Normally, a mold problem is a big headache for a homeowner, but innovative companies are actually producing fungi and mushrooms as alternatives to harmful plastic foams and other materials currently used to insulate houses. Under the right conditions, moldy walls could revolutionize home construction as we know it by providing eco-friendly alternatives. The impact could be significant — buildings in the U.S. collectively account for 38 percent of all carbon dioxide emissions, according to statistics from the Energy Information Administration.
“We go to great lengths to keep mold and fungi out of the walls of our homes. Here at Ecovative we have done what many would consider to be crazy: We’ve grown a home with walls that are literally grown from a fungus. This really works. Not only is it affordable, it’s far more sustainable and it’s actually safer than conventional building materials,” says one company spokesperson.
Plastic foam and other conventional insulation materials can be carcinogenic and hazardous to the environment when disposed. By using natural materials, a company called Ecovative is spearheading the push to use natural fungi and mushrooms as building materials.
Founded in 2007, designers at Ecovative launched their company with grants from the American Society of Mechanical Engineers and the National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance.
The New York-based company with 55 employees received a major boost in 2008 when the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority and the Environmental Protection Agency took notice and provided larger grants to expand its product lines.
Now, the company offers everything from packing materials to car parts, potentially making harmful plastics a thing of the past.
“Many of the materials and chemicals that are commonly used come from non-renewable fossil fuel resources. However, cheaply extracted petroleum and gas supplies are a thing of the past. Our landfills are filling up, and even when we recycle things properly, it requires a lot of energy only to yield a lower grade material. The future lies in using rapid renewables that can also be returned to the earth at the end of their use,” the company claims.
It’s all part of a projected boom in green home construction that is expected to grow 900 percent over the next five years, according to Ecorate.com, a green consumer website. But what about the cost? Many green initiatives remain prohibitively expensive for most Americans. At current prices, solar panels, organic food and hybrid cars are mostly luxuries affordable only for higher-income families.
Some seemingly expensive products, like energy-efficient compact fluorescent light bulbs, can actually save consumers money. While a $5 CFL bulb might cost roughly five times that of a conventional 40-watt bulb, The Huffington Post reports that it actually saves consumers money in the long run because it runs more efficiently and lasts longer. Overall, those who buy energy-efficient appliances can expect to pay 30 percent less on utility expenses than those who don’t.
With benefits to the consumer and the environment, has the green economy become a matter of national policy? Not exactly. President Barack Obama has tried to promote green energy initiatives through $90 billion in subsidies made available to green companies in the 2009 economic stimulus package. American Public Media reports that this money included funding for programs covering energy efficiency, nuclear cleanup and job training. But many environmental advocates believe Obama’s commitments to green energy remain dubious because of his support for a controversial oil and gas extraction method known as hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.”
At the city level, some elected officials are beginning to recognize that low-income and green initiatives need not be mutually exclusive.
The TC Daily Planet reports that Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak launched a project in May called the Green Homes North Initiative, a plan to build 100 energy-efficient houses.
The homes will be fitted with energy-efficient appliances and built using materials that make them more efficient at controlling interior temperatures. They will utilize other products and materials to help reduce waste, conserve energy, and improve air quality.
The goal of Green Homes North is to build the 100 new houses over the next five years. The outgoing mayor wants to provide opportunities for single families to buy houses while increasing home values in the areas where the green houses are built.
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