The green building market is teeming with manufacturers seeking to develop products and materials that reduce a building's overall embodied energy while standing up to stringent performance criteria — all in the hopes of helping to create a more sustainable construction industry.
During the 2016 Greenbuild International Conference & Expo, held this week in Los Angeles, hundreds of companies sought to connect with major stakeholders in the green space. To help break through the noise of the stream of manufacturers, Brent Ehrlich, a products and materials specialist for publishing company BuildingGreen, announced its annual list of predictions for the green products likely to have the most significant impact on the market in the coming year.
From composting toilets to electric lawn mowers, BuildingGreen's list offers a forecast for what's on the horizon in the rapidly evolving green building industry.
Although toilets are now more efficient than ever, there is "more to waste than water," Ehrlich said. Currently, human waste is often mixed with toxic industrial waste or stormwater streams, leading to additional energy and water required to treat the waste.
That's where the Phoenix Composting Toilet System comes in. It features a biochamber that uses wood chips and air circulation to turn human waste into compost. The system is odor-free and requires the owner to empty the compost approximately once every 18 months. Building owners can then use the compost as fertilizer for vegetation onsite. "You've potentially canceled out that waste stream," Ehrlich said. Although a composting toilet is not suitable for every site, he added, it looks like a typical toilet and flushes in a similar way. The Phoenix system is used in the Bullitt Center in Seattle, which is certified under the stringent Living Building Challenge.
One of the most widespread energy issues in buildings is the conversion of alternating current (AC) to direct current (DC) power for devices. A significant amount of building equipment uses DC power — such as LED lighting and computers — but most power comes in as AC. Power-conversion equipment can lead to additional materials, costs, e-waste and performance issues, according to Ehrlich.
The Nextek Power Hub Driver is an all-in-one AC-to-DC power supply. With the driver, batteries and other renewable energy sources can feed into the unit and are optimized for performance. The product also sets itself apart with the ability to allow dimming for LED fixtures. The driver can also can offer cost savings by minimizing the chances of systems failure. "In a rapidly changing energy-use world, this is a good first shot at trying to bring DC power into a building," Ehrlich said. "It gives better power quality, resilience when batteries are used, better reliability, easier replacement and less complicated controls."
Weather barriers can be a challenge to install onsite, including the need for attention to detail and the variability of the weather. If a mistake occurs and the seal isn't complete, air or moisture penetration can lead to mold, rot and insects getting into the envelope.
The Securock ExoAir 430 System combines USG’s Securock glass fiber–faced sheathing and a factory-applied Tremco weather barrier, and it arrives onsite ready to install. The product's modular, plug-and-play quality allows for reductions in waste and an overall simpler installation.
Despite their high energy consumption, commercial HVAC systems often aren't robust enough to sufficiently filter indoor air. Additionally, because most systems bring in outdoor air, contaminants can unknowingly enter the building, particularly if it is located near heavy industry or busy roads.
The enVerid HLR Ventilation system uses proprietary sorbents to remove molecular contaminants including carbon dioxide and formaldehyde from indoor air. The product minimizes the use of outside air and can result in an average 20% energy savings by reducing the peak HVAC load by up to 40%, according to Ehrlich.
Solar-energy storage is still a relatively new segment of the building market, and companies are continually searching for innovative ways to make storage easier and more efficient. However, many battery storage backup systems today still use toxic lead-acid batteries.
The Aquion Aqueous Hybrid Ion saltwater battery uses a water-based electrolyte instead of the flammable organic solvent in lithium-ion batteries or sulfuric acid in lead-acid batteries. The Aquion batteries are durable and safe, as they aren't flammable or corrosive. However, Ehrlich noted, the current version of the product is "bulky and expensive," but the cost is expected to come down soon.
Controlling stormwater runoff from impermeable surfaces is crucial, as it can help to limit property damage and contamination of waterways. However, onsite stormwater management systems can be expensive to install and may not match a building's exterior design.
Bio-Microbics' d-Rain Joint Rainwater Filter Drain has the same appearance as a standard expansion joint in a concrete slab, but it provides a channel to subsurface drainage. Ehrlich said the product offers a "cost-effective solution" to stormwater runoff. "Sometimes it's the smallest things that are the best," he said of the product's impact.
The textile industry is rife with controversy, as its supply chain often starts with countries that have few labor laws. In addition to the negative social impact, textile manufacturing can have serious environmental consequences, as the production process requires ample water and energy consumption, while dyeing and finishing creates considerable industrial pollution.
Designtex is a textile-design company whose catalog includes more than 8,000 materials with an eye toward sustainable production. Users can search the company's website to find textiles that meet their desired environmental criteria. Among its environmentally friendly offerings is Wannabe (shown above), which comprises 95% post-consumer recycled and 5% pre-consumer recycled solution-dyed polyester. Additionally, Designtex tracks the emissions related to the shipping of its products and invests in carbon-reduction projects in order to offset them.
Gas-powered lawn maintenance equipment — especially on the commercial scale — is a major source of air pollution, as it releases carbon monoxide and carcinogens. "There haven't been many options for commercial maintenance folks in the past," Ehrlich said.
Now, Mean Green offers an electric alternative for commercial mowers. The electric mower has no emissions, requires no fuel and can be powered up for hours of use. The product can result in up to $8 in operational savings per hour, according to Mean Green. "I think it's a product whose time has come," Ehrlich said.
"Every pipe we use and bring into the building has its own set of environmental concerns," Ehrlich said. Copper, for example, is expensive and vulnerable to theft. Cross-linked polyethylene (PEX), while a popular option, cannot be recycled and can leave a chemical taste in the water.
Legend's HyperPure water piping, which features a flexible, potable-water pipe created with bimodal polyethylene, is recyclable and does not impact the water's taste, according to Ehrlich. The product is resistant to the effects of chlorine and its flexibility eases installation.
Wood is a popular building material, but its treatment can involve toxic metals and biocides that harm the environment. Copper, one of the most common metals used to treat wood, is an aquatic toxin.
Accoya acetylated wood, which has existed for decades, features radiata pine immersed in a strong vinegar treatment that prevents the wood from absorbing water, swelling or shrinking. Ehrlich said BuildingGreen chose to feature Accoya this year because the International Code Council recently approved the product for ground contact applications, which has long been a holdup to broader use of the treated wood. Ehrlich pointed out that although the material currently has a large shipping footprint and high initial cost, the company is expanding and could potentially bring those costs down in the future.