When Red Turns Green

When the economy turns and the tide of red ink finally ebbs, the predominant color in a resurgent construction and remodeling market is very likely to be green.

On the commercial side, the U.S. green building market is accelerating at a dramatic rate, says McGraw-Hill Construction’s Green Outlook 2009: Trends Driving Change report, released last November at the Greenbuild Conference. The report notes that the value of green building construction starts was up five-fold from 2005 to 2008 (from $10 billion to $36-$49 billion), and could triple by 2013, reaching $96-$140 billion.

The projected green growth numbers for the residential side are less exact, but it is clear that green-built homes are taking the limelight and likely a surprisingly large share of the coming rebound.

As reported in a January Building Design and Construction ENews, green building consultant Jerry Yudelson, principal of Tucson-based Yudelson Associates, says that green building will continue to grow in spite of the global recession, forecasting 60 percent growth in the green building industry for 2009. "Green homes will come to dominate new home developments in more sections of the U.S., as builders increasingly see green as a source of competitive advantage,” he says. "… more people are going green each year, and there is nothing on the horizon that will stop this trend."

Yudelson also predicts that the focus of green building will begin to switch from new buildings to existing buildings. "The fastest growing LEED rating system in 2008 was the LEED for Existing Buildings program, and I expect this trend to continue in 2009," says Yudelson.

There are other industry developments that are particularly encouraging to green building.

The National Green Building Standard, the first green building rating system to be approved by ANSI, was issued early this year after several years of collaboration between the International Code Council and the National Association of Home Builders. The four green threshold levels–Bronze, Silver, Gold, and Emerald–provide builders with a means to achieve entry-level green building, up to the highest level of sustainable green building that incorporates energy savings of 60 percent or higher.

Also, the latest data is dispelling the notion that green building is more expensive than conventional construction–estimated by some on the order of 10 to 15 percent more. A report from the U.S. Green Building Council has found that building green costs an average of just 2.5 percent more up front. Other studies even argue that there is no premium at all. Moreover, experience is finding that, even if a cost premium exists for building green, the operating savings–owing primarily to energy efficiency–exceed this initial investment over the life of the building by as much as tenfold. A 2003 California study concluded that on average green buildings are 25 to 30 percent more energy efficient than conventional buildings.

As noted above, all of this is nothing new to the fenestration industry in the sense that such energy efficiency–a key objective since the late 1970s–is also a key element of green design. Gas-filled, low-E insulating glazings and advanced framing materials and configurations have substantially reduced the energy impacts of windows. This addresses the basic “kitchen table issue” of saving money on utility bills and remains the primary reason that most consumers buy energy efficient windows–not the more abstract benefits of “greenness,” such as carbon footprints and environmental life-cycle analysis. And, the added cost for including energy-efficient windows and doors in a typical house can quickly be repaid by reducing those bills.

To be sure, fenestration products perform well in regard to other green attributes besides energy efficiency. For example, windows and doors–made from abundant, recycled/recyclable or renewable resources–typically earn green credits for life-cycle impacts. To help establish all of a product's green credentials, AAMA is developing a green certification rating and certification program to help our members’ products complement LEED, GreenGlobes and other nationally-recognized green building programs. This will keep us at the forefront of a rapidly growing market segment that is bucking the trend of bad news.

But we should not be distracted from touting that basic, time-tested benefit of energy efficiency. That alone offers enough green to take us back into the black.

Rich Walker is president and CEO of the American Architectural Manufacturers Association, 847/303-5664, rwalker@aamanet.org.