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Green Trend Behind Many Products at Builders' show

By Alex Veiga
The Associationed Press
January 2009


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
homebuyers 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 homebuyers.

"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.

He also highlighted a new electric tankless water heater designed to be used in
homes that receive hard water from sources like wells.

"Until now, it's been hard to use tankless water heaters," he said.

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.

The 8,721 square-foot home features solar paneled awnings that draw energy from
the sun and from sunlight reflected off the ground, walls made from insulated
concrete and some 40 percent of its indoor lights from LEDs and compact
fluorescents.

Many products at the convention don't represent advances of leaps and bounds,
but rather modest improvements in how they're made or a wider variety of
offerings.

CertainTeed Corp. of Valley Forge, Penn., rolled out several new siding, roofing
and ceiling components made of synthetic materials.

Its Cedar Impressions Naturals siding, made of fiber cement, includes up to 30
percent fly ash, a glasslike powder emitted by coal-fired electric power plants.
Several exhibitors were displaying energy efficient water heaters, including
Stiebel Eltron Inc.

The West Hatfield, Mass.-based company is the latest to use hot air to heat water.

Its W300 draws the heat from the surrounding air and uses it to raise the
temperature of the water in the 80-gallon tank, using up to 80 percent less
energy than a standard heater that uses electricity to heat the water, said
Frank Stiebel, the company's president.

As an added perk, the heater churns out cooler air and cuts down on humidity.
"If you're using a lot of hot water all at once, the electric element will kick
in to supplement it," Stiebel said.

The unit will be available in the U.S. beginning in March for about $2,500, he said.

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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