DIRTT Brings The Cost of Building Interiors Down to Earth

According to the US Green Building Council, buildings are responsible for 39% of CO2 emissions here in the US. Everyone understands that make buildings more efficient can have a huge impact on climate stability. In a report, discussing barriers to sustainable construction, a paper by the Rocky Mountain Institute, acknowledges that the lack of an integrated systems approach to building design is a major barrier. The same paper also notes that 37% of all construction material is wasted. A good deal of that waste comes from drywall. According to waste management specialists at the University of Wisconsin, approximately one pound of drywall is discarded fro every square foot of new constriction.

Drywall has been an economical and serviceable building material for quite a few years, but it has its problems. It is energy intensive to produce, accounting for 1% of all energy-related emissions in the US. Synthetic gypsum is made from coal plant emissions and have been found to contain mercury and other heavy metals. When placed in landfills it tends to emit hydrogen sulfide gas and leach out biocides. The material is recyclable, where it can be used to make new drywall, or used as a soil additive. But finding a recycler is not always easy.

Enter DIRTT, a Calgary-based manufacturer of modular building interior solutions. Their modular interior systems address several of these issues. DIRTT uses a 3-D software package that allows designers to fly through their simulated building environment, making changes and updating their designs in real time. This not only supports an integrated systems approach, with its many benefits, but it also provides an flexible modular environment that can be easily reconfigured, is drywall-free and can actually be built, in most localities, for less than conventional construction. In the past five years DIRTT has prevented approximately 65 million pounds of construction waste

I spoke with Julie Pithers, who is in charge of Business & Community Development at DIRTT Environmental Solutions.

Justmeans: So tell me the story of DIRTT.

Julie Pithers: We started R&D 10 years ago. Then opened for business in May 2005

JM: And how has it been going?

JP: Great. We grew by $20 million in sales each year through the recession, 85% of our sales are in the US

JM: What does the name DIRTT stand for?

JP: Doing it right this time.

JM: I see. So if I understand correctly, you make pre-fabricated, modular interiors that are reconfigurable, taking advantage of modern production methods to reduce cost.

JP: That's right.

JM: And who are your customers?

JP: Our fastest growing segment is health care. We're also education, office space, and a number of other areas.

JM: How is it that you can beat the cost of conventional construction?

JP: Because our systems are pre-configured at the factory, they can be assembled at the site very quickly. Most construction runs 70% labor and 30% materials. We turn that on its head. So, with the exception of localities with very low labor rates, we can usually provide the lowest cost. We have a software program called ICEberg. It's a database filled with every material, code and labor cost from over 1300 jurisdictions in North America. It provides an apples-to-apples comparison of the monetary and environmental cost of building your space conventionally or using DIRTT. So you don't have to just take our word for it.

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