Barbara Ballinger is a freelance writer and the author of several books on real estate, architecture, and remodeling, including The Kitchen Bible: Designing the Perfect Culinary Space (Images Publishing, 2014). Barbara’s most recent book is The Garden Bible: Designing Your Perfect Outdoor Space, co-authored with Michael Glassman (Images, 2015).
New Building Materials Redefining Walls
You can’t have a house without walls, yet so few people really consider the materials used to make up this vital component of a home. Learn how new materials, sprays, and decorative finishes offer so much more than just support for a roof.
October 2, 2017
Wall choices may seem ho-hum and routine. But innovative design professionals and entrepreneurs have developed new choices that you as a real estate professional should know about. With a recent onslaught of hurricanes and storms, anxious clients may be interested in products that can help a house better thwart high winds and rain or discourage mold growth in flood situations. Also, Eric Corey Freed, founding principal of Organic Architect in Portland, Ore., recommends real estate professionals learn what’s available for environmental- and health-conscious consumers, such as recycled options that keep raw materials out of landfills, concrete walls that “eat” carbon to remove it from a room’s air supply, and tiles that decoratively cover walls while eliminating contaminating gases for those highly sensitive to certain chemicals.
Many architects, builders, and engineers test their ideas as commercial and industrial wall designs, and then, if they work, adapt them for residential use. However, not every innovation works for every home. Some options won’t meet local building codes or offer a good return on investment, says Erin Hatcher, vice president of sustainability at AMLI Residential, a Chicago-based development and management company.
Here are six options that will expand your wall knowledge to fit today’s market options.
Living “Green Walls”
Why it’s noteworthy: When used outdoors, living walls can protect structures from inclement weather and ultraviolet rays. Indoors, they’re prized for their ability to remove toxins, add pleasant smells and textures, and even improve residents’ mental health. “Living plants have been shown to improve a person’s mood and increase productivity,” says Matthew Hills, a project manager with Ambius in Redding, Penn., an industry leader in this field. He advises grouping different plants on the same wall to help mitigate a variety of pollutants. “A spider plant removes carbon dioxide twice as much as a philodendron does,” he notes. The NASA Clean Air Study offers a list of common indoor plants and the toxins they can remove from the air. Finally, Mike Haynes—sales and marketing coordinator with Livewall in Spring Lake, Mich., which provides support systems for green walls—adds that they can create an acoustic barrier for a more peaceful setting. Homeowners can purchase DIY kits or rely on garden professionals to build and plant the walls.
Price per square foot: Varies based on the size of the wall and options, such as built-in irrigation. Ambius’ options range from $80 to $200; maintenance visits are extra. Livewall’s range from $85 to $135.
Mycelium Panels and Insulation
Why it’s noteworthy: Because the material is renewable and it helps create a new use for agricultural waste, it’s environmentally friendly on two accounts. The tiles’ all-natural origins mean they’re free of volatile organic compounds and other harmful materials. The finished product is also durable, water- and fire-resistant, and compostable.
Price per square foot: Ecovative’s 16-by-16-inch acoustical panels cost $22 each; they also offer a 10-pack of slightly smaller tiles (covering approximately 9 square feet) for $100. The company is still working on scaling its insulation offerings.
Recycled Fly Ash Products
Why it’s noteworthy: Traditional wood products used for siding and trim tend to rot over time and are susceptible to insect damage. By contrast, this material is highly durable and dimensionally stable. Also, the process of creating it removes troublesome fly ash from the waste stream by encapsulating it during the production process.
Price per square foot: About 30 percent more than cement fiberboard, according to Kipnis.
Why it’s noteworthy: It looks and weighs the same as drywall, making it ideal for homeowners sensitive to these compounds and similar toxins. “It adds a lot of benefit for a relatively low cost and is one of the cheapest upgrades when building or remodeling,” Prokop says.
Price per square foot: About 25 percent more than standard drywall board, according to Kipnis.
Barn Wood Wall Panels
Why it’s noteworthy: Viridian’s panels are environmentally friendly and lack VOCs, and its adhesive is rated to last at least 10 years. Kith + Kin feature a soft backing to protect walls and increase sound insulation.
Price per square foot: Veridian’s are $10.50, while Kith + Kin’s come in a box of 20-square-foot lengths for $228.70. Both companies offer online calculators to measure how much wood is required.
Thermal Wall Insulator
Why it’s noteworthy: One of the biggest problems with residential construction is condensation in wall cavities, which leads to mold and mildew. This helps prevent that from occurring, says Pope.
Price per square foot: $5.