For a better mousetrap, one normally wouldn't turn to the federal government for advice. An exception might be the Partnership for Advancing Technology in Housing (PATH) program administered by HUD.
PATH announced its 2007 PATH Top 10 Technologies, a compilation of technologies it deems both important and ready for market, at the International Builder's Show in February. "All 10 are new," says Glen Salas, a senior engineer for PATH who worked on the selections and is employed as a senior engineer for DNR
International, an environmental and building technology company based in Silver Spring, Md. "A lot of them are ready but not too widely known."
At No. 1 is mold-resistant gypsum that lacks the paper backing found on most drywall and, therefore, doesn't support the growth of mold. "If the builder builds the right way, and [the home] never floods, you never have to worry," Salas says. It costs about $1,000 more for the average 2,300-square-foot home, and, according to Salas, "it's put up exactly like standard wallboard."
Jumping past No. 2 on the list–solar water heating, a good way to reduce energy bills but a tough sell–we come to recycled concrete substitutes and aggregates at No. 3. Recycled materials such as granulated coal ash, slag, granulated plastics, and fiberglass can be substituted for sand, gravel, and stones. According to Salas, these materials can make concrete stronger at no additional cost.
Next up at No. 4, energy/heat cogeneration systems, which generate electricity and heat simultaneously. These systems are efficient and can cut a homeowner's electric bill in half, but are more than twice the cost of conventional high-efficiency systems. At No. 5 is the horizontal-axis combination washer/dryer unit, which may interest builders of space-constrained or multiple-dwelling units, but not most others.
In at No. 6 is a technology that should prove useful anywhere hurricanes, tornadoes, or nor'easters roam: hydrophilic, impact-resistant windows. These windows can withstand wind, projectiles, and even bullets. Plus, they are self-cleaning. However, they cost at least twice as much as standard windows.
Super-sized vertical ICFs are No. 7 on the list. Several builders with whom I've spoken do not like conventional ICFs–they are difficult to work with and, until crews get used to working with them, are prone to mishaps. But once they are super-sized, says Salas, "they go up a lot faster. You don't have to do as much bracing, and you don't have to worry about blowouts as much." They do carry a 20 percent to 30 percent cost premium over conventional concrete construction, or 2 percent to 5 percent more than wood frame, but they offer the durability of concrete and insulation values that are comparable to your average picnic cooler.
My personal favorite is No. 9–global positional system (GPS) for land development or site work. Heavy equipment is fitted with GPS gear and a panoply of sensors and actuators that make the equipment smart enough to handle grading and sloping and digging pretty much on their own. All the operator does is run the machine over ground; the system takes care of everything else. The drawback: It can run upwards of $100,000 to fit a bulldozer with this technology.
Wrapping up the list at No. 10 are permeable pavers and pavement. Every builder deals with local governing bodies obsessed with drainage and runoff. This technology allows water to seep through. It can be less expensive than conventional paving and can reduce development costs by eliminating the need for rainwater collection systems.
For more information on the 2007 Top 10 Technologies, visit www.pathnet.org and click on the PATH Top 10 icon.