The residential construction industry is making a comeback. According to research firm IBISWorld, the industry will finish out the year with 17.5% profit margins, and analysts predict a 10.2% increase in annualized sales revenue by 2017. One sector that will benefit greatly from this boom is eco-friendly construction materials, as builders become more conscientious of the environment and regulators crack down on building standards. Take a look at the range of business opportunities in this burgeoning sector. --Erin Kim
Green homes start with an eco-friendly design. Architects create a floor plan that makes a home as energy-efficient as possible, whether that's making a more compact space, or incorporating solar panels or superinsulation. At ZeroEnergy Design, managing director and co-founder Stephanie Horowitz says they design a house to make sure they "squeeze every inch of energy out of it as we can." The firm’s projects typically use 60-80% less energy than conventional houses.
Many paints used for the interior and exterior of homes contain chemicals that, with too much exposure, could cause physical irritation. Even for experienced painters, oil-based paints could cause problems. After Paul Sek of T. Paul Sek Painting ended up in the hospital from chemical exposure during one of his projects, the firm switched to using 100% non-toxic paints. Even though the industry was hurt by the housing crisis, the business has picked up again; the company expects to make 70% of what it did last year by July.
Installing new carpets can fill the air with volatile organic compounds, so flooring alternatives can help make a household safer and healthier. Rob Hendricksen, owner and founder of Hendricksen Natürlich Flooring, provides natural options that also involve environmentally friendly practices in the creation of the product. Hendricksen says the Sebastopol, California, company's business has grown due to increased interest in his green flooring products--from carpets made from natural fibers to hardwoods certified by the Forest Stewardship Council.
Many companies now offer kitchen countertop surfaces made from recycled paper or bamboo. Gilasi, based in Chicago, actually takes materials that cannot be recycled traditionally, and incorporates them into countertops. The company crushes glass—saving hours worth of energy that went into creating it—and adds it to a cement mixture. The countertop was featured in the Museum of Science and Industry’s Smart Home exhibit in 2010.
Insulation can be a great way for a house to go green, as it can help reduce energy consumption--and new materials make insulation products even more environmentally friendly. Eco Tec Insulation uses spray foam to insulate homes; the Icynene spray does not emit chemicals and improves the air quality inside houses, according to the company’s website. Once sprayed into the wall, ceiling or floor, the foam expands to fill the area, and it can conserve up to 40% of a home’s energy loss.
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