For the past 17 years, BuildingGreen has selected ten green building products that significantly improve upon standard “business-as-usual” practices. These products reduce energy consumption and carbon emissions, improve product life cycles, and can even have a net-positive impact on society and the environment.
This year’s BuildingGreen winners:
Exterior sunshades keep sunlight from passing through glass into the building interior. By doing so, they are better at reducing solar heat gain than interior blinds or shades, and they help reduce glare. Industrial Louvers Inc. has improved the environmental—and social—performance of its exterior sunshades, turning simple, effective systems into top environmental performers.
Industrial Louvers, Inc. custom aluminum sunshades were the first in their industry to publish Declare Labels and earn International Living Future Institute (ILFI) Living Product Challenge certification. To do so meant its sunshades had to be free of certain toxic substances, be manufactured in a socially responsible manner, and benefit people and the environment. Industrial Louvers sunshades are ILFI Red List Free. The company had to work with its coating manufacturer to remove chromium from its metal coating process.
Industrial Louvers was also the first U.S.-based company to receive ILFI’s Just Label for corporate responsibility. It’s a woman-owned company whose management team is 50% women, and Industrial Louvers’ Just Label was the end result of positive worker treatment, diversity, local sourcing, employee benefits, community stewardship, equitable pay, and more.
The refrigerants used in most commercial chillers, air conditioners, mini- and multi-split heat pumps, and variable-refrigerant-flow (VRF) systems have high global warming potential that is thousands of times that of carbon dioxide. Refrigerant leaks release these gases directly into the atmosphere while compromising the efficiency of the HVAC system, and can pose a safety hazard at high enough concentrations.
MSA’s Chillgard 5000 Refrigerant Leak Monitor uses photoacoustic infrared (PAIR) technology to detect leaks down to 1 part per million (ppm). (PAIR analyzes changes in air pressure when compounds are exposed to UV.) When a leak is detected, alarms and visual warnings alert maintenance crews, but the system can also be programmed to shut down valves, turn on fans, or take other actions. A color touchscreen dashboard displays the problem, and diagnostic programs aid in troubleshooting and can help prevent leaks by notifying staff when it’s time for system maintenance. The system can also be integrated into building automation systems.
MSA also makes a Chillgard VRF Refrigerant Leak Detector for variable-refrigerant-flow systems. VRF systems are energy efficient, but because of their long pipe runs and number of connections, they are notorious for having refrigerant leaks. A 10% refrigerant leak, which is not uncommon, significantly hurts system performance and negates much of the efficiency benefit.
Batteries are the best way to store energy for when the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing. But lead–acid batteries are toxic; and lithium-ion batteries are expensive, rely on scarce materials, require cooling systems, are flammable, and the cells can’t be exposed to air.
NantEnergy’s Zinc–Air Smart Energy Storage Systems are made primarily from zinc, without heavy metals or lithium. They:
are not flammable or explosive, and no cooling equipment is required
contain no lead, lithium, cobalt, or hazardous electrolytes
use common, low-cost materials
are modular, scalable, and can mix old and new batteries, so individual cells can be replaced to keep the overall system running
can have cellular- or satellite-capable communication, simplifying software updates and data transfer
have programmable “smart” controls at the individual cell level to maximize system performance and reliability
have large storage capacity that can eliminate the need for diesel generators
They can also stay indefinitely at any charge (from 0% or 100%) without any impact to the batteries, and they cost less than $100 per kilowatt hour—similar to the cost of lead–acid batteries and about one-third that of lithium ion—with a lifespan comparable to that of a high-end lithium-ion battery.
NantEnergy’s 575 watt hour (Wh) zinc–air cell is incorporated into ten-cell modules. Four of these modules fit into the company’s cabinet. The company’s Zinc–Air ESS cabinet has a battery capacity or energy rating (the amount of energy the battery can store) of approximately 23 kWh. The company also offers a Zinc–Air Hybrid ESS model that uses some lithium-ion batteries to create a 31.7 kWh system. Up to 100 cabinets can be installed in parallel.
The cells are currently manufactured overseas, but the company plans to open full production in the U.S. in 2019.
But bicycles are not always ideal in very hilly areas, for those who have to haul cargo or kids, or for those with long commutes.
Rad Power Bikes’ RadWagon is an electric cargo bike that can be pedaled like a standard bike via its 21-speed gearing and can be stopped using mechanical disc brakes, but it also has a 750-watt direct drive hub motor, 48-volt 14-amp hour (672Wh) lithium-ion battery, and regenerative braking. With a total payload capacity of 350 pounds, the RadWagon can haul you and your groceries all the way home at speeds up to 20 miles per hour, with a range between 25 and 45 miles per charge, depending on terrain.
