Banking on Green Homes

By Alex Veiga
January 23, 2009

Makers of energy-efficient products at the annual home builders show think their
technology can reignite the real estate market

Oregon’s Jason Haggart of Clackamas looks at vacuum tube solar systems at the
Thermomax booth at the International Builders’ Show in Las Vegas on Thursday.
Companies hope green materials will bring a resurgence in home purchases.

Las Vegas — From water-stingy toilets and electricity sparing appliances, to
flooring and siding made from sustainable materials, the housing industry this
week rolled out a trove of new, green products it hopes will lure home buyers
back into the market.

Despite visibly lower attendance at this year's International Builders' Show, a
record 363 vendors were featuring green products, more than double the number
last year, said Calli Barker Schmidt, a spokeswoman for the National Association
of Home Builders.

"I'd be surprised if there wasn't some sort of a green attribute to every
product down there," she said.

The tide toward green building that has taken hold in recent years remained
unabated as the industry looks forward to better days, convinced that
energy-efficient homes outfitted with sustainable materials will be coveted by
future home buyers.

"People are interested in the things they can do to cut energy bills in the long
run," said Gayle Butler, editor-in-chief of Better Homes and Gardens. And
increasing competition between green product suppliers is driving costs down,
making it more affordable to build greener homes.

One example of a technology that has become cheaper is radiant floor systems,
which function as heaters.

"Four or five years ago, it was pretty cost prohibitive," said Matt Belcher,
president of Belcher Homes in St. Louis, Mo. "They're pretty affordable now,
they're made better and are more efficient."

Among this year's slate of products, Belcher was impressed with new "flashing
materials," which can resemble tape and are used to keep water from getting
trapped inside the home.

"You can't see it, it goes underneath the siding ... but to somebody like me,
that's great to see," said Belcher, who builds near-zero energy homes featuring
green features such as geothermal and solar power units.

Many of the latest innovations were on display in the New American Home, billed
as a state-of-the-art laboratory for new construction and built in Las Vegas in
conjunction with the convention.

Gas or propane-powered fireplaces can be an energy efficient way to heat a room,
and fireplace maker Napoleon showcased several stylish designs at the show,
including its new Crystallo model.

The rectangular fireplace is designed to fit several feet up off the floor, like
a wall-embedded fish tank, and generates up to 17,000 British thermal units. The
fireplace, which can be placed in bedrooms, bathrooms and even mobile homes, is
priced at $1,500.

Kohler, one of the show's green building sponsors, displayed several new stylish
and water-saving designs for toilets.

One, dubbed the Cimarron, uses gravity to push the water from the tank into the
bowl. But unlike other toilets with a flip lid inside the tank, the Cimarron
features a plastic stopper that limits the water per flush to about 1.3 gallons
— far less than standard 3.5 gallon toilets.

That translates to 63 percent less water use in a year, the company claims.
The next generation of water-efficient toilets are likely to incorporate the use
of wastewater, suggested Shane Judd, Kohler's senior product manager.
Channeling wastewater into toilets also means creating more integrated plumbing
connections between bathroom fixtures. But most importantly, manufacturers need
a guideline on the use of wastewater, and a standard hasn't been established for
the industry yet, Judd noted.

"We're a ways from that," he said.


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