Green construction strategies for the best in building envelopes

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Green construction strategies for the best in building envelopes

When a homeowner or building professional searches for building products, there are many ways to go green. In addition to energy-saving options look for products with green attributes throughout the lifecycle of a product.

Where the product comes, how long it lasts, and what happens to it at the end of its life can just as big an impact on its performance as any energy it may save.

Building products made with recycled and recyclable materials are a great way to add an extra green element in an exterior product that might not otherwise influence the performance of a home.

Metal roofing

Metal roofs are popping up all over. In fact, over the past 15 years, the residential market share for metal roofing has increased from 2 percent to more than 10 percent.

In certain areas of the country, about 15 percent of the residential roofs being installed are metal.

Replacing your asphalt roof with a metal roof will drastically cut down your energy costs. According to a report published by the Cool Metal Roofing Coalition, metal roofing is a great roofing choice for its durability, recyclability, and other great attributes. Installation of reflective roofs can save up to 40 percent of the cooling energy used in a home.

The Metal Roofing Alliance also adds that "a highly emissive metal roof can reduce urban temperatures by as much as 12 ° F." Needless to say, this benefit along with the longevity and sustainability features of metal roofs make metal roofs a great energy-saving solution for your home. Finally, metal roofs, unlike asphalt shingles, do not decay or discolor over time.

Another reason behind this rapid growth in popularity is the wide variety of styles and types of roof available in the market. There are styles to match any architectural look, including slate, shingles and tile that look so real you may not believe it's metal even after you touch it.

Upscale metal roofs incorporate hidden fasteners for strong performance and a please visual appearance. For instance, the Image II line from Metal Sales delivers a clean, linear elegance paired with unmatched quality for a dependable, long-lasting and beautiful roof.

It's attached to the roof structure with fasteners or clips along one edge and the adjacent panel snaps over the edge to cover the fasteners. As a direct concealed-fastened option, Image II provides the benefit of the same look of standing seam roof products at an economical price.

The product is available in a wide range of colors that are also Energy Star listed and comes with a 45-year warranty. Metal roofs are made from recycled materials and are recyclable at the end of its useful life.

These economical standing seam panel options provide a clean, linear elegance paired with superb quality. They have higher slope requirements than their structural standing seam counterparts, and are installed over a solid substrate. Like all standing seam panels, the profiles in this series feature:

  • Thicker gauge substrate for superior structural strength & durability
  • Installed with concealed clips to allow for thermal movement
  • Accommodate blanket insulation for enhanced thermal efficiency
  • Highest wind, fire & impact resistance of any roof option
  • The product is available in a wide range of colors that are also Energy Star listed and comes with a 45-year warranty.

Insulated concrete forms

As building codes come to incorporate green building techniques, the idea of continuous insulation will become a part of residential and commercial buildings. One cost-efficient and effective way to accomplish that is through use of insulated concrete forms (ICF).

Continuous insulation will reduce air leakage and reduce heat loss through thermal bridging via the studs, thereby increasing the effective R-value of the wall system.

Released in mid-2011, the major changes in the 2012 International Energy Conservation Code are designed to create buildings that use 30 percent less energy than buildings under the 2006 IECC edition. The codes in the 2012 IECC were used for the 2012 International Residential Code (IRC) and International Building Code (IBC)

The codes call for continuous insulation, which ICFs provide by their nature. The foam blocks that fit together like children's building toys and are the filled with concrete eliminate any air gaps in a wall. The foam provides a level of R-Value that meets minimum code requirements in most climates.

Other common forms of construction such as framing or concrete masonry units, require additional insulation to form a continuous barrier, or compensating with additional R-value.

"ICFs inherently already have continuous insulation and enough foam thickness to get the R Value that is necessary," said Kelvin Doerr, director of engineering and technical services for Fox Blocks, a manufacturer of ICFs. "With other types of construction such as CMU or frame, you have to add materials and labor for that material to achieve the continuous insulation."

Traditional wood frame construction is prone to thermal bridging, or movement of heat through the wood framing itself. Insulation only in the bays between the framing studs doesn't address thermal bridging through the studs. The new codes take into account the thermal bridging and address it with the requirements for continuous insulation. ICF construction address thermal bridging and continuous insulation in one product – the ICF itself.

"The codes are recognizing that if you build an R-13 wall with framing, you're not getting a fully R-13 wall, Doerr said.

On a wall system basis, ICFs are cost competitive to wood framing when continuous insulating and air sealing is taken into account.

"It's been an issue with the ICF industry that we provide continuous insulation inherently in the ICF wall systems, but it wasn't always recognized in the entire cost and value of the wall assembly they are getting," Doerr said.

Vinyl siding

Since the 1950s, vinyl siding has been the exterior cladding of choice for millions of homes in all climates, providing weather protection, long life and ease of maintenance.

In fact vinyl siding is the most popular choice for exterior and cladding in the U.S. and Canada, according the Vinyl Siding institute. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, vinyl siding was used on nearly 30 percent of all new homes built in 2012, more than any other cladding material.

Vinyl siding is a great choice for both new homes and remodeling existing homes. As other types of exterior cladding come on the market, it’s easy to be swayed by the latest and greatest product announcement. But vinyl siding has been No. 1 for decades with good reason.

Modern materials and design

It’s not your grandfather’s vinyl siding any more. Sure, any example from the 1950s won’t compare to what’s on the market today.

