This year’s Design and Construction Week (DCW), the annual event that combines NAHB’s International Build Show with the Kitchen and Bath Industry Show, welcomed a record-breaking 117,000 attendees and 2,500 exhibitors sprawled across miles of floor space in the Las Vegas Convention Center. Overflowing with both ingenuity and beauty, the event showcases the powerhouses of the homebuilding industry— everything from appliances, window manufacturers, mechanical equipment, countertops, flooring, prefab mini-houses, carpentry tools, trucks and more. The must-go event for the world’s top products and designers in residential construction presents a dizzying display of spinning graphics, hands-on demonstrations, and behind-the-scenes wheeling and dealing.

Wading through the conference’s glitz and glamour as a sixth-time DSW attendee, my modus operandi has always been to seek out manufacturers and products aligned with the sustainability mission of my company, Symbi Homes. Symbi is short for “symbiosis,” meaning to build in a way that is mutually beneficial for people and planet. Symbi’s new homes and deep energy retrofits reflect a holistic view of green building that encompasses energy efficiency, indoor air quality, climate resiliency, and lowered operational and embodied carbon.

This Year Felt Different
In past years, I left the conference feeling somewhat disheartened by my conversations around sustainability, as it seemed but a whisper across the Expo floor.

CertainTeed: "It's time to rethink how we build."
CertainTeed: "It's time to rethink how we build."

Yet, this year, the experience felt different. Based on my observations and informal interviews, I found a modest crescendo in the sustainability buzz, and the commitment to green building seems to be taking root across a wide range of industry actors, including:

  • Corporate sustainability on full display. Across the industry, I found promising examples of manufacturers embracing environment, social and governance (ESG) principles at the corporate level. Raj Deshpande, Senior Director of ESG Sustainability and Stewardship Compliance at Saint-Gobain (parent of CertainTeed), shared his company’s impressive goal of “carbon neutrality by 2050,” which according to their annual metrics, has a “high degree” of success. Green Builder Media kicked off the week with a celebration of their newly released ESG for Building Defining Principles, a free comprehensive roadmap for homebuilders on how to integrate ESG into their businesses.
  • Displays of scientific research linking products to decarbonization processes. InSinkErator’s booth included a large infographic on reducing greenhouse gas emissions by diverting food waste from landfills flanked by Casey Furlong, the company’s Environmental Engineer, on hand describing the science behind their claims. Also, Rachel Garcia, Manager of Contractor Services for Malarkey Roofing Products, got very technical describing the process of their shingle’s photocatalytic granules that capture and convert smog into an organic fertilizer, whereby the average roof gains the carbon-capturing power of “three giant trees.”
  • An amped-up level of product integration to support energy efficiency. GE Appliances has gone “all in” for sustainability, according to Allison Martin, Senior Director of Corporate Citizenship and Digital Communications. GE now offers “whole home solutions” to support net zero energy including smart Energy Star appliances, high-efficiency space-conditioning heat pumps, heat pump hot water heaters, and a two-in-one heat pump washer/dryer unit. Developing a partnership with Savant Systems and Schneider Electric, the GE suite of appliances and equipment also integrates seamlessly with a smart electric panel, EV charging and backup batteries. Accessible via a single app, GE’s smart home solutions include the “eco-balance” function which monitors household energy use and schedules tasks (e.g ice-making) when energy loads are lowest.
  • Market growth for products that support high-performance building. This year, Aeroseal, the duct and envelope sealing solution for super tight construction, occupied an impressive amount of square footage on the Expo floor. National Sales Manager Troy Wellbanks explained how their products can help “guarantee air tightness” standards for net zero home certification. Underscoring how the field of high-performance building has grown, I also noticed the popularity of Retrotec booth, makers of air infiltration testing equipment, which had become a hangout spot for a small crowd of building science aficionados.
  • Heat pumps here, there and everywhere. Without a doubt, the technology-du-jour of the conference was the ubiquitous high-performance heat pumps which are now dominating the market in heating and cooling, but also gaining traction in water heating and clothes drying. Josh Wharton, Regional Sales Manager at Mitsubishi Electric Heating and Air Conditioning, explained that their heat pumps now perform at 100% capacity at temperatures as low as -5 degrees Fahrenheit, which means builders can “remove fossil fuels from projects and go purely heat pump as your sole source of heat.”
GE: focused on the future
GE: focused on the future

Robust Conversation
Sara Gutterman, CEO of Green Builder Media, shared with me via email after the event, “In my decades of experience in the green building industry, never before have I witnessed as robust of a conversation among builders, developers, architects, manufacturers, lenders, investors, and consumers about decarbonizing the built environment.” With this level of enthusiasm among the industry’s top suppliers, it is no surprise that NAHB announced their 2024 overall IBS product winner as the CertainTeed Solistice Shingle, an attractive option for rooftop renewable energy.

Some Greenwashing Persists
Yet, I also heard some of the typical push back against the sustainability mindset. The worry over the dubious greenwashing persists. Rheem giant banner claiming to be “leading the way” in decarbonization, but every presentation was pushing their gas-fueled tankless water heaters. I spoke to one colleague who scorned the energy-efficiency movement for fear that luxury items such as heated toilet seats, tropical hardwoods, and backyard lap pools may become a thing of the past. Another exhibitor argued that the terminology of “sustainability” still represents polarizing language for some, and it may be best to stick with the more benign focus on “comfort” and “durability.”

However, in my opinion, these grumblings about green building seemed more of a whisper this year. I believe that history will show the mid-2020s as a pivotal time marking a new age for sustainable homes.