– By Sharon Thatcher –
Rural builders know that a customer wants a building that serves an intended purpose and doesn’t cost a lot to own. Rarely are they asking for a “life cycle analysis” or demanding LEED compliance. But increasingly there is industry and public pressure to use fewer natural resources in the making and maintaining of buildings. It can present some challenges to builders who want to pursue a greener business but are not sure how.
Fortunately the answer can be as simple as understanding how routine and readily available products can help accomplish green goals.
The idea that steel is green is nothing new. As a highly recyclable product its attributes have been touted for years, and yet public perceptions are hard to change and steel continues to have a misunderstood reputation among many consumers. It is in the best interest of builders to understand and promote the benefits.
Don Switzer, marketing manager for Steel Dynamics Sales North America described the challenge.
“People think of steel and they think of gray skies and huge energy sources,” he said.
That perception is honestly born in the history of our industrial nation, he noted, when steel mills throughout the country’s former Steel Belt region processed metals from raw materials. It not only required taking natural resources from the ground, but the iron ore was melted in huge blast furnaces and BOF shops and the resulting dark clouds belched into the air. “It is a fairly dirty process,” he noted.
Advances in mining and more efficient blast furnaces and recovery systems have cleaned up the skies, but a real game changer came about 30 years ago with recycling.
“Nucor was the first company that started to commercialize the [recycled] product in flat roll,” Switzer said.
Steel Dynamics came along in 1993 and embraced the technology. “Steel Dynamics was probably the first one that has commercialized [recycling steel] to the extent that we do for construction products,” he said. Today the company uses 80 percent scrap to make its flat-roll products for the construction industry.
To feed its appetite for scrap, the company owns Omni Source, the second largest scrap recycler in the U.S.
The company sits in an enviable position in a world that is changing the way buildings are built.
LEEDING the way
The signs are everywhere that buildings of the future will need to adhere to stricter guidelines for green and that recycling is an important part of that future. A Metal Construction Association technical bulletin noted that: “although recylability is not a specific part of the LEED ratings system, it is still a valuable asset that metal panels may be recycled when their useful life ends after many years of service and that they can contribute again to a future products’ recycled content.”
Steel is looked upon very favorably because of its high recycling properties. A building can start its life as a recycled product and recycle again when it’s at the end of its life. Steel Dynamics calls it “The Full Circle.” (For a video visit the Steel Dynamic website at www.stld.com.)
Most consumers give little thought to how the metal on their new building was made or how many times it can be recycled. For the builder, however, such details are becoming increasingly important. The push is on by local, state and federal governments to do what’s necessary to soften the footprint of energy-consuming buildings before, during and after construction. California Title 24 was the first energy code to spell out language for green building practices in the U.S. More states are already lined up to follow.
Switzer predicted: “as post-frame moves into more commercial applications, more and more architects and people who are writing the codes are going to be requiring more recycled content.”
Once again, that bodes well for steel.
Dan Knight, North American sales manager at Akzo Nobel noted that Western Europe is already ahead of the U.S. in some respects, with signs that the U.S. will follow.
Akzo Nobel manufactures coil coatings for flat roll steel. Today’s coatings and paints are helping steel gain an even bigger advantage in the race to green.
“At some point [here in the U.S.] you’re going to build a building and someone will probably ask you: what is the cradle-to-grave of this?” he said. “Can this be recycled? It’s not cradle to the [property], it’s the next step. We haven’t had to deal with that yet in the U.S. In Europe they have.”
As a Dutch-owned company Akzo Nobel deals with these issues daily and has chosen to stay as far ahead of the changing regulations as possible. “We led the industry in taking lead out of industrial paints,” he noted. “House paints have not been able to use lead since about 1978.”
The industry was allowed to continue using lead in industrial coatings, but Akzo Nobel chose not to. “We’ve taken lead out of our paints, we’ve taken cadmium out of our paints because they are all bad actors in terms of what they can do to the environment,” he said.
What’s bad, what’s good, however, has a way of changing. What was once perfectly fine to use – such as lead – suddenly becomes a villain. Who then is responsible for damages? “How do you deal with it?” Knight questioned. “In Europe they push the ownership back to the manufacturer. It’s really the only place where you can police it.”
