Green building Q&A: plastics industry delivers energy efficiency innovations

| by Gary Wollenhaupt
Green building Q&A: plastics industry delivers energy efficiency innovations

As building codes require greater levels of efficiency, the building products industry is responding with innovations that will help make homes greener.

One of the key industries involved is the chemical industry, which turns out things like insulation, sealing products and components of many other items found in homes. Chemical products like plastics are making high performance homes, including net-zero homes, possible.

At the heart of a net-zero home – which produces as much electricity as it uses – is the thermal envelope (insulation and air barriers). Through the use of plastic foam insulation, the thermal envelope eliminates unintended air infiltration and doubles the insulation level in the walls and roof, dramatically decreasing the heating and cooling load.

A one-year study by Franklin Associates found that the use of plastic building and construction materials saved 467 trillion Btu of energy over alternative construction materials. That’s enough energy saved over the course of a year to meet the average annual energy needs of 4.6 million U.S. households.

Jane Palmieri talked in an exclusive interview with Jane Palmieri, business president ofDow Building & Construction, about the role of plastics and other chemicals in the growing green building sector.

Q: What's ahead for high performance home building and how is the industry preparing?

A: The improvements in the 2012 IECC codes represent about a 30-percent increase compared to the 2006 codes, so if you look at the rising energy forecast, energy efficiency in the future will be absolutely critical for curbing our appetite for energy around the globe, and it couldn't happen without the innovation of plastics. The new codes give us the opportunity to innovate new products like insulation and air sealing, technology that really contributes to energy efficiency in an affordable and meaningful way.

Q: How important are upgrades for existing homes compared to new construction?

A: We are very active in the retrofit space, there are some opportunities that are more accessible and right under the fingertips for homeowners that not everyone is aware of. Where you can really improve the building envelope in an installed home is by filling in gaps and cracks and or taking efforts to insulate attics and crawlspaces that are a little more accessible.

There are a tremendous amount of steps that homeowners can take even in the installed base of homes that can have a significant impact on energy bills on a monthly basis.

Q: What role do building codes with higher standards play in the development more efficient homes?

A: We think is imperative that you have very aggressive energy efficiency standards built into the codes so that you don't continue to add to the installed based where you've increased the challenges around retrofitting.

You have to make sure that we are building new energy-efficient homes many of which are getting close to net zero, with very tight building envelopes and very impressive HERS scores.

But then you cannot ignore the installed base of 100 million homes, so you have to be committed to both markets but they are very different. The opportunities of new construction are broader than what you would have in a retrofit scenario, but it doesn't take a significant improvement across the large installed base to have a meaningful impact on energy reduction.

We think that you'll see a faster rate of adoption with the 2012 codes than we've seen in the past. Some forecasts say by the end of 2016 over 60 percent of the states will adopt that model code.

That's important because companies can use it to look at the next generation of innovation and because it creates an attractive market. Uncertainty around the adoption of codes makes it difficult to continue the innovation of energy efficient products.

Q: Some building products have been criticized as not green because of the chemicals used in manufacture, or off gassing in the home or other reasons, how is the industry addressing those issues?

A:  Continuing along not only along the affordability and high performance trend there's the increasingly environmentally friendly aspects that the plastics innovations we bring to the building envelope.

Its used to be in order to meet all the criteria, whether it was the environmentally friendly aspect or the safety aspect, there were often tradeoffs with respect to performance, and today we're proud to promote products that have very high performance standards throughout the entire life of the building but also meet the regulatory structures that we see.

Q: What's on the horizon for energy-efficient building in the U.S.?

A: We'll see more net-zero homes, it used to be a more of an aspirational category and as a result of innovations, much of which is derived from plastics such as air sealing technology, they are becoming more affordable.

Read more about energy efficient home remodeling.

Topics: Building Green, Energy Audits, Energy Star, Going Green, Home Design & Plans, Insulation, Maintenance & Repair, Passive House, Remodeling, Sustainability Trends & Statistics

Companies: Dow Building Solutions

Gary Wollenhaupt

Gary Wollenhaupt is an experienced writer and editor, with a background as a daily newspaper reporter as well as corporate and agency public relations and marketing. He is constantly looking for affordable green upgrades to make to his home in eastern Kentucky.

wwwView Gary Wollenhaupt's profile on LinkedIn

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