Monthly Archives: October 2011
More so today than ever before, green building is a wide-open selling opportunity for lumber and building materials dealers.
By John D. Wagner
A version of this article first appears on LBM Journal.
The green building movement, started years ago as a “pick-up game” of energy nerds, techie types, and inventors. The rules were made on the fly and anyone could come and play, but now it’s gotten really serious; it’s big money, and for a while now “teams” have been showing up at the old ball field with corporate backing. Professionals are now calling the balls and strikes and the 2010 -11 building environment has seen a dramatic acceleration of the codes, regulations, and professional demands of the movement. The Feds stepped in on product labeling. IECC moved up efficiency by 30% over 2006 standards. ENERGY STAR notched up requirements as well. Adoption of the LEED program gained even more steam, and NAHB collaborated on the new International Green Construction Code (IgCC). So, to keep you updated on the fast-moving developments and the great opportunities that they present for dealers, here’s a review of what’s recently happened.
Regulating Green-Product Claims
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has finally stepped into the notoriously unregulated world of green product labeling. Soon, any manufacturer that makes an environmental claim will face tighter rules with the “Green Guides,” which were revised after 12 years ago. Marketers have to qualify their claims on the product packaging and limit the claim(s) to specific benefit(s). The new FTC rules will also demand that companies disclose if their green certifications are from true third-parties, or were created in-house. If a trade association certifies a product, and the company is a member of the trade association, that too must be disclosed. Claims of “renewable” have to be specific about material sources. A new set of rules will govern claims of “nontoxic” or “free of.” And a manufacturer cannot claim a process uses “renewable energy” if any part of the product was derived from fossil fuels.
New Energy Efficiency Mandates
If you feel as through that the list of government regulations is tightening on you with new labeling laws, take heart, because the new 2012 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) regulations will allow you to sell more building materials. In fact, your customers will be required to buy more to comply with the new code. Here’s a summary: The (proposed) International Code Council (ICC) International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) has an immediate goal of 30% incremental savings over the 2006 IECC. The proposed changes in the IECC are very aggressive with new window specs and insulation (which will require beefier frames to accommodate). Above-grade wall insulation in Zone 3 (sample city, San Francisco) would move from R-13 to R-20. Since an insulated 2×4 stud wall achieves around R-15, the builder will have to go to 2×6 framing or use XPS rigid foam over 2×4 walls to meet the new spec. Basement wall insulation in Zone 3 would move from no insulation to required R-5, and in Zones 5-8 (e.g. Chicago, Burlington VT, Duluth, and Fairbanks) from R-13 to R-19. Floor insulation in Zones 7 and 8 would move from R-30 to R-38. Ceiling insulation requirements would move from R-30 to R-38 in Zone 3, and from R-38 to R-49 in Zone 5.
For windows, the proposed IECC offer a broad opportunity for dealers to sell higher-quality windows. In Zone 1 (e.g. Miami), the required U-factor would move from U-1.2 to U-0.50. For Zone 4 (e.g. Albuquerque), the U-factor would move from U-0.40 to 0.35.
For lighting, no one has to use CFLs, despite what you may hear on cable news. However, 50% of the lighting in a new home will have to be as efficient as CFLs. For ducts, sealing leakage limits would be verified by required testing if the ducts pass through unconditioned space.
Remember, the purchase of extra materials to comply with the IECC won’t be a choice. So, here’s a clear opportunity for dealers: Publicize the particulars about the new code to your pro customer base, and list the products you have to help achieve compliance. That will boost your brand…and save your customers a few red flags in the process.
Whole-House Green Rating Systems
There is no question that the acceptance of LEED in the commercial, federal, health care, and educational sectors has been a roaring success, which has been a win for dealers who sell the premium products to help contractors and architects earn LEED status. LEED has not had the same traction in the residential sector, in part because of cheaper alternatives like Energy Star Qualified Homes, the NAHB National Green Building Standard and the new codes coming into play with the IgCC. That said, this is abundant evidence that certified green homes sell faster and for a premium over non-certified-green homes (mostly because green homes cost less to operate). So you will see continued growth in whole-house systems, especially Energy Star. In fact, the EPA implemented more rigorous guidelines in January 2011 for new homes that earn the Energy Star label. Compared to the 2009 Energy Star guidelines, the new requirements drive for a 20% incremental improvement. Here too, dealers can play a role in pointing out products they help comply with these standards. According to the EPA, key elements of the new guidelines include the following, with items of interest to dealers in bold:
- Comprehensive air sealing, properly insulated assemblies and high-performance windows.