Today’s vinyl siding features texture and attention to detail that make high-end vinyl siding nearly indistinguishable from wood clapboard, cedar shake shingles or other traditional materials. With vinyl siding you can find a product to fit with any architectural style, from classic to modern.

There are plenty of colors from which to choose as well. In fact, nearly 350 vinyl siding colors have been certified for color retention, according to the Vinyl Siding Institute. The variety offers homeowners an extensive palette of fade-resistant colors, combined with complementary trim, accents and accessories. Thanks to these advancements in color and technology, top designers on shows such as “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” and “George to the Rescue” have recently made vinyl siding a focal point of their renovation and new-build home designs.

Also, many historical societies across the U.S. have turned to vinyl siding for historic home renovations because of the wide selection of period colors, architectural details and low- maintenance benefits.

“After the devastating tornado in Joplin, Mo. in 2011, we built seven houses in seven days using vinyl siding exteriors,” said Kim Lewis, architectural designer of Kim Lewis Designs and former lead designer for ABC’s Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. “At first I was skeptical, but we were able to bring forward character-driven design on each of the home’s exteriors with vibrant colors and architectural elements. After spending some time with the material, I have a more positive outlook on vinyl siding.”

Vinyl trim offers the look of wood without the work

Many homeowners want the look of wood siding but fear the maintenance headaches of staining or painting every few years. Vinyl siding is a great low-maintenance option, but unfortunately people think the trim options don’t offer a high-end look like authentic wood. That’s not true.

Siding manufacturers have made significant strides in the design of low maintenance, holistic finishing solutions for windows, doors, eaves, gables, columns and more, introducing trim and moldings made from cellular PVC.

These trim packages are designed to function like real wood, accentuating the best features of any architectural home style but eliminating the need to clean, replace or stain in years to come. Although PVC trim looks and fastens like wood, but won’t absorb moisture or insect damage like wood does.

With today’s trim options, even the most discerning homeowners will find there’s no need to compromise beauty to get low-maintenance curb appeal.

Vinyl siding stands up to the weather

If you’re comparing a piece of vinyl siding to a piece of wood siding, don’t let the light weight fool you. Some vinyl siding products are manufactured with technologies tested to resist wind speeds of more than 200 mph. These products have been put to the test and withstood the elements in recent storms such as superstorm Sandy.

In addition to holding its own against Mother Nature, vinyl siding puts up a pretty good fight against Father Time. Vinyl siding does not need to be painted, and it can be cleaned with simple soap and water. The product has tremendous longevity, in many cases lasting 30 years or more with very little maintenance and low cost of ownership.

Vinyl siding means green building

For eco-conscious homeowners, vinyl siding delivers high performance and environmentally responsible choices. For example, vinyl siding comes to the home site fully finished so there’s no need for paints, stains, or caulks. That meets green building recommendations from the National Association of Home Builders to use building materials that require no additional resources to finish on site. Unlike wood siding and some other options, there’s no need to refinish every few years, either.

The durability of vinyl means it will last decades, without the need for replacement. Reduces material use and waste over the long useful life of the siding.

Finally, vinyl siding is made using very common natural ingredients and recycled materials in many cases. Vinyl siding uses salt and natural gas as the raw materials for the manufacturing process. All of Ply Gem’s plants have a comprehensive recycling program, with manufacturing facilities recycling 95 percent or more of scrap vinyl. Some of the company's siding products contain as much as 80-percent reclaimed materials.

Vinyl siding will continue to be a leader in home design, delivering value and durability for homeowners and building professionals for years to come


Brick remains a top choice for building professionals and homeowners looking for a durable, sustainable option for exterior cladding.

The durability of brick is one of the aspects that make it sustainable. In the average lifespan of a brick home of 50 years or more, other materials might have to be replaced two or three times, or at least require ongoing maintenance such as painting. Installed properly, bricks really shouldn't require any maintenance.

Boral Bricks outlines some of the environmental advantages for virtually any building project. Boral products, including bricks and smog-reducing roofing tiles, have been used on a number of green demonstration homes, such as the Proud Green Home at Serenbe, the VISION House® in INNOVENTIONS at Epcot® and the VISION House in Tucson.

 Boral Bricks are composed of mineral elements that stand the test of time without harming the environment as they age. Boral Bricks meet the following standards incorporated in the philosophy of sustainable design:

  • Does not emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs) or formaldehyde.
  • Is a durable, low-maintenance material.
  • Can be salvaged from existing or demolished buildings for re-use.
  • Does not contain CFCs, HCFCs, or other ozone-depleting substances.
  • Does not contain highly toxic compounds, and the production of brick does not result in highly toxic by-products.
  • Creates very little waste when it is manufactured or recycled.
  • Can be obtained from local resources and manufacturers, which means less energy is consumed to transport materials to the job site.
  • Is completely recyclable, either whole for re-use in new projects, or crushed for roadway sub-base or permanent mulch in landscaping. Brick can also be ground to manufacture new brick.
  • Is made using natural resources.
  • Has low “embodied energy” (the energy required to produce and transport materials).
  • Is biodegradable

Read more about green home exteriors.

Top photo by Dorian Photography.

Topics: Building Green, Exteriors, Foundations, Healthy Homes, Home Design & Plans, Insulated Concrete Forms - ICF, Roofing

Companies: Fox Blocks

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