludes that the building industry’s greening is now “inevitable” — spurred by concerns about global warming and the rapidly gaining popularity of the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification program, which is administered by the U.S. Green Building Council.

The report estimates that LEED-registered projects could soon account for almost 25 percent of all new construction in the U.S. Yet it also notes that the LEED standard could face some challenges in the short term. Because of the high sticker price associated with becoming LEED-certified — up to $60,000 per project in some cases — other less demanding, or costly, standards could move in on its business. Despite the expected competition, the USGBC remains confident that its standard will prevail; it recently set a goal of reaching 100,000 LEED-certified commercial projects by 2010, up from 1,100 last year.

Las Vegas, Nevada-based Kama, which sells structural insulated panels (SIP), a type of composite building material, for residential and commercial buildings, is well-positioned to benefit from the sector’s projected growth. Unlike older models, the firm’s SIPs are not “sandwiched,” which makes them more versatile. They are made out of a unique combination of light gauge metal stud framing and recyclable expanded polystyrene and are designed with no thermal bridge for consistent peak energy and soundproofing efficiency performance.

The company says its SIPs have no design limitations, claiming they can even be used to build curved walls. Furthermore, they are more cost-effective — using less water and energy than rival products — easy to install, environmentally safe, and they reduce overall construction site waste. Their big draw will likely be their high energy efficiency: According to Kama, they are 60% more efficient than similar models made out of wood or traditional metal stud framing. They also reduce air conditioning and heating capacity by a third.

GigaCrete and Serious Materials, two other green building startups we’ve written about before, also stand to make a mint from businesses’ growing focus on energy efficiency. GigaCrete claims its mineral cement-based interior finishes offer significant waste reduction and cost-effective benefits over competitors’ offerings. Serious Materials, an indoor building material-maker, sells eco-friendly drywall — the most common indoor building material — as well as super-insulating windows and soundproof drywall.

With a recent survey giving the top 13 U.S. homebuilders low marks for green building design and construction and another highlighting energy efficiency’s missed opportunities, there’s definitely a lot of room for improvement.


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