- High-efficiency heating and cooling systems engineered to deliver more comfort, moisture control, and quiet operation, and equipped with fresh-air ventilation to improve air quality.
- Because Energy Star homes offer a tightly-sealed and insulated building envelope, a comprehensive package of flashing, moisture barriers, and heavy-duty membrane details is critical to help keep water from roofs, walls, and foundations for improved durability and indoor air quality.
- Energy Star qualified lighting, appliances and fans will help reduce monthly utility bills and provide high-quality performance.
Dealers who are aggressive marketers of their products should read the preceding list of rules and openly weep with joy. It’s a veritable buffet of opportunity, for up-selling everything from housewrap, flashing systems, insulation, and framing, to duct sealants, enhanced framing packages, and energy trusses. You will note that many of the new green regulations ask builders to think of terms of building systems. Don’t sell customers single products such as housewrap, but housewrap systems that include flashing, tape, wrap, and maybe even companion roof underlayment. The same with ducts, which can be sold as a system, including seam sealant and the proper amount of insulation, if the ducts run through unconditioned spaces. The list goes on and on. However, dealers should study the EPA site, decipher which brands you sell that help builders comply with the standard (or bring in a green expert to help do that for you), and offer your consultative sales services to the builder, who is no doubt welcome to hearing your expert advice. He or she maybe lost in a sea of questions about what regulations apply to him, and when they kick in.
In summary, as much as some would like to see green building fade miss the plate like a wild pitch you can’t un-ring a bell, and the bell that announced the professionalism and regulation of the green building movement has been rung. The only alterative for today’s dealers is to figure out how to profit from it, because – more so today than ever before – green building is a wide-open selling opportunity for dealers. You will thrive if you are savvy enough to recognize what products the new codes and regulations call for, and you should be positioning yourself now as the go-to expert source for your customers.
The award-winning author of many books and article about construction, and a frequent contributor to the industry’s leading trade magazines, John D. Wagner can be contacted at www.JohnDWagner.com.
The growth of commercial and residential decking and railing products over the past few years has been a bright spot in an otherwise gloomy building and remodeling environment. All indications are that this trend will continue, albeit modestly, for the foreseeable future. However, emerging technologies and color trends coupled with builders and homeowners mixing and matching decking and railing materials from different suppliers have impacted how raw material producers, manufacturers, distributors, retailers, contractors and remodelers make decisions.
Just in the last decade, the industry has seen rapid growth of solid composites but now that popularity is slipping away to a variety of lower cost hollowed-back composite options, capped composites or synthetic options. Several synthetic deck products produced by a variety of companies look more and more like wood but they continue to escalate in price. Raw material and transportation costs are volatile and a great majority of manufacturers don’t have deep enough pockets to absorb those increases. This emerging trend may ultimately prove to be difficult to plan for at the retail purchasing level. Even the discriminating buyer with an above average income may bypass the trendiest of synthetic products and decide on a high-end genuine exotic hardwood species or move to a more traditional wood deck option such as western red cedar or douglas fir. According to Principia Partners a consulting firm, the wood deck segment which includes pressure treated decking materials still represents roughly 50% of all decking used in the Northeast United States.
Today’s deck and railing buyer demands long-term durability, lower-maintenance, fade resistance, good looks, and accessories to customize. Often times a consumer will mix one brand of decking with a different brand of railing, and then add accessories like lighting and hardscape elements such as deck stones or special solar post caps from yet another manufacturer. Some homeowners are also seeking “green” products in that they contain a high percentage of recycled materials or the Life Cycle Assessment of the given product is in line with their beliefs. While the “green” attributes of a product usually do not become the sole factor in the purchasing decision, often times they can be the single reason that will sway the buyer over a specific brand or wood specie. In many markets, it is also realistic to conclude that the professional deck contractor may exert his or her considerable experience and or brand preference to strongly influence the buyer.
With the rapidly changing landscape in the decking and railing category, it is very important to understand how the man-made product is manufactured because ingredients, speed in which products are produced and packaged will directly impact the end users satisfaction. In general, consumers have very high expectations that the decking, fastener, railing and or accessory purchased will perform as promoted (or better).
Whether it is decking and railing or patio hardscapes, the outdoor living space category is a growing market segment. It is important for all channels of the industry to partner with the companies and products that have consistently delivered proven results over an extended period of time. At Boston Cedar, the company has worked diligently since its inception to ensure that the products and programs offered are the best of the best.