2009's Best Green Products

Here's proof that green building has matured: being green is no longer enough. To succeed as a building material, a green product must perform as well or better than its conventional counterpart. In many cases, manufacturers can justify higher prices than commodity products by pointing to premium performance. A product that ‘pays for itself' in energy savings or longer life or lower installation cost or higher resale value will develop a following that's not limited to green builders. And some of this year's best products even pay for themselves the old-fashioned way… by costing less.

Interior Wall Systems
Interior wall systems most typically include fiberglass batts smooshed between the studs, with a slab of gypsum board on top. That's actually a pretty good system, but it leaves a little room for improvement. To start with, fiberglass is a scratchy material that loses its r-value when it gets wet and may have some IAQ issues. The gypsum board doesn't contribute much to either the thermal or acoustic insulation qualities. And together, they don't do much to eliminate the thermal bridging that's apparent in any wintertime thermal imaging.

That's what prompted a company named Black Mountain USA, a division of Sayrco, to investigate making those materials from sheep's wool, a renewable resource that's amply available near their Pennsylvania headquarters. “Wool is one of the most efficient insulating materials available, and our goal was to do something with materials that are locally accessible and can be locally produced to retrofit existing homes,” said Christian Tasser, who developed the product for Black Mountain.

But there was a catch – before they could produce “sheep-rock” the wool would need a non-toxic binder. As it happens, the answer turned out to be lime, another traditional building material that provides rigidity to the panel, plus some additional mold resistance. There's no added formaldehyde of any type, but that oversimplifies the product's IAQ claims. “The wool has the property of absorbing and controlling the humidity in the room, but it is also absorbing indoor air contaminants like formaldehyde that might be present from other things like furniture in a room,” Tasser contends. “And the high-pH that you get from the lime naturally kills off any organisms that might otherwise find a home in that wall.”

The Sheep Roll and Sheep Batt products fit into a wall cavity much as a fiberglass or cotton batt, but the insulation is more efficient, achieving r-13 at 3.6 inch thickness. The 1-inch thick WEKA sheep's wool wall panels rate a r-6.5, so using the wool insulation batts with the panels adds up to r-19.5 and helps reduce thermal bridging. The system is Class-A fire rated, but it's also water safe; anyone who's worn wool socks on a snowy day knows that wool will insulate even if it gets wet.

The products are more expensive, but Black Mountain points to savings on installation costs. Minus the safety concerns, the batts tend to go in more quickly, and the ‘sheep-rock' can be either taped or, more quickly, sprayed. All the Black Mountain products qualify for LEED credits as rapidly renewable materials.

GET MORE INFO! • 570-888-7400

Fiberglass Insulation
Why is Knauf's EcoBatt insulation brown? Because it's composed of a minimum 35% (and up to 50%) post consumer recycled bottle glass collected from curbside recycling programs, with the balance of the solids coming from sand, a rather abundantly available natural resource. But there is one other important reason for the color: the product line was manufactured without formaldehyde, which leaves a characteristic yellow cast.

Instead, the product line is produced using the company's new ECOSE binder. “ECOSE Technology is up to 70% less energy intensive than our previous binder, and reduces the carbon footprint of products made with the revolutionary technology,” says Knauf executive Bill Taylor.

According to Scott Miller, “With ECOSE Technology we extend our product benefits further because it is based on rapidly-renewable bio-based materials, instead of the conventional non-renewable petroleum-based chemicals used in traditional fiber glass insulation binders.” Products with ECOSE Technology provide the same thermal, fire and acoustical performance as the company's previous products and meet the same ASTM and industry specifications and standards, and are GREENGUARD Children and Schools certified for VOC emissions.

The ECOSE based materials are also somewhat softer to the touch. This formaldehyde-free technology is available throughout Knauf's residential insulation product line and in Knauf mechanical insulation products, including the company's duct wraps, duct boards, and duct liners.
GET MORE INFO! • 800-825-4434

Despite its many green merits, concrete uses a lot of embodied energy, largely in creation of Portland Cement, which must be kilned at temperatures exceeding 1,400° C. The process of collecting the aggregate also require a great deal of energy. Yet when that embodied energy is averaged out over the very extended life expeccan tancy of a concrete foundation, wall, pavement, or other built structure, it turns out to be a pretty sustainable product.

