BuildingGreen Announces Top 10 Products for 2016
These transformative products replace greenhouse gases, save water, and change how we view HVAC equipment.
by Brent Ehrlich
November 18, 2015
Reducing greenhouse gas emissions, conserving energy and water, and seeking durable, safe materials: for 14 years, BuildingGreen has given its Top 10 Green Building Products award to products that transform the design and construction industry by helping solve these and other significant environmental problems.
Among the BuildingGreen Approved winners this year are those that save energy and reduce carbon in completely novel ways; super-efficient, innovative heat pumps used in new applications; and lighting systems that improve performance and might just transform how we wire buildings.
Spray polyurethane foam (SPF) has impressive insulating value and air-sealing properties—yet its high global warming potential (GWP) blowing agent, HFC-245fa, will be in our atmosphere for hundreds of years, potentially cancelling out much of the carbon-emission reductions from the energy savings.
Honeywell’s Solstice Liquid Blowing Agent, based on hydrofluoroolefin (HFO) technology, replaces HFC-245fa, and has a 100-year GWP of only 1—equal to that of carbon dioxide. Although introduced to the global market several years ago, Solstice is finally getting uptake in the U.S. and is now used by Whirlpool in its appliances, by Lapolla in its Foam-Lok 2000 4G SPF wall insulation, and by Henry-West Development Group (a Henry subsidiary) in its 3012-EB-3 SPF roof insulation.
Made in the U.S., Solstice Liquid Blowing Agent also provides a significant performance benefit over foams made with HFC-245fa, including a 10% to 12% increase in foam yield, better compressive strength, and up to a 10% increase in thermal performance.
Variations of Solstice are also being incorporated into rigid foam board insulation and as refrigerants, aerosols, and solvents.
Whirlpool HybridCare Ventless Clothes Dryer
Most U.S. residential clothes dryers use decades-old electric-resistance heat with tumble-dry technology that vents excess heat and moisture outside, carrying conditioned air from the building at the same time.
Whirlpool’s HybridCare ventless heat-pump dryer uses heat-pump technology to significantly improve the energy efficiency and a refrigeration loop that condenses moisture from the drum and returns the excess heat energy to the process. HybridCare is gentle on clothes and does not require a vent—saving HVAC energy, eliminating the risk of fire, simplifying installation, and expanding placement options. (Condensate is drained using the same drain line as the washer.)
In order to improve the drying time to match U.S. wash-cycle times and capacity, the 7.3 ft3 HybridCare has a 1,300-watt booster heater to supplement the heat pump with three settings: Speed mode (50–60 minutes), Balance mode (60–70 minutes), and Eco mode (70–85 minutes). In Eco mode, it provides 40% energy savings over a standard dryer, according to the manufacturer.
Sloan Hybrid Urinal
Waterless urinals can save significant amounts of water compared with standard flushing urinals, but they also have a reputation for odor and maintenance problems, limiting their adoption. Sloan’s Hybrid Urinal (with technology developed by Falcon) may just change that by using a redesigned water-free cartridge and incorporating an automatic rinsing process that prevents mineral buildup while minimizing odor and maintenance issues.
Without regular cleaning, mineral buildup from urine in waterless urinals can clog cartridges and plumbing, but the Velocity cartridge accelerates liquid through the unit and out the drainpipe, reducing opportunities for this buildup. This redesigned cartridge uses 20% less plastic and has no voids where bacteria and odor can form. An indicator panel turns from blue to clear so maintenance staff can see when it needs changing (typically after 7,000 uses, or three months).
What makes Sloan’s Hybrid a hybrid, and unique to the industry, is the addition of supplemental water, called “Jetrinse Solution Technology.” This feature uses a vigorous, one-gallon, pre-programmed rinse every 72 hours that keeps solids from forming in the housing and drain line, essentially eliminating mineral buildup problems throughout the system. It consumes only about 100 gallons a year, no matter how many uses. (The water doesn’t go through the urinal itself, which still needs to be wiped down separately.) The Hybrid is available in three models and is comparable in cost to a mid-tier electronic flushometer model, according to Sloan.
Gunlocke Savor Guest Chair with Ecovative MycoBoard Backing
Office furniture manufacturer The Gunlocke Company uses MycoBoard—an engineered-wood alternative made from mushroom mycelium (roots)—in its Savor guest chair. Standard plywood or particleboard backing materials typically use synthetic, formaldahyde-based adhesives, but MycoBoard is grown using interlinking mycelium (think of this as mushroom roots) and agricultural waste; it contains no other binders. The board is dried and molded under heat and pressure (killing the mycelium) into an extremely strong, stable material that is not only biobased but also Cradle to Cradle Gold-certified and Living Building Challenge Red List-free.