For that reason, Akzo Nobel is always questioning the life cycle costs, the carbon footprint, the cradle-to-grave longevity of its products.
Valspar Coil and Extrusion also chooses to keeps its focus on a greener future. “Today, nearly all of Valspar’s coatings are formulated to meet Energy Star and LEED requirements,” said Jeff Alexander, vice president of sales.
It’s that type of pro-active approach that has helped innovators like Akzo Nobel and Valspar take prominent roles in the quest for green. Through scientific advancements in infrared reflective pigments, companies have been able to develop paints that help lower energy costs. Builders know this in the terminology of ‘cool colors’. Cool colors were first popularized with metal roofing but have expanded into wall panels. The same paint systems can be used for both.
For roofing, a Metal Construction Association document quotes a Lawrence Berkeley National Lab study that found: “For every 1 percent increment in roof reflectance, surface temperature decreases 1 degree F. For every 10 percent increase in roof reflectance, heating/cooling costs drop $0.02 per square foot a year.”
The same MCA report noted findings by the Oak Ridge National Laboratory that cool metal walls can offer a 10 percent reduction in cooling energy for a building.
Oak Ridge also discovered “that a metal roof sheds dirt more readily and thus retains its solar reflective properties longer than other membrane products.”
Alexander stressed the importance for builders to communicate these facts to customers. “It’s well documented that solar reflective pigments reduce a building’s overall energy use as well as providing desirable aesthetics. These two characteristics are key to selling the benefits of painted metal. It’s also important to note the high recycled content of most metal substrates which adds to the sustainability of the overall project,” he said.
As a steel guy whose products depend on good coatings, Don Switzer sees the advancements first hand at Steel Dynamics. While galvanizing and Galvalume have long been standards for improving the longevity of steel in rust-prone conditions, new coatings are being developed. “We’re looking at a product at our Techs division in Pittsburgh called Galfan,” Switzer said. “We’re currently doing some testing to see if that product might not provide even more protection in animal confinement.”
In addition he noted: “Paint systems continue to get better by the use of ceramic pigments, the strength of steel continues to advance, the metallic coatings continue to advance.”
Dan Knight offered that Akzo Nobel is looking at bio-solvents. “Solvents derived from renewable sources,” he said. The company has also looked at the use of UV or electron light beams for the curing process.
At Valspar, the company is introducing its next generation siliconized polyester paint system called WeatherXL. “Along with a new proprietary resin system, WeatherXL will be formulated with the latest solar reflective pigments to help achieve the highest reflective and emmisivity properties possible,” Jeff Alexander said, adding: “In addition to our new WeatherXL, our PVDF based coating system, Fluropon, is formulated with the latest solar reflective pigments.”
Not all colors are created equally green, however, and the challenge, both Knight and Alexander noted is balancing customer appetite for vibrant colors and the popularity of print, metallic and textured-effects coatings with the more restrictive limitations of what can be used in making a finish that is environmentally friendly. “Offerings of impeccable finish and endless color and design options are always popular,” Alexander said, “but durability and unique properties, such as energy coatings (SR) are increasing and becoming the norm when selecting a final color or finish. We see minimum solar reflectance values and SRI values being increased by the CRRC (Cool Roof Rating Council), Energy Star and LEED. We expect this trend to continue going forward and this will limit colors that meet the requirements.”
Know what you are getting from your metal panel source
Also key for builders is knowing the quality differences of your building options. Switzer said there’s always a “good, better and best” approach to a building. It’s important to know your gauge (decimal), metallic coating, coating weight and the type of paint system you are getting from your supplier. Not all steel (metal) is created equal. The best is heavier gauge (.015 – .016) and that does not include the paint, thicker metallic coatings (G90 or AZ50) and higher quality paint systems (SMP, Super Durable, or PVDF).
Switzer cautioned: “One of the keys is to buy from a supplier that will be in business long-term. There are a number of Galvalume producers that are no longer in business and Galvalume comes with a warranty. So you want to make sure you’re dealing with a steel company and a metal forming company that’s going to be in business to support that product. These companies should also be able to provide you with the recycled content of the products you are buying.”