Are Only the Rich Getting Greener?

Lucas Hamilton

Lucas Hamilton

As I travel across the country and talk to building professionals, I find there is a lag in the central part of the country compared to the coasts or metropolitan areas when it comes to embracing green/sustainability and building science.  This may not be surprising.  Many of the issues around green/sustainability are consumer awareness driven especially in the absence of subsidies or state-mandated programs.

Last year, the Department of Energy published statistics on the adoption rate of the Energy Star program across the country.  What they discovered was that the adoption rate was in direct proportion to the education level of the consumer.  People with higher education levels generally have more income, are buying new homes with more options and functionality, and choose more energy efficient products.   

In the parts of the country where residents are less likely to pursue post secondary education, adoption of programs like these is slower.  The questions I get in the rural areas of the country tend to be the same questions posed to me by people in more urban areas the previous year.

This is unfortunate.  I have talked about this previously with regard to nanotechnology and leveling the playing field for habitat equality. The people asking the least amount of questions are the people who need green technologies the most.  People on lower or fixed incomes need to control energy costs more than people with disposable incomes.  But, in reality the rich and educated are getting greener faster.

The building community needs to seek ways to provide these technologies to low- or moderate-income housing in lower income parts of the country where sustainability is critical because of the increased need to control energy costs.  

Is reduction of energy consumption important to people who are just getting by? Absolutely!  Is there a lag in the interest?  Yes, we do see it. Clearly, there is more interest in metropolitan areas than in rural America.

The message needs to be driven home in all parts of the country and at all income levels.

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications at CertainTeed Corporation. 

Can Nanotechnology Help Create Habitat Equality?

Nanotechnology is working its way into the construction industry and it could have a profound affect on leveling the playing field for all types of construction.

frd-without-wordsNanotechnology refers to materials with particles of less than one nanometer (.0000000001 meters). They have already worked their way into our lives without us realizing it. For example, sun-block is one product where they are already in use.   Nano-sized particles of titanium dioxide act as an ultra violet scavenger and protect the skin from UV rays.

Nanotechnology is being applied in the construction industry as well.  It has been successfully applied to products like concrete and coatings to repair cracks or scratches to surfaces. When a crack forms in the concrete, failure fractures bubble up a binder and this heals the material. Nano particles can be used in coatings to make them weather resistant or to absorb less moisture which could minimize mold growth. We are using these particles to manage energy by preventing heat gain in surfaces of buildings or as phase change where heat is temporarily stored and released when needed. 

So what does this have to do with habitat equality?  It is a social responsibility as well as a business outlook.  It must be our goal to use highly efficient systems in all types of construction. Historically, materials or systems that reduce energy consumption in buildings or add durability to help buildings last longer have come at a price premium. As a result, these types of products or systems have not been used in affordable housing (where they are needed the most)!  Some emerging nanotechnologies are offering us the chance to get these same values at a much lower cost. This may allow us to remove one of the economic barriers to having sustainable and healthy habitats.

It has been said, “If you see a turtle on a fence post you can be certain he did not get there by himself.”  This is a great analogy for how we may have to look at creating solutions for our buildings.  A complex set of circumstance has gotten us on this unhealthy fence post and it may take a complex set of solutions to get us off it again

Lucas Hamilton

Lucas Hamilton

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications at CertainTeed Corporation.