But there's always room for improvement, as Buddy Rhodes Concrete Products is proving. The San Francisco based company's new Buddy's Ultra Green Concrete Mix (BUG for short) includes a whopping 91 percent recycled content from roadways and previous buildings, while reducing the Portland cement content, which results in embodied energy savings of 50 percent. “In the past, when people asked us about making a greener concrete, I would tell them that the main problem with concrete is Portland cement; it's not green,” said Susan Andrews, VP of Buddy Rhodes. “But we've seen that you can add a lot of recycled aggregate and it will work just as well.

“It's actually better,” she added. “By adding microfibers and other materials to the mix, we've actually made it stronger.” BUG has tested out at 4,000 PSI and demonstrated superior crack resistance, water resistance, workability, and durability. The product contributes to LEED MR-4 credits

For now, the company is only shipping to dealers in California and Arizona, but hopes to expand its distribution in the coming year.

GET MORE INFO! • 415-431-8070

There's a lot to like about Torzo, and naturally enough that starts with its appearance. The line offers 17 different surfaces that offer the visual richness of traditional materials but offer some key advantages in terms of toughness, workability, lower shipping weight (with much lower shipping costs), and sustainability. Some Torzo product families may suggest the visual texture of granite, concrete, or marble, while others present a more organic look.

Torzo is primarily utilized for countertops, wall panels and retail fixtures, but it has also been used in some very high traffic areas. The slabs are made from sustainable materials such as recycled paper and wood pulp, sunflower hulls, wheat straw, or sorghum stalks. Torzo's proprietary binder is free of VOCs and uses no added urea formaldehyde. The finished products can be tough as nails; their Indure family of surfaces achieve Jenka ball ratings that exceed 7,000 psi.

It doesn't require much of a learning curve. The product can be fabricated by anyone who works with Corian or wood, such as a custom millwork shop, and it accepts standard adhesives.
GET MORE INFO! • 800-770-7523

Water Conserving Toilet
In a sport where records were broken incrementally, Olympic long jumper Bob Beamon amazed a world-wide audience in 1968 by leaping 21-3/4 inches farther than anyone had done before. Today, there's a term for such great leaps forward: Beamonesque.

That turns out to be a pretty realistic description of Niagara Conservation's new Stealth toilet. “This is the newest technology in the U.S., and there is no one else in the country offering a 0.8 gallon gravity flush toilet,” said Paul Kwiat, the company's wholesale business director. “You'll see some folks marketing a dual flush toilet with two flush tabs on top, one for water, one for solids, and they promote it as working on less than a gallon of water, but that's a combined ratio.” By contrast, the Stealth achieves its 0.8 gallon flush with solids, and meets the EPA WaterSense performance requirement in doing so.

Doing so required some fresh engineering ideas. In a traditional toilet design, there is a single trapway that removes all the waste from the bowl, propelled by simple gravity.

Stealth was designed with 2 trapways. The waste flows through the main trapway, but there's also a secondary trapway. “As water fills the tank, the air in the tank is displaced into the trapway of the bowl, and when that air is transferred to the secondary trapway, the trapway becomes pressurized, not the tank itself,” Kwiat explained.

In effect, flushing the toilet causes 2 types of pressurization in the structure of the bowl. The air displacement creates a vacuum which draws the waste material through the main trapway at the same time fresh water is forced through the bowl by gravity. As it flows in, the incoming water also rinses the bowl's interior surface area at the same time. The action is powered completely by gravity. “And this all happens very, very quietly because the pressurization isn't happening in the tank, it's happening in the bowl,” Kwiat stated.

The Stealth is projected to save an average family of 4 about 20,000 gallons of water per year. In a community-wide project, this technology might save millions of gallons of water. And if that's the cases, it would also conserve the resources used during the process of creating fresh water and dealing with the sewage.

The Stealth installs like any other toilet; no special tools are required. Niagara will begin shipping the new Ultra High Efficiency Toilet (UHET) to a national network of 2-step distributors early next year, with a suggested retail price under $300.

GET MORE INFO! • 800-831-8383

Exterior Paint
Mythic Paint established a reputation for making non-toxic interior paints that would be safe enough for chemically sensitive people, even during extended exposures in household, office, or school environments. So how do those advantages translate to the exterior paint line the company introduced nationwide this year? First, this coating is safe for painters, with no VOCs, odors, carcinogenic ingredients, or crystalline silicate. Second, the paint features mold/mildew resistance, yet remains safe enough for interior use as well. It can be applied by sprayer, brush, roller, or other conventional devices.