Though Ecovative’s mycelium-based products have been used for shipping and other applications, Gunlocke is the first commercial furniture company to use MycoBoard in a product, and its use is not a marketing gimmick. The material was chosen over plywood that was expensive and prone to splitting; but MycoBoard will not split, is naturally flame resistant, has almost no production waste or hazardous emissions, and can be composted at the end of its lifespan.
Most importantly, it is also cost competitive. The Savor guest chair achieved SCS Indoor Advantage Gold and can be ordered with Forest Stewardship Council-certified wood and without added flame-retardant chemicals.
Duo-Gard Bike Racks and Shelters
The energy consumed by employees commuting to work by car often exceeds building energy use, which is one of the reasons LEED offers points for alternative commuting. Using a bike to get to work is one of the easiest—and healthiest—ways to lower a building’s overall carbon footprint. Yet bike racks used to help achieve these points are favorite targets of green building critics, who see them as frivolous accessories.
That’s one reason the LEED rating systems have evolved over the years to require high-quality, well-placed bike storage: encouraging employees to commute by bike requires secure facilities for storing these expensive, and often beloved, bikes. BuildingGreen is honoring Duo-Gard for offering a wide range of bike storage systems and being a pioneer in the development of secure shelters that protect bikes from weather, theft, and vandalism.
Duo-Gard provides standard bike racks as well as partially and fully enclosed models, but the company also works with architects to design custom units that are incorporated into buildings. These shelters are available with roofs made from standing-seam metal or polycarbonate, and with walls made from polycarbonate, safety glass, perforated metal, or steel or aluminum mesh. Photovoltaic panels and LED lighting can also be incorporated into some models.
NuLED Power over Ethernet (PoE) Low-Voltage LED Lighting
High-efficacy LED lighting is becoming the norm in many commercial buildings, but these systems use standard high-voltage wiring that is expensive to install and modify. The alternating current (AC) also has to be converted to direct current (DC) for use by LEDs, which limits efficiency and connectivity, and can cause flicker and other performance problems.
NuLED’s Power-over-Ethernet (PoE) LED lighting system uses low-voltage (DC) Cat 5 or Cat 6 Ethernet cables—the kind that connect to your computer—to carry both power and data to LED lighting.
NuLED’s system uses DC power from a standard PoE network and runs it through the company’s SPICEbox control module, which serves as a host for the LED lighting, controls, wall switches, and sensors. Up to 60 watts for lighting and data can be carried over low-voltage cable that creates a “plug-and-play” system that is safe, simple, and inexpensive to install and modify, often without electricians. And it can potentially provide better connectivity to HVAC, daylighting, and a variety of other building systems.
The system can monitor and control LED power consumption, color temperature, and dimming, and can connect to renewable DC power supplies directly, with less energy loss than standard AC systems. And because the system is DC, it offers better dimming and color control without a driver or other electronics interfering with LED performance.
Personal Comfort Systems Hyperchair
Since we all have different metabolisms and comfort levels, a large percentage of people are often uncomfortable in buildings, where thermostats are set at one temperature, and where there are cold and hot spots near windows or along building perimeters.
Maintaining a specific office temperature also requires the HVAC system to cycle on and off, wasting energy. You can keep the HVAC system from coming on by raising or lowering the temperature, depending on the season, but how do you do that while keeping employees comfortable and productive?
Personal Comfort Systems’ Hyperchair addresses these problems by providing personal heating and cooling that helps minimize the use of less-efficient central HVAC systems.
Developed at the University of California–Berkeley as the end result of more than six years of research into occupant comfort and energy savings, the Hyperchair office chair includes a heating element and a fan that draw 16 and 4.8 watts, respectively, along with sensors that can wirelessly connect to central HVAC systems. The heating and cooling are powered by a lithium ion phosphate battery and controlled by a small panel on the arm of the chair.
Use of the chair expands the temperature range at which HVAC is not operating, for energy savings from 7% to 15% for every degree centigrade above or below the normal setting, all while improving occupant comfort. Additional savings could be obtained in demand-response applications since the battery charges at night, when electricity costs may be lower. The chair could be particularly useful where there are slow-responding HVAC systems or naturally ventilated spaces.
