The envelope please: BuildingGreen's top ten green picks for 2015, from the boring but important to the revolutionary

© Shonen Magazine 1964

Brent Ehrlich, Paula Melton, and Alex Wilson of BuildingGreen are some of the smartest people in green building, and every year at Greenbuild they dig up what they call " green building products that make fundamental transformations to “business as usual” in the design and construction industry." Every year when I cover their choices, I try to make them sound exciting, but it's often hard. That's why there is a science-fiction version of a mag-lev train at the top; they give an award to a Multistack MagLev centrifugal chiller with Turbocor compressors , which is pretty interesting:

With almost no friction, variable-frequency drives, and the company’s FlexSys controllers, these chillers work well at partial loads, are energy efficient, and eliminate the need for mechanical seals, gears, pumps, and many other conventional components. They are also smaller and quieter than conventional chillers and require almost no maintenance, including avoiding the use of lubricating oil that often contaminates refrigerant and reduces efficiency.

maglev compressor© Danfoss
Practical and sensible, but photogenic it ain't.

Johns Manville ENRGY 3.E Halogen-Free Polyiso Insulation© Johns Manville ENRGY 3.E Halogen-Free Polyiso Insulation

Then there is the Johns Manville ENRGY 3.E Halogen-Free Polyiso Insulation. It looks like any other boring board, and acts like any other boring board. There is a really important difference: it is the first board formulated without halogenated flame retardants, something BuildingGreen has been complaining about for years. It's a really important step toward making healthier building products. Giving it a prize is important recognition, but few people are even aware of the problem. We have been writing about it on TreeHugger for years, with almost every story pointing back to BuildingGreen, who have been leaders in the ongoing battle to get flame retardants out of our homes, and deserve an award themselves for this. Read more on the subject in TreeHugger:

Polystyrene Insulation Doesn't Belong in Green Building

Ekla Couch© Ekla

Another more photogenic winner is Ekla Home, who make furniture with natural latex foam that has no flame retardants, but also from certified organic fabrics FSC certified wood and low VOC glues. Their stuff is expensive, but as I have written before, it costs money to make healthy and safe furniture.

There are so many issues here. The fire risk has been decreasing steadily with the decline in the number of smokers; the bromine industry is huge and they don't want to lose their market; the sofas are made primarily of polyurethane foam, a huge part of the chemical industry. If people were willing to invest in decent furniture that was made from natural materials like wool and cotton, which are far less toxic when they burn, there would be less of a problem.

More on this in TreeHugger:
Your Toxic Sofa: Why It Is Still Full of Flame Retardants
Flame Retardants May Kill More Than They Save
Do We Need Flame Retardants In Our Furniture and Electronics?

KI Aircarbon ChairLloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

We are usually not fond of plastics as they are made from fossil fuels, but AirCarbon from Newlight Technologies is made from methane, and actually sequesters Carbon Dioxide. KI makes the Strive and Grazie lines of chairs from the stuff, making them actually carbon negative. In TreeHugger, April called this "pretty nifty."

But wait, there's more.

Continuing with their unsexy but important products, there is the FocalPoint Bioretention System, a stormwater management system that can handle a lot of capacity with a small footprint, Fluid-Applied Cat 5 Air Barrier System from Prosoco a roll-on air barrier made without phthalates or other chemicals on the red lists of the Living Building Challenge, the Clean Energy Collective that develops shared solar arrays for people without the appropriate roofs to put one (a great idea). And then wrapping it up, I have to eat my words and admit yes, there are some sexy products after all.

cascadia clipLloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

I think the Cascadia clip is pretty exciting, because I used it on my own home. BuildingGreen describes it as " a fiberglass spacer designed for installing cladding over insulation, reducing the thermal bridging through the insulation significantly when compared with conventional attachment methods." In my coverage of it I called it " the definition of good green design. It is unobtrusive, it solves a serious problem, it is easy to use and quietly does its job really well."

Ultimate Casement© Marvin Windows Ultimate casement

Marvin Windows got the nod for being " the first major U.S. window manufacturer to offer a Passive House Institute U.S. (PHIUS)-certified window." However when you look at Marvin's press release, it notes that "Marvin’s Clad Ultimate Casement meets PHIUS certification in two zones: Zone 3 and Marine South, per the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) map."

IEC mapDepartment of energy/Public Domain

Looking at the map, it doesn't seem to me that this is such a big deal, since it appears to be approved for only a portion of the country. They are also certified by PHIUS, which recognizes different climate zones, and not by PHI,, the international Passivhaus organization, which does not. This is no doubt confusing. Read more on the unfortunate schism in the Passive House movement in A Plague On Both Their Passive Houses: Confusion Reigns In Fight Over The Name And the Standard

Finally, a truly photogenic and totally sexy product, USAI Lighting Color Select Tunable Lighting. BuildingGreen writes:

Color Select lighting can be fine-tuned to fit different applications, times of day, or occupant moods, and can even be used in place of lighting products purchased separately. It can produce cool, bright daylight in the morning for alertness, or warmer light in the evening to aid natural circadian rhythms and minimize sleep disturbances. This product has implications for retail, restaurants, healthcare, education, hospitality, and more.

Indeed, the lighting revolution will not just be LED, but RGB. Most LEDs are phosphor-converted like a fluorescent bulb and only put out on color; true RGB LEDs can mix up whatever color you need. I have been playing with a residential version, the Philips Hue, and the more you use it, the more you find that adjusting the color makes a real difference. The USAI lights are native LED (no screw-in edison base) and pump out up to 1500 lumens in any color you want. This is the future of lighting, and it is very exciting.

Read it all at BuildingGreen

The envelope please: BuildingGreen's top ten green picks for 2015, from the boring but important to the revolutionary
Every year the BuildingGreen people look for the products that will make a difference. This year the winners put on a solid, if unsexy, performance.

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