RadWagon is made from aluminum, can accommodate riders from 5'2" to 6'2", and is durable enough to carry significant loads—but it comes in at 72 pounds, so you may need an assist from the motor. Standard equipment includes:
an LCD display with speedometer, wattmeter, and odometer
28" cargo rack
Additional racks and accessories are available through the company.
Heat-pump water heaters are significantly more efficient than standard water heaters, but they typically vent cooled air back into the space. This is fine for some warmer climates but not so good during cold winters. Rheem’s Prestige Series Hybrid Electric Heat Pump Water Heaters (HPWH) can connect to incoming and outgoing ductwork, so consumers can optimize system performance and are no longer confined to drawing air and dumping air back into the same room.
During summer, ductwork to a heat-pump water heater could pull warm air from one room while delivering cool, dry air to another, potentially improving system performance while adding some air conditioning. And during winter, the system could vent the cool, dry air outside.
Rheem Prestige Energy Star-rated models have high Uniform Energy Factor (UEF) ratings (the U.S. Department of Energy’s new metric for the energy efficiency of water heaters), and are engineered to function well in northern climates. They can also connect to the company’s EcoNet WiFi system via a free app, so customers can adjust temperature, customize settings, and monitor the system while away. There is also a sensor that sounds in case of leaks.
Rheem’s Prestige HPWHs are available in 55-, 65-, and 80-gallon models and come with a 10-year warranty.
The light quality of LEDs has improved significantly since the dark days of cold blue light, with BuildingGreen Top 10 products by Xicato and Soraa garnering awards for their color quality. SunLike LEDs by Seoul Semiconductor aim to improve light quality even further by mimicking natural sunlight.
SunLike LEDs were developed in collaboration with Toshiba Materials, whose TRI-R technology pairs with a purple LED instead of blue; it also uses phosphor combinations to create a continuous light spectrum that minimizes ultraviolet and infrared radiation. The result of all this engineering is light that reaches 97 CRI (color rendering index), and accurately renders natural colors and contrast better than other light sources, especially at cooler daylight color temperatures. SunLike LEDs are ideal for use where quality light is necessary, such as art galleries, or where “human-centric lighting” is important … and in the future that may be almost every lighting application.
Eye safety is becoming a significant issue with LED light, since blue LEDs can emit UV light at a wavelength that potentially increases the risk of eye damage, especially at higher intensities. The potential for damage from LEDs is rated from RG-1 (low-risk) to RG-3 (high risk). SunLike LEDs are rated RG-1, while the majority of LEDs are rated RG-2 (moderate risk).
Available in warm 3000k to cool 5000k color temperatures, SunLike LEDs are being integrated into luminaires by a number of companies, including Alphabet Lighting’s NU SUN Downlights.
PVC-free flooring is typically expensive and may not even have great environmental credentials (tire-derived rubber flooring is a good example). Shaw’s PET Resilient is made from recycled (and highly recyclable) polyethylene terephthalate (PET)—the same plastic used for water and soda bottles. PET Resilient will be available from both Shaw Contract and Patcraft.
Recyclability is a particularly important development in PVC-free flooring, and PET Resilient is made from 97% PET (40% post-consumer recycled) in a form similar to that of textile fibers. No plasticizers are added. The PET fibers are entangled, heated, and pressed into a panel, providing greater strength and performance over solid materials. The color and design are then printed onto the panel and coated with a durable wear layer.
PET Resilient is able to use so much recycled content because the fibers are hidden in the core of the flooring. Typically when manufacturers want to use post-consumer recycled PET for aesthetic purposes, such as a carpet fiber, they have to use clear bottles that are then solution-dyed to create the desired color. Using mixed-color bottles for these applications usually creates a gray end-product that significantly limits finish color options and makes further recycling difficult. But by using recycled PET under the printed layer, the company can use mixed-color bottles and then fully recycle the flooring at the end of its service life.
Each square foot of PET Resilient contains 17 plastic bottles, according to the company. And when it is time to replace the flooring, Shaw will pick this resilient flooring up at the end of its service life. It will go back to Shaw, where it can be deconstructed and made back into the same product.
According to the company, PET Resilient:
is 50% lighter than other flooring materials made today
has twice the dimensional stability
has better scratch and dent resistance
has an 11% better Impact Insulating Class (ICC) sound rating than luxury vinyl tile (LVT)
requires minimal maintenance
is certified Bronze under the Cradle to Cradle rating system
The product is more rigid than LVT, according to the company, and that has some benefits. The tiles do not “telegraph” subfloor imperfections and are extremely stable. They are also breathable and moisture resistant, so they can be installed on subfloors with higher moisture levels. The tiles are engineered to a thickness (5 mm) that makes them compatible with Shaw carpet tiles, and they can use the same pressure-sensitive adhesives (you can use standard resilient flooring adhesive as well). Using Cradle to Cradle-certified pressure-sensitive adhesives also allows you to create a full C2C flooring assembly.