Unity Homes High-Performance Panelized Homes
Most single-family and multifamily homes are still stick-built onsite using minimal insulation, poor air sealing, poor quality control, inefficient HVAC systems, and unsustainable materials. Unity Homes is changing that paradigm with its high-performance panelized home system.
These homes are shop-built to the highest quality standards using materials that are milled with computer numeric control (CNC) equipment to help create panelized wall systems and “pods” (small prefab modules used for bathrooms, mechanical rooms and kitchens) with tight seals, minimal thermal bridging, and superb moisture management. The walls are insulated with cellulose to R-35, and roofs are insulated to between R-38 and R-44. Other energy-saving features include triple-pane low-e windows, custom-built insulated doors, mini-split heat pumps, HRV/ERVs for fresh air, and heat-pump water heaters—making it easy for a baseline Unity Home to meet net-zero with onsite renewables. While already minimizing material waste and operating energy, the company is also evaluating its materials in hopes of minimizing embodied carbon and other embodied impacts in the future.
Unity Homes also uses FSC-certified wood and low-VOC finishes and adhesives, yet can still offer significant cost savings over site-built homes. And though Unity Homes are built in a shop, there are four design platforms that can be customized using sophisticated CAD-CAM technology, with multifamily and “tiny” house options in the works.
Sanden Heat Pump Water Heater with CO2 Refrigerant
Standard heat pumps use hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) refrigerants such as R410a, which has a 100-year global warming potential (GWP) greater than 1,700. Though they work well, these refrigerants also typically do not create water temperatures high enough for hydronic heating. Sanden is now offering a residential heat-pump water heater that uses CO2 (GWP of 1) as the refrigerant and can deliver water hot enough for domestic hot water, and even for hydronic heating in energy-efficient homes.
Available in Japan for several years, Sanden’s CO2-based heat pump is coming to the U.S. in 2016. Using low-GWP CO2 as a refrigerant, this 4.5 kW model produces high-temperature water with very efficient heat transfer, very little pump energy, and good cold-weather performance. It is capable of delivering approximately 16,000 Btu/hr and can produce 149°F water with outdoor temperatures as low as –15°F.
Compared with other heat pump water heaters, the Sanden water heater is a split system, so it doesn’t lower the air temperature in the space where it is located.
The outdoor unit is paired with storage tanks of different sizes for different applications, including an 80-gallon stainless steel tank that can supply domestic hot water, and even space heating in efficient homes (a larger 11 kW version better-suited for space heating is in the works). Because of the significantly higher operating pressure of CO2 refrigerant (compared with HFCs), the piping and connections with this product must be more rugged than that used for standard heat pump water heaters.
Tesla Powerwall and Powerpack Onsite Energy Storage
The use of renewable energy is increasing at a dramatic rate, but the vast majority of grid-tied photovoltaic (PV) systems are not optimized to take advantage of this energy. They cannot store power for daily use and don’t have backup systems, which limits their function and makes buildings vulnerable to power outages. Storing electricity to minimize use of utility power (and their environmental problems) or maintain functionality in the event of an outage have been challenges that limit wider adoption of PV, with current storage methods relying on complicated, difficult-to-integrate systems, most of which use toxic lead-acid batteries.
Tesla’s Powerwall and Powerpack signal a significant evolution toward more resilient solar-electric systems and offer the prospect of mainstream adoption. A number of large partners, including SolarCity, plan widespread use of them with residential solar installations, and several utility companies, such as Vermont’s Green Mountain Power, plan to adopt them to support a transition away from unsustainable fuels.
Powerwall is a rechargeable lithium-ion battery system used with renewable energy systems. It incorporates liquid thermal management, battery management, and a smart DC–DC converter for controlling power flow between an DC–AC inverter and the battery. There is a 10 kWh unit optimized for weekly/backup use (such as power outages or off-grid use) and a 7 kWh unit for daily use (such as providing PV energy at night), and they can be combined into systems with total storage of 90 kWh (using 10 kWh models) and 73 kWh (using 7 kWh models).
The company’s Powerpack system is intended for commercial, utility, and industrial use, with 100 kWh turnkey systems that can be scaled all the way up to more than 100 MWhs. These units can be used to increase renewable power capacity on the grid, maximize onsite solar use, or provide backup power for critical systems, but they also give companies the flexibility to purchase power at its lowest cost and avoid peak demand charges.
BuildingGreen Approved products on Designer Pages
We are excited about the variety and scope of this year’s winners and have added them to our BuildingGreen Approved collection of products on the Designer Pages website.