Green issues 261 views May 09, 2018
The Contractor’s Dilemma – Sourcing Green Products

Which came first – the chicken or the egg? Who would have thought the age-old question would apply to construction material selection, but it certainly is relevant for contractors working on projects pursuing Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) version 4 (v4) certification writes Tommy Linstroth, founder and CEO of Green Badger.

LEED is the predominate green building certification in the US and is required on most federally funded projects as well as many state, local and university projects. Odds are, if you’re a contractor who does any public work, you’re faced with LEED certification (it also often required in the private sector, with 80+% of Fortune 100 companies requiring it).

While many contractors are familiar with the requirements of the older version of LEED, Version 4 (which became mandatory for projects registered last year and new) is a whole new challenge – specifically, the availability of compliant materials.

So back to the chicken or the egg - in the case of LEED v4 and the materials market – the answer is abundantly clear. LEED v4 came much sooner than manufacturers and project teams were ready for. To earn the credits in v4, products must now have Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) or Health Product Declarations (HPDs).

There are other contributing certifications, but these two are the most recognizable. The challenge is there aren’t all that many products that have either one. The process for a manufacturer to generate an EPD could take over a year – so even those jumping on board today won’t have products that comply until 2019.

So where can contractors look to find products that meet the criteria? First, let’s talk about what they need. To earn the credits, contractors need to use 20 products with EPDs, and/or 20 products with HPDs (there are 2 separate credits available, one for each). To make it even more complicated, EPDs come in two versions – industry wide, which only count as ½ a product, or product specific, which count in full.

Industry wide means any product in that category complies, regardless of manufacturer.

For example, Type X Gypsum board has an industry-wide EPD – any type X gypsum board from a manufacturer who is a member of the North American Gypsum Association can utilize that industry-wide EPD. While it only counts for ½, it is a broad enough certification that you can start to find a lot of products with it.

Product specific, on the other hand, is an EPD for a specific product from a certain manufacturer – i.e ½” Fire Rated Gypsum Board from ABC Co – and counts in full. Between the two, contractors need to get a total of at least twenty to earn the point (this could be 10 industry-wide, and 15 product specific, or any combination of, etc).

That still bodes the question – of the thousands of products and components that make up a building being constructed, where can contractors narrow their search for compliant products? Below are some categories of products contractors can start with before they dive down rabbit holes to find an EPD or HPD.

 WOOD

Most wood in North America will fall under the American Wood Council’s Industry Wide EPDs (that only count as a half-point each), but include softwood plywood, softwood lumber, OSB, LVLs, Glu-Lam timbers, I-joists, MDF, and particle board. You can easily pick up a handful of those w/o much work. Huber’s popular ZIP, Advantech an TruSpec products all have Product Specific Type 3 EPDs as well.

WALLS, CEILING TILES AND GRID

One of the most robust categories, Armstrong, CertainTeed and USG all offer a host of options with EPDs, HPDs and other Material Ingredient Reporting. Since you can use up to 5 products per manufacturer, if you are savvy, you can get a quarter of your EPD and MIR accounted for just in your ceilings. National Gypsum has over a dozen products with HPDs, and there is an industry-wide EPD for Type X Gyp Board.

INSULATION

Insulation is another opportunity to get multiple products within the same manufacturer. While the choices are somewhat limited, CertainTeed and Knauff both offer thermal, acoustical, and mechanical insulation products with EPDs (and some with HPDs)

FLOORING

Flooring is the mother lode of EPDs and HPDs. Contractors could probably find all twenty products for each credit in this category alone, with products that include carpet, tile, VCT, linoleum, rubber flooring, cove base and all the associated adhesives behind them. Consider yourself in good shape with products from Armstrong, Beaulieu, Bentley Mills, Crossville, American Olean Tile, Daltile, ECORE, Emser, Forbo, Interface, Milliken, Mohawk, Patcraft and Shaw, while Laticrete, WF Taylor and XL Brands provide plenty of options to hold those products in place.

ROOFING

Contractors have options on top of the building almost no matter what type of roof is specified. The Asphalt Roofing Manufacturers Association has industry wide EPDs for asphalt-based roofs, including mod-bit, built-up and shingles, while multiple manufacturers have EPDs for PVC membrane roofs including Carlisle, Duro-Last and GAF.

PAINTS

Paints have you covered (ha!) as well. Benjamin Moore, PPG, Sherwin Williams and ECOS all have a line (or more) that have EPDs and/or MIR compatibility. Also note, each sheen counts as a distinct product, so you can count a primer, flat, semi-gloss and gloss as 4 individual products for both EPDs and HPDs.

METALS

Products that are using structural steel or metal studs are in luck. There are industry wide EPDs for structural steel, joists, and deck, and some product specific EPDs for Rebar from Gerdeau, CMC, and Re-Steel and interior metal framing and accessories from Merino+Ware – enough to pick up another 5 products.

DOORS/WINDOWS/HARDWARE

This category offers an unexpected wealth of options. If your project has commercial entries/windows/storefronts, a number of options exist from YKK, Assa Abloy and Kawneer, and there are a surprising number of door hinges, locks, stoppers, openers and hardware that have EPDs from the likes of Norton, Pemko, Sargent and Schlage.

While this of course is not a comprehensive list of all the products and categories that offer EPDs or HPDs, these 8 product categories are found on most commercial construction projects. Contracts can focus their efforts around these categories to not spend hundreds of hours trying to track down information on every nail and screw, and instead focus on getting their projects complete on time and on budget – while still reaching their certification goals.

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