A greener side of construction

Special to The Times

Green -- as in products that are energy-efficient, environmentally friendly, non-ozone depleting and nontoxic -- was the color du jour at the recent International Building Show in Orlando, Fla.

Here is a sampling of new products:

Solar Hot Water System in a Box

A new do-it-yourself solar hot water system has been introduced by Fafco, a Chico, Calif.-based company that specializes in solar pool heaters.


The new system can be installed by two nonprofessionals in half a day, the company claims, and the whole thing weighs just 62 pounds.

You screw onto the roof a black polymer panel, made of hundreds of tiny tubes. When the system is installed, water in these tubes is heated by the sun, and that heat is transferred to water that goes into your water tank.

The system costs about $1,800 and supplies half the hot water needs of a two- to three-person household, according to the company.

And thanks to the Energy Policy Act of 2005, parts of which have been extended through 2008, the system comes with a $600 tax credit if the heated water is used for the home, and not for a pool or hot tub.


Fafco claims this system pays for itself in less than three years. The downside is that although a traditional system made of copper lasts more than 20 years, this system will last 12 to 15 years.

For more information, go to or call (800) 994-7652.

Trex Contours composite deck boards

Made from reclaimed plastics and wood products -- mostly recycled plastic bags and ground-up pallets -- these boards are designed to have the warmth of wood without the upkeep.


Trouble is, some Trex products (and other composite deck boards) don’t look so much like wood. Too smooth. Too uniform. Though we don’t want wood that splinters, some of us like the look of real wood. After all, old barn wood sells at a high premium.

To satisfy the desires of hard-core wood lovers, Trex developed Contours, a product that has what the company describes as “a bold, dramatic grain.” And it does look and feel more woody.

It’s a bit less expensive (averaging $4.30 a square foot) than the less-bold, less-dramatic original Trex (about $4.38 a square foot).

That’s because the company has hollowed out the bottom of the boards to save on material. So you can’t use either side, like with the original Trex boards. But does that matter?


Trex was founded in 1996 and went public in 1999. The company has headquarters in Winchester, Va., with manufacturing plants there and in Nevada and Mississippi.

The company says it receives half of the recycled grocery bags in the country, and that every year it diverts from landfills 300 million pounds of used plastic and 300 million pounds of hardwood sawdust.

For more information, go to, or call (800) 289-8739.

Mini On-Demand Water Heater


Where is it written that hot water must be heated and then stored 24/7 in a big tank that needs a whole closet to itself? Those days are fast fading.

On-demand systems, about the size of a breadbox, use electric or gas to heat water at the moment you need it and are increasingly replacing tank-storage systems.

Now, German manufacturer Stiebel Eltron has taken the concept one step further with its new mini on-demand electric water heater, which is pretty cute at about 7 inches square and 3 inches deep.

Though not big enough to fill a large tub with any efficiency, the new mini could provide hot water for a guest-bath sink or a wash-up area you’ve been considering for the garden shed.


Stiebel Eltron’s whole-house electric on-demand heaters are available online for about $400 with free shipping; the mini costs less than $200.

For more information, go to, or call (800) 582-8423.