It’s easier to adopt new techniques when you’re building from
scratch, so the new-home market tends to have more than its fair
share of inventive products to offer.
Before these new products come to market, they often come
to Michelle Desiderio. As the vice president of innovation services for Home Innovation Research Labs—a wholly owned,
Builders—she works with manufacturers to test building
products and appliances. At the manufacturer’s request, the
lab’s technicians will do everything from open and shut a door
10,000 times to drop cast-iron pans onto sinks to build a model house to test the impact of high winds on a new framing
technique. “Our goal is to remove barriers to innovation in the
housing industry,” she says.
So what kinds of advances are buyers looking for? “
Builders often are under the assumption that consumers are
focused on green products exclusively, but study after study shows that’s not the case,” says Desiderio.
“Durability usually ranks very high.”
Brent Ehrlich, products editor at publish-
ing company BuildingGreen, which exam-
ines environmentally friendly construction,
says that manufacturers are taking notice of
the desire for resilience. He’s also seeing more
use of natural materials such as stone and cork, which he says
represents the “what’s-old-is-new phenomenon” taking hold.
One example of this trend is the use of mineral wool for insulation. Ehrlich says this material is replacing spray foam insulation systems that “contain some fairly nasty chemicals.” Also,
the natural alternative is both flame-retardant and difficult for
insects to penetrate.
Another product Ehrlich is excited about is fungal mycelium. A company called Ecovative combines what are basically
mushroom roots with agricultural byproducts in controlled lab
conditions. The product that emerges is currently being used as
an eco-friendly packing material, but the company is working to
market it as a strong, lightweight, flame-resistant insulation for
homes and commercial buildings.
But Ehrlich warns that in the effort to make homes more
energy-efficient, home owners need to be careful not to seal the
structure’s envelope too tightly. He’s says he’s seen cases where
home owners try to retrofit their insulation for energy efficiency
and end up having to tear it all out and start over because they
hadn’t considered healthy air exchanges and letting a building
Innovators in new construction are also looking for ways to
protect home owners from catastrophic events. “Many places in
the country have experienced one natural disaster after another,” Desiderio says. “So we
have this relatively new
goal of how to make
homes more resilient in a
says that, despite the great work of
Because defects in new homes can directly affect the entire
system of a house, builders tend to be wary about new products. “As a society, we change phones frequently, but product
manufacturers have a much more difficult time getting their
clients to switch in the world of home construction,” Desiderio
—By Meg White
Building for the Future
Innovative construction materials are both eco-friendly and resilient.
32 REALTOR® JULY/AUGUST 2014 REALTORMAG.REALTOR.ORG