Building Green Points
Perhaps we need another environmental standards system like we need more lumber on the market. Yet more than anything else, the solid wood products industry should view the emerging green building guidelines from the Washington-based National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) as an opportunity to get ahead of the curve when it comes to customer and public demands. It may also be a chance to develop some niche markets that in the end may become far more.
For those not familiar with the NAHB, it is a first-rate industry association that represents millions of our direct customers across the US, many of whom are the vanguard of the home construction industry. If they see a developing market worth dedicating millions in resources to serve, we should take note.
As this magazine goes to press, the consensus committee on the new National Green Building Standard (NGBS) is publishing a report on its second week-long meeting held in Washington, DC, July 9-13. The committee discussed a wide range of proposed green building guidelines brought to it by NGBS task groups tackling issues from energy efficiency and land development to air quality and resource efficiency. The latter is of most interest to us, and fortunately the resource task group includes representatives from both the American Forest & Paper Association and the APA-Engineered Wood Association. The goal is to unveil the new national standard at the International Homebuilders Show in Orlando in February 2008. The latest working draft policy is now available for public comment, with a deadline of September 24, so you may want to check it out at www.nahbrc.com. You can also stay posted on this issue at www.canadianwoodproducts.ca.
The new standard deals with everything from carpets to drainage, and will assign points to builders who comply with standards in each area. The more points, the greener the building, with bronze, silver and gold standards. Based on the proposed standards, there are several areas where our industry can score, or lose points with our own clients. Here are a few to consider.
- House Size: Basically, the smaller the house for a given number of bedrooms, the more points a builder gets. The bad news for us is that smaller homes use less timber. Still, convincing the affluent crowd that will typically build green homes to scale down will be a tough sell, so home designers and builders will likely focus on the many other ways to green up a building. I don’t expect home sizes to go anywhere but up in the near future.
- Builders Treat: Builders can get points by using ready-to-go materials that do not require staining or treatment on site. I assume this is because environmental handling and disposal of treating agents at building sites is much looser than at manufacturing sites. If we’re not careful, this may further promote the use of non-wood alternatives for window and doors, siding, and decks. Still, many home owners favour the look of wood, and wood scores points for being renewable. It will be up to smart industry players to make and market ready-to-wear materials, whether pre-painted or stained components, treated products, or even a new line of non-chemical torrefied (heat treated) wood panels and decking.
- Waste not, want not: Modular design (i.e. in 2-ft increments) and the use of pre-fab or pre-cut systems that eliminate on-site construction waste will garner green points, so truss makers will do well here. So too will anyone who can make custom or near-custom components to spec to save on-site trimming, a service that will also help builders with the skilled-labour shortage. Advantage will also go to makers of engineered wood products that use fewer resources to do the same job, such as I-joists, LVL and glulam.
- Certified green: Wood products that are third-party certified gain points too. The good news is that so far a wide range of certification regimes are acceptable, including CSA, FSC, ISO, and SFI.
- Low-emission wood: Wood-based panels must be third-party certified to low formaldehyde emission standards.
On the whole, the new standards can be a positive force for suppliers willing to adjust their product line or customer service. It’s worth keeping in mind that even the savviest of green builders will have a wide range of issues to deal with in both designing and building these new-age structures, and will face a steep learning curve as the green building market continues to grow.
We could do him, and our marketing, a big favour by tailoring our products and product labeling to meet the new national standards. Why not include labels that tell the builder how many NGBS Green Points he’ll bag by using a given piece of lumber or building component, once all the related benefits are tallied?
If you are not convinced on the importance of this niche market, remember that the scale of the US housing market means that even a niche can be a massive market by Canadian standards. Calli Barker Schmidt, director of environmental communications with NAHB tells Canadian Wood Products that she expects green building to represent 10% of the US housing market by 2010, just three years from now. Given expected housing starts by then, that will be 180,000 houses, or an annual housing market equivalent to all of Canada. That’s a niche you can live in.
Perhaps you find those numbers a tad optimistic. I admit to shaking my head a few times when Schmidt told me her predictions. But then I figured the best and brightest of US homebuilders probably know their customers a lot better than we do. It’s time to go green to make green.
Scott Jamieson, Editor