Charging your electric vehicle (EV) at home using renewable energy typically requires two systems: an inverter and a charger. Photovoltaic (PV) systems use inverters to convert direct current (DC) from the panels to alternating current (AC), and a charger typically supplies energy pulled from the grid. SolarEdge’s EV Charging Single Phase Inverter is the first product that provides EV charging directly from a PV system.
SolarEdge EV Charging Single Phase Inverter uses the company’s inverter with HD-Wave (high-definition wave), which is one-half the size of standard inverters, weighs less than 30 pounds, and reaches efficiencies of 99%, according to the company. This inverter is combined with a 240V Level 2 charging system that can supply 7.6 kW (at 32 amp) of power from the grid but can also provide a boost directly from the PV system to increase the supply to 9.6 kW (at 40 amp). When the sun is shining, it can provide power directly to the EV (at 40 amp) from the inverter without sending power to the grid. At night, it pulls power from the grid.
SolarEdge’s EV Charging Single Phase Inverter:
can fine-tune the balance of power coming from the array and the grid, maximizing the amount of renewable energy being used
requires less equipment and fewer materials
can be installed solely as an inverter, saving on installation costs for connection, cable, ducting, wiring, and labor if EV is added later
The EV Charging Single Phase Inverter can be purchased as an all-inclusive system or as an “EV-ready” system without the cable and connector for those who do not currently own an EV. The charging hardware can then be purchased at a later date. It comes with the company’s monitoring platform, which allows users to manage the PV system and EV charger via the Internet, so charging can be programmed and monitored remotely via an app. The system:
tracks energy production from the PV panels and the amount used by EV charging (from both the PV panels and the grid)
tracks charging data (duration, amount, and percent from PV)
allows owners to schedule charge times to take advantage of lower rates, and is ready for demand response when that is available
SolarEdge’s EV Charging Single Phase Inverter requires SolarEdge’s power optimizers, which come with the system package.
Most wiring is coated with PVC and supplies alternating current (AC) to our buildings and equipment. Connecting to controls requires additional wiring. But digital products, such as LED lighting, operate on direct current (DC). Using power-over-Ethernet (PoE) systems—such as those by Superior Essex—can optimize digital system performance by carrying both low-voltage direct current and data.
Superior Essex Category 6+ Low Smoke, Halogen Free (LSHF) cable was the first cable to earn an ILFI Living Product Challenge certification, which means it contains no PVC or Red List chemicals and meets a number of strict environmental and social criteria. Living Products are intended to have a positive impact on our environment and society rather than just being “less bad.” Superior Essex has also been a leader in material transparency initiatives, producing environmental product declarations (EPDs), ILFI Declare Red List Free labels, and Health Product Declarations (HPDs) for many of its products, including one of the first third-party-verified HPDs.
Superior Essex Red List Free products are manufactured in a zero-waste-to-landfill facility and include:
Cat 6 with FEP Jacket (CMP)
Cat 6 LSHF (CMR)
PowerWise LSHF (CMR)
XP LSHF (CMR)
Cat 5e with FEP Jacket
Cat 6A with FEP jacket
Superior Essex’s CAT 5e, 6, an 6A cables can provide up to 100 watts of power while connecting devices on one network. With no AC-to-DC conversions, systems such as LED lighting can run more efficiently with fewer problems than if connected to AC. These PoE cables help improve communications, security, and efficiency, and because of their low voltage, they are safe to handle and easier to install than AC systems.
The production of the portland cement used in concrete is responsible for approximately 5% of total global CO2 emissions. To reduce these emissions, a percent of portland cement is often replaced with supplementary cementitious materials (sometimes called pozzolans) such as fly ash from coal-fired power plants or blast-furnace slag from steel production. But fly ash can contain toxic heavy metals, and both are byproducts of carbon-intensive industries.
Urban Mining Northeast is now offering a more environmentally friendly alternative to fly ash and slag: Pozzotive ground glass pozzolans. Pozzotive is made from regional post-consumer recycled bottle glass—also known as MRF (material recovery facilities) glass—which the company processes into a fine, inert, amorphous silicate powder that can replace up to 40% of portland cement in a mix. Pozzotive has been used successfully in millions of concrete masonry units (CMUs), reinforced concrete planking, and bricks, and is now being marketed for ready-mix applications, with multiple successful pilot pours (including in high rise-construction) already completed.
Using Pozzotive also creates a stronger, denser concrete with lower permeability, resulting in better concrete durability, which is vital for making the most of concrete. Its use can also improve a concrete’s workability while reducing the amount of water and chemical admixtures required in the mix. And it does all of this using post-consumer glass that is too often sent to a landfill.
Pozzotive products are cost competitive with slag and fly ash, depending on region.
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