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Green Building Curmudgeon

Green Bandwagon Rolls on at 2010 Remodeling Show

Everyone wants to be green these days

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What would they say otherwise?
What would they say otherwise? PERC shamelessly uses green to market its product and association members.

I attended the Remodeling Show in Baltimore recently, and although I did not spend as much time perusing the exhibits on the show floor as they deserved, while roaming the floor with my fellow green policeman Michael Anschel, I ran across some cool new products, some blatant examples of greenwashing, and a few things that looked interesting but that I have not yet come to conclusions on. There were some excellent educational sessions, good times with old and new friends, and even an Orioles game thrown in for good measure.

Really green or just greenwashing?

Reflectix radiant barrier insulation was back misleading the public about the performance of its product. It seems like a fine radiant barrier, but the company has an almost unintelligible brochure, printed in three languages, that implies R-values of as much as 15.6 (however, when you check the fine print, this particular application includes the fiberglass insulation as part of the assembly). Reflectix includes duct wrap, water heater, basement walls, and just about any other surface in a house as potential applications.

Close by the Reflectix booth was Enerflex, an attic radiant barrier that comes in friction-fit panels for 16-inch and 24-inch rafter spacing. At first glance, this looked much easier to install than the staple-on foil alternatives, although I am concerned about how well it works in the real world with varying rafter widths, blocking, and other obstructions.

As the show was combined with the annual Deck Expo, there were almost too many decking products to see. They ranged from solid virgin PVC, which I am not a fan of; to recycled milk jugs combined with mineral fiber by LumbeRock, which looked interesting; to thermally modified wood, which I like very much.

OSI displayed its WinteQ window installations system, which the company told us was AAMA approved. The system looked comprehensive, although it deserves some additional study to determine if it conflicts with any window manufacturer’s instructions and what impact that might have. Another sealant company, Geocel,rather amusingly, stated in one of their promotional posters, “It’s Green and It Works.” What’s the alternative? “It’s Green and It Sucks”?

National Gypsum showed its DustTech dust-reducing drywall compounds, which claim to cause sanding dust to fall straight to the floor instead of becoming fully airborne. The compound is also touted as lighter and Greenguard certified.

Perhaps the most puzzling use of green as a marketing strategy belonged to the Propane Education Research Council, whose display board said: “Where Can I Learn How to Integrate Green Into My Remodeling Business?….PROPANE ANSWERS.” It appeared that the company was marketing supposedly “green” oriented classes for remodelers, focusing mostly on tankless water heaters and the like, but the display just left us confused.

Just plain greenwashing?

The most blatant examples of straight-up greenwashing were electric heaters. Eco-Heater, a European-style wall-mounted flat heater plate, claimed to be “Effective, Efficient, and Economical,” and claimed that it only uses 27% of the energy that a typical 1500-watt heater uses—not surprising since it is a 400-watt heater. I guess Eco-Heater got an A in math: 400 divided by 1500 is about 27%.

Finally, an electric radiant floor heating system was exhibited as a “green” product. I don’t have a problem installing this system in select locations, such as a bathroom, particularly when it is used sparingly and cuts down on the use of central heat—but to call it a green product is just pushing greenwashing a little too far for my taste. I suppose if you powered it with solar panels, then you might be able to call it green.

Stay tuned for more

I will follow up with additional reports from the show in the next few weeks. In the meantime, keep your fingers crossed, as the historic commission hearing for my new house is on September 21st. I am cautiously optimistic this time around, but I have learned not to get my hopes up. If you hear anguished cries coming from the southeastern U.S. on Tuesday and Wednesday, it might just mean that I didn’t get my approval.


  1. Anonymous | | #1

    Green Washing.. to infinity and beyond
    I have had it up to my freakin' eyeballs with companies claiming "green-ness" because their project uses electricity! Is there anything more misleading? Don't answer that, I am sure there is. I still fondly recall the Doorbrow with its reversed flashing (indecently that product seems to no longer be available..).

    Single attribute green claims are not as bad with some products that have possibly only one major detractor which they have solved, but the reality is that the manufacturing process is essential in considering if a project is green.

    I'd like to see any product review come with a link to the to see how it really measures up. Or the new B-Company certification that is coming out.

    Another question worth asking is what responsibility do the publishers of the magazines and the trade shows have to vet the products they are promoting as Green? I have seen electrical in-floor heat cables described as being green by more than one trade facing publication, and it was even featured in the Remodeling show's special "green" pavilion. I wanted a roll of "not" stickers to slap onto these products so that attendees wouldn't continue to be mislead at a venue they should be able to trust.

