From the Ground Up
September 9, 2012
There are rumblings in the West that new construction is slowly recovering from the hard punches delivered by a sluggish economy. And, when construction picks up full speed, "green building" is predicted climb off the mat fighting.
How soon that will happen is up for debate. Houses are beginning to sell faster-staying on the market for fewer days-and real estate experts say that's an indicator that new construction will rebound as the stock of existing homes is reduced.
Research reported earlier this year by the National Association of Home Builders said green homes comprised 17 percent of the overall residential construction market in 2011 and are predicted to reach between 29- to 38 percent of the market by 2016 and, by then, 34 percent of remodelers expect to be doing mostly green work.
Almost half of those surveyed in The NAHB Green Builders and Remodelers Study said that "building green" makes it easier to market themselves in a down economy. The West Coast has seen the highest growth in green building, the report said. That's a definite trend because homeowner and homebuyers know there's competition for their business; so, they are asking for more bells and whistles, an increasing number of them tied to comfort and energy and water savings-greener spaces for those greenbacks.
So what is "green" building? Also known as a "sustainable" or "high-performance" building, according to the U.S. Green Building Council, a green building is "any building that has been constructed under principles that minimize the ecological impact of the structure, often through the use of environmentally friendly construction materials and increased energy efficiency.
"This can be achieved using different tactics, including utilizing recycled materials and sustainably harvest forest products in construction and decreasing energy consumption through the use of efficient heating and cooling systems. Green buildings often incorporate renewable energy sources in their design, supplementing on-the-grid power supply with energy supplied from small-scale solar, wind and biofuel sources."
The objective of LEED-certified projects is: to lower operating costs and increase asset value, reduce waste sent to landfills, conserve water and energy, be healthier and safer for occupants, reduce harmful greenhouse gas emissions and qualify for tax rebates, zoning allowances and other incentives.
In today's market, a growing number of residential and commercial customers are looking for "greener" solutions. They may not go all-green, but they may add more energy-efficient and water-saving fixtures and equipment to the mix. On one level, there's the consumer's desire to have a "greener" home or workspace. That can mean something as basic as working with recycled or recyclable building materials, making use of natural light, and re-using gray water to soak their native planted yards or greenbelts.
The "greening" of a home can start small, say with the replacement of that old water-squandering multi-gallon toilet with a sleek high-efficiency unit. They may opt for "sustainable" bamboo flooring or add a rooftop solar array for space and water heating. A commercial customer may want to reduce water and power usage-and the escalating utility bills that go with them.
On the other end of the scale is the almost-demolition of a structure which then is rebuilt with more environmentally friendly equipment and building materials. Then there are new "green home" designs that comply with LEED certification requirements, a long list includes everything from the building site to all of the materials used, management of the work site, installation methods, and the predicted life cycle of the end product.
A key selling point for green construction is that the greener options these days aren't that much more expensive, and often equal in cost, to traditional materials and products being used. So consumers can feel good about saving the planet while getting the eco-friendly living space or workspace they desire.
The message for plumbing professionals is: New "green" residential, commercial and institutional construction has real growth potential. If you want to tap into sector, you need to get up to speed on what products are available for this market and acquire the additional skills required to work with green-engineered and designed projects.
The "green" construction segment should offer plumbers some great opportunities in the near future, said Steve Lehtonen, Senior director, environmental education, GreenPlumbers Training & Accreditation, a part of the IAPMO Group. For example, the Public Utilities Commission just put forward an increased solar thermal initiative and for plumbers that have had trouble getting work, there's solar work that can be done, Lehtonen said. With all of the incentives and write-offs homeowners, homeowners will be able to install solar with little out-of-pocket cost. "That market should really take off."
Today's bad economy actually can be an ideal time for plumbers to educate themselves to take on more and larger "green" projects, Lehtonen said. GreenPlumber training courses now are offered on-line, an option partly driven by a bad economy-influenced drop in plumbers seeking certification, Lehtonen said. "The on-line course allows plumbers and contractors to schedule study in off hours and offer the opportunity to any of their guys who are interested."
GreenPlumbers also is presenting a series of "High Performance Hot Water" workshops in California in September and October "that came out of the Gas Technology Institute and the California Energy Commission three-year study on hot water and energy and delivery." For the organization's annual WaterSmart training the first week of October, "this year we're providing tablet computers with as part of registration with all of the codes and plumbing reference manual embedded in it, so these guys driving around in their truck have everything with them. Dates and details of these education sessions are available online. "Green plumbing" encompasses everything from a basic water audit to replacing an old-school water-wasting toilet with a high-efficiency model to installing a solar water heater, said Green-Plumber K.C. Montgomery, owner of Monty's Plumbing in San Diego.
The full-service plumber also does remodeling work and promotes green options with all of his clients. He's always on the lookout for products that solve problems for customers, like the simple pump system that sends bath and shower out to water landscaping. That product requires no major plumbing, and can be used at the majority of homes in his area that are built on concrete slabs.
Remodeling projects not only give plumbers a foot in the door for future green new construction, they also are a great way to increase knowledge about the ever-changing technology and green product options. Montgomery said that attending trade shows and meeting with vendors is a great way to get up to speed on this segment. "The more you explore, the more tools you have to solve problems for your customers."