The greening of basic building materials

This blog’s for the handymen of the world, like my husband. Got a bit of education recently about the environmental/climate impact associated with manufacturing certain building materials, such as drywall and sheet rock.

This blog’s for the handymen of the world, like my husband. Got a bit of education recently about the environmental/climate impact associated with manufacturing certain building materials, such as drywall and sheet rock.

Apparently, the processes behind creating the materials that go into construction projects (and renovations) AND the heating and cooling systems needed to keep buildings comfortable for human habitation contribute approximately 51 percent of all carbon dioxide emissions. So that’s why certification programs, such as the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System, account not just for systems that will help buildings run more efficiently when they are finished but also increasingly for the green-ness of the materials used along the way.

That’s the motivation behind Serious Materials, a clean tech company focused on creating building materials that are produced through a more environmentally responsible manufacturing process, according to the company’s CEO, Kevin Surace.

Earlier this month, the company snagged another $50 million in funding from investors including New Enterprise Associates, Foundation Capital and Rustic Canyon Partners. The money will go toward manufacturing lines to create the company's EcoRock drywall, Thermaproof windows and Quiet soundproofing products.

Surace says little attention has been given by the construction industry to the processes behind the most common building products: cement, drywall, metals and glass. “What we’re really doing is updating the processes,” he says. “No one has really done this before.”

The company estimates, for example, that if the building industry used its EcoRock drywall, it could reduce carbon dioxide emissions in the United States by about 25 billion pounds per year. In fact, Serious Materials claims that the manufacturing behind all of the building materials mentioned above produces more carbon dioxide than all the cars on U.S. roads.

Of course, you can expect to pay a premium for these materials. Surace estimates that EcoRock falls right into the middle of the price range you’d normally expect for drywall, or about $8 to $18 per panel. You're basically paying for the research and development.

Still, considering that there are roughly 28,000 LEED projects currently under construction today, compares with just 300 two years ago, Serious Materials just might be onto something. And although I imagine it's hard to be establishing its market potential during the real estates slow down, when the industry turns around, it could be well poised to make a difference.

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