Demand Drives Home Green Technology

Solatube Tubular technology is a dome that installs on the roof and uses reflective surfaces to guide daylight inside, even at a 90-degree angle, something a traditional skylight cannot do.
Solatube Tubular technology is a dome that installs on the roof and uses reflective surfaces to guide daylight inside, even at a 90-degree angle, something a traditional skylight cannot do. (AP)

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By Alex Veiga
Associated Press
Saturday, November 22, 2008

LOS ANGELES -- Robert Mechielsen's designs for environmentally friendly homes often include cutting-edge features such as high-efficiency heating and cooling systems and solar panels to convert sunshine into electricity.

But he's only half joking when he says many of the best green home solutions available hail from the 18th century, such as installing awnings to keep a home cooler.

"There's also a very advanced way of using wind technology -- it's drying your clothes outside," said Mechielsen, founder of Studio RMA in Los Angeles.

With environmental consciousness at an all-time high, home owners searching for Earth-friendly ideas don't have to settle for such rustic measures. Manufacturers and retailers looking to cash in on the green movement are rolling out green building and remodeling products and demand is helping to drive down costs, experts say.

Market research by McGraw-Hill Construction projects the residential green building market will have annual sales of $12 billion to $20 billion this year. That would represent between 6 percent and 10 percent, respectively, of the overall home building market.

The firm has said it expected that the green building market would double by 2012.

Some of the products are based on new technology, but many are based on concepts, such as solar water heaters, that have been kicking around for decades with relatively few takers.

That's changing, in part because of soaring energy costs.

Home owners have more options than ever. "It's a very dynamic time. In 10 years, there's not going to be such a thing as green building, just building," said Sarah Beatty, founder of Green Depot, a chain of stores in the Northeast that sells green building products.

At the top of Mechielsen's list is installing a souped-up version of an attic ventilator, such as the NightBreeze by David Energy Group, which electronically manages how evening air circulates into the home, lowering cooling costs.

"It works on a computer, so people don't have to open or close their windows, which is so 18th century," said Mechielsen, who counts commercial and residential projects, such as the Eco House in Pasadena, Calif., among his green efforts. "It's really a big cost-saver."

Mechielsen also raves about a relatively new generation of solar panel technology known as thin-film solar. Instead of being made of costly silicon, thin-film solar cells are made of copper, indium, gallium and selenide. The cells are thinner and more flexible than existing photovoltaic technology.


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