David DeVallance describes himself as “a processing and composites guy.”
As an assistant professor in West Virginia University’s wood science and technology program, he develops products from wood and various waste materials to produce sustainable materials for building and other uses. Stop by his office, and he’ll show you samples of a composite of wood and textile residue that he, along with colleagues in wood science and WVU’s fashion design and merchandising program, pressed in the program’s laboratory.
Industry experience taught him that, while innovative, sustainably produced wood products are great in their own right, demand for those products is a key part of the equation. That’s why he’s studying the demand for certified and “green” wood products in the building industry of the Appalachian region.
With funding from Rural Action, an Ohio-based organization that seeks to foster social, economic and environmental justice, DeVallance, along with Shawn Grushecky of WVU’s Appalachian Hardwood Center, will look at the level of use of certified wood products in the construction of affordable housing in states in the Appalachian region.
Certified wood products are derived from forests that practice sustainable harvesting methods. Certification is provided by organizations like the Forest Stewardship Council and the Sustainable Forestry Initiative.
Building organizations concerned with sustainability, like Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design and the National Association of Home Builders, factor use of certified and “green” wood products in their evaluation of a structure’s relative greenness.
And state agencies that fund affordable housing give varying degrees of weight to choice of building materials, if those materials were locally sourced, and other factors in their guidelines for sustainable design and building.
It’s a jumble of different guidelines, and part of DeVallance’s work will be to figure out the ways they factor into demand for wood products that are assigned points under the various green building programs. He notes that there are a number of wood products businesses in the Appalachian region, but it’s unclear how well they’re able to market their products to the affordable housing sector of the building industry.
“One of the questions we’d like to answer is, do we need to develop a system that connects the region’s manufacturers of wood products with green builders,” DeVallance said. Other factors DeVallance will consider include the local availability of certified wood products.
“The emerging green building sector has potential as being a significant market opportunity for Appalachian hardwood manufacturers,” DeVallance said. “However, to successfully position current hardwood products and newly developed, value-added composites, more knowledge is needed regarding the attributes that green consumers demand out of the products they purchase.”
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