As for its other green credentials, Mythic Exterior is rated a premium grade paint that provides lasting protection, fade resistance, stain resistance, and anti-chalk properties which add up to a long life cycle. At the end of a structure's life when a building meets the wrecking ball, an old Mythic exterior paint film will not produce any hazardous pollutants or toxic residues. The product can contribute credits toward LEED or NAHB-Green certification, and is eligible for use in GSA stimulus projects.

GET MORE INFO! • 888-714-9422

Natural Wood Finish
Until mid-20th century times, wood floors and other wood surfaces on the interior of a building were commonly treated with natural oils and waxes which hardened the surface, brought out the beauty of the wood, and provided tough protection. These finishes were eventually replaced by products that relied on petrochemicals – VOCs – to speed up the drying process, which enabled professional applicators to fit more jobs into their work week.

Polyx Professional Hardwax Oil from Osmo is a modern version of those traditional finishes that is VOC-free, but allows 2 coats to be applied in a single working day. The product penetrates deeply beneath the surface to bind to and harden the wood grain, while also providing a thin surface film that is buffed up by the applicator/installer. This product is designed to protect a wood or cork floor, without altering its natural appearance. Polyx Oil will not crack, flake, peel or blister. As the finish wears over time, it can be seamlessly spot-maintained. Eligible for LEED credits for IAQ and as a rapidly renewble resource.

GET MORE INFO! • 888-487-8054

Anyone who's ever passed through Texas, New Mexico, or Arizona will get the point of Monier Lifetile's availability in decorative roof colors that comply with LEED and NAHB-Green requirements for reflectivity. Their new “color-through” concrete roof tiles exceed the required Solar Reflectance Index (SRI) of 29, which should lead to reduced energy use in hot summer months by reducing heat build-up on roof surfaces and within the attic. The concrete tiles are much more durable than asphalt shingles, and promise a much longer lifetime. But no wear from sunshine or abrasion on the tiles themselves will remove the reflective color, which is not simply skin-deep, but extends throughout the material.

Monier is introducing three new reflective colors: Goldenrod, Charleston and Dunes Tan. In addition, the company is offering Del Sol, a custom blend of the three new colors, hand blended for a dynamic multi-color look. The new colors are currently available in slate and will be supplied in medium and high profile to meet customer demand.

GET MORE INFO! • 800-669-8453

NAF Hardwood Plywood
Panels using the Purebond soy-based resin from Columbia Forest Products have become the first domestically-produced hardwood plywood materials to earn the NAF (No Added Formaldehyde) distinction from the California Air Resources Board (CARB), which affirms that the products meet the challenging Phase 2 formaldehyde emission limit of .05 parts per million. Columbia's decorative interior veneers and panels are used in cabinetry, furniture, architectural millwork and commercial fixtures.

GET MORE INFO! 800-637-1609

Certified Wood
Collins Pacific Albus is a hybrid pacific poplar variety introduced this year that's finding its way into a variety of applications. “The sapwood is a nice creamy white color, and the heartwood is pretty dark when it's green, but after you kiln dry it's light tan,” said Lee Jimerson, who is managing the product's rollout for Collins. The wood has some rather interesting advantages, especially for projects aiming for LEED certification. For one, the wood is hypo-allergenic, which helps contribute to improved IEQ, and is surely a marketable quality for kitchen areas. When used in ceiling assemblies, its bright reflective color has already contributed to lighting credits. And there's also a credit for using FSC certified wood (Plantation Standard).

The extremely lightweight wood (20% lighter than pine) has proven ideal for moulding, wainscotting, panels, fingerjoint applications, cut stock, manufactured housing, and landscape timbers. It's even being used in Olympic-class snowboards. “It does edge glue fantastically well, and it has the lowest radial tangential shrinkage rate of any western species I've ever seen: 1.16, which means that whether you're gluing a flat sawn next to a quarter sawn piece you'll get very little telegraphing issues as moisture changes throughout the year. For the lowest grade, it's fantastic for wood stave door core, and for lumber core.”

Before all that was possible, Collins first had to learn how to deal with the species. “There was a pretty steep learning curve, as with most lesser used species,” said Jimerson. “But we now have a system set up from forest management, through milling, through drying, and we can make everything with a lot of consistency.”

GET MORE INFO! • 800-329-1219


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