  2. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #2

    I'll buy a roll of "NOT" stickers
    Once you get them printed up, I'll order a roll of "NOT" stickers. Great idea.

  3. Pam Walton | | #3

    New DVD on Green REmodeling
    If you're thinking about a green remodel, get a great new DVD: "The Forever Home: Going Green." It’s a refreshing look at a SF Bay Area home remodeling project that the National Association of the Remodeling Industry has recognized with numerous awards. The planning and architecture consider not only the needs of the home, but also those of the environment and the home's surroundings. A green house for an extraordinary couple. Extras on the DVD include a conversation with Brian Gitt, CEO of BuildItGreen. "The Forever Home" was broadcast in June in the LA area on KCET and in Boston on WGBH. Watch a preview clip and purchase the 27 minute DVD at (P.S. It's time to stop making comments anonymously. If it's important enough to say, own it!)

  4. pharos phan | | #4

    indeed, indeed
    I've always loved the concept of the Pharos Project but it may be too rigorous for any "normal" product. That said, I bet most of our antennae are now tuned into greenwashing. I am pretty impressed that names were named here!

  5. user-635232 | | #5

    Old, but pertinent blog post
    Reading through Carl's justified curmudgeon-ness (I can't help but sympathize completely), I was reminded of a post sometime ago by Martin about definitions of "sustainable," and the resulting comments. I personally find rigorous definitions of "green" and "sustainability" difficult to talk about in definite terms with definite benchmarks, mostly because it's more of a solution space, and not a solution point (apologies for the mathematical terminology there). Thankfully, Martin's post helped give some history and numbers to the question. Here's the link-- I think it's worth a revisit:

    Perhaps an update on the topic from Martin, Alex, or anyone else? Perhaps a post on rigorous definitions of "green"?

  6. Expert Member
    CARL SEVILLE | | #6

    Lucas, Glad my curmudgeon-ness is justifiable. Regarding definitions, we are, unfortunately stuck with two words that are commonly used to describe this industry - green and sustainable. Green is just flat out bad - it isn't descriptive, prone to misuse, and verging on silly, but we're stuck with it. Sustainable at first blush sounds more adult, but in some ways it is worse than green. Michael Braungart said it best - if someone asked you how your marriage was doing, would you want to answer "sustainable"? I hope that someday someone comes up with a better descriptor for what we do, one that is clear and definable, and that will become commonly used.

  7. Lars Danner | | #7

    Great idea Carl!
    Why not make it a contest or blooger project or somesuch. "Creat a Word" contest. Have BGA sponsor it. Enough people check in here we could make it viral pretty quick, I bet. My two cents worth is "carbotralainable" (car-bow-tra-lain-a-ble, emphasis on the 'lain') (a conglomeration of carbon neutral sustainable), definition: the ability to maintain carbon neutrality thruout the entire process from manufacture thru disposal. Also, eliminates anyone from using it to define their marriage. Of course I'm being a bit facitious here, but hey....I agree with all the "curmudgeoness" about people claiming to be green when they are color blind. Lipstick on a pig is still a pig.
    Keep up the good work GBA!

  8. ahyde | | #8

    Geenwashing, xagerations and lies
    As a third party energy auditor and energy consukting company we are constantly looking at claims for products that have been (or plan to be) incorporated into projects we audit for Energy Star, NAHB Green and other programs. Most of the time I think the builders just do not take the time to read the product documentation, they only see some "factoid" and latch on it as the defining essence of the product. They tend to ignore the manufacturer's instructions that clearly set very specfic uses or install methods as per test lab defined protocals. An example is the 1/8" reflective wrap material for HVAC ducts which they install by taping to metal ducting and try to claim it provides R-6 insulation for the wrapped duct. The testing by the manufacturer shows an installation with spacers to hold the material with a 3/4" dead air space (sealed air space) to obtain R5.7. test rating. Problem is if you cannot install the material in a normal construction situation where it will sustain the dead air space. What you get is R-1, not R-6, and your house does not meet code, although some code inspectors fell into the same mind set as the builders.

    Other products are promoted by just plain hucksters. If the claims include ": used by NASA", "reduces your heating bills by 50%", " Guaranteed 15% total electrical bill reduction by installing our Made in America, Power Factor Correction Unit which also includes a lightning arrestor to protect your home" and many more "sounds like a miracle product" type products - you should run the other way.

    If you do not fully investigate these products and buy them based on unproven claims you are part of the problem. If they get a customer base it becomes self perpetuating. "all my neighbors swear by it , I have to get this product for my home"

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