UT Researchers Earn EPA Grant to Develop Green Building Materials List

KNOXVILLE — University of Tennessee researchers will help make the fast-growing manufactured home industry more environmentally friendly thanks to a new grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

With more than one million homes built since 2000, the industry is having a significant impact on the housing market, and the $295,970 grant will allow researchers from UT’s Institute for a Secure and Sustainable Environment (ISSE) to study the materials used to construct modular and prefabricated homes. Their goal will be to develop a list of the most environmentally sound construction materials available.

ISSE staff will partner with the Healthy Building Network in Washington, D.C., to perform the analysis and develop the list. They will look at both the environmental and health impacts of the materials used from their production through to their disposal, a process known as life-cycle analysis.

“We are immensely excited about this, because it promises to create a life cycle-based palette of materials to be used by architects and decision-makers,” said Catherine Wilt, policy director for ISSE’s Center for Clean Products and Clean Technologies. “This could make a real difference in the health and environmental well-being of people around the country.”

UT partnered with local modular housing manufacturer Clayton Homes in securing the grant, and there are plans for more partnerships as the research progresses. Clayton will work with the UT researchers as they create benchmarks of the current materials used in the manufacturing process.

The new list also will be used as the guide to build at least one demonstration home based on the green materials selected by the UT researchers. The process of building this home will be compared to that used in traditional modular homes in order to compare the environmental impact of the construction process itself.

“The University of Tennessee’s innovative research to develop more environmentally sustainable prefabricated housing will provide manufacturers and consumers alike with environmental and health benefits for years to come,” said Jimmy Palmer, EPA Region 4 administrator. “We applaud the university and its partners for undertaking the task.”

Another goal of the project is to determine the overall environmental benefit from a large-scale adoption of the green materials across the modular housing industry. The researchers hope to show that by using more environmentally friendly materials in the buildings, there will be less of a negative environmental impact in assembly process.

Researchers also hope that the list they develop could be used by the government when it purchases modular homes for agencies like the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

“The federal government is a huge purchaser of these homes, and if they adopt all or even some of these standards, it would have an effect on the whole industry,” said Wilt.

The grant was awarded by the EPA’s Collaborative Science and Technology Network for Sustainability (CNS), a program that develops new approaches to environmental problems using collaboration between different institutions and agencies. More information on CNS is available at http://www.epa.gov/ncer/cns.

More information on ISSE and the Center for Clean Products and Clean Technologies can be found online at http://isse.utk.edu.

Contacts:

Catherine Wilt (865-974-1915, catwilt@utk.edu)
Jay Mayfield (865-974-9409, jay.mayfield@tennessee.edu)