Top Five: Green Products

by Matthew Bushey, August 13, 2010

posted by Matthew Bushey, AIA

Everyone is touting their green credentials these days.  We are constantly evaluating manufacturer’s claims of environmental performance for the products we specify on architecture and interior design projects.  It can get a little confusing at times, with some dubious claims to say the least.  But we have also come across many innovative products that provide clever solutions to environmental challenges.  These are my top five green products.
It’s a little deceiving to say one product is “greener” than another, since the environmental field is so broad. Different products may have different goals, but perhaps equally noble. In order to simplify the evaluation, I group the goals for green building into these 3 areas:

  • Global: Energy Efficiency (reduce global warming emissions; reduce dependency on fossil fuels)
  • Regional: Conservation of Resources (reduce waste; preserve natural resources; decrease water usage)
  • Local: Indoor Air Quality (where we see the most direct and personal benefit from Green Design: in a healthy indoor environment)

So how does a product meet these lofty goals?  In order to make it a little easier to identify the truly eco-friendly products, I follow this list of six characteristics of what makes a product environmentally preferable:

a.  Reused: Salvaging a material to prevent its disposal, lengthening its useful life and preventing the extraction or manufacture of virgin materials.
b.  Recycled: The most common attribute when we think of “green” products: those made from materials with recycled content
c.  Renewable: rapidly renewable materials, such as bamboo, wheat, or wood that comes from certified, well-managed forests.
d.  Local: The USGBC’s LEED rating system for green buildings quantifies this as a material that is extracted, processed and manufactured within 500 miles of the construction site, saving transportation fuel and supporting local economies.
e.  Durable: A product with a longer lifespan reduces the need for replacement.
f.  Safe and Healthy: This includes products that contribute to a safe, healthy indoor environment, (ie. low-VOC paints, caulks, and adhesives) and products that do not release toxins into the atmosphere (ie. safe substitutes for PVC, polyvinyl chloride or ozone-depleting chemicals)

So that defines the criteria.  Now let’s get to the solutions.  Here are my top five green products:
 
1.   AUTOMATIC COMPOSTER by NatureMill

 

 

The Automatic Composter by NatureMill is an indoor composter that is self-contained, odor-free, and automatic.  Food waste is dropped into the upper chamber, where it is mixed, heated, moistened and ventilated every four hours.  In about 2 weeks, you can open the lower tray where the material has fully turned into ready-to-use nitrogen-rich compost for your garden.  The whole process takes significantly less time and effort than conventional composting systems, and the device uses only about 5 kWh per month, less energy than the fuel that would be used by a garbage truck to move the same amount of trash.
 
2.  EnduraLED LIGHT BULB by Philips
There are millions of screw-in incandescent sockets in this country, and as we transition to a low-energy future, we will need to fill those sockets with something that is efficient, but familiar. There are plenty of companies producing LED bulbs now, but from what I’ve seen, Philips is quickly emerging as the leader in the field.
 

The EnduraLED “A-Shape” bulb is a 7 watt LED retrofit light bulb that replaces a 15-25 watt incandescent bulb. Conveniently shaped like a standard incandescent lightbulb, the EnduraLED produces an even, diffuse light, contains no mercury, and has a rated life of 40,000 hours, which is about 20 years of warm white ambient light.

 
3.  TIMBERSIL PRESSURE-TREATED WOOD
TimberSIL is a safe alternative to conventional pressure-treated lumber.  Instead of using dangerous chemicals, TimberSIL uses glass in the form of sodium silica as the preservative.  The sodium silica, rescued from agricultural waste, completely surrounds and protects the wood fibers making this a long lasting wood product, resistant to rot, decay and insects. TimberSIL is also stronger, harder, and more insulating than untreated wood, and unlike traditionally treated woods, is non-toxic, non-corrosive, and is a Class A Fire retardant — the same rating as concrete.
 
Yes, it is more expensive than conventional pressure-treated yellow pine, but you be assured that this is safe for children, pets, and the earth.  The wood can come into direct contact with the ground, and no special fasteners or exotic tools are required.  It is available locally at Planet Hardwood.
 
4.  TRANSITIONAL WATER-EFFICIENT SHOWERHEAD by Delta
Water conservation is going to be one of the major environmental issues in the decades ahead.  I decided to do my part by switching out our thirsty shower fixture for the highly rated water-efficient showerhead by Delta.
 
Introduced in 2006, this showerhead delivers superb performance using just 1.6 gallons of water per minute (gpm). With what they call H2Okinetic Technology, the faucet produces droplets that are fairly large, resulting in good heat retention and body wetting.  By comparison, many low-flow showerheads either create very small droplets or aerate the water, either of which can allow the water to cool quickly and make showering less satisfactory.
 
The H2Okinetic Technology is available in a traditional, transitional or contemporary styled showerhead, and is available in chrome, bronze, stainless, or pewter.
 
You may be wondering, is switching to a low-flow showerhead really worth it?  Besides the clear environmental benefits of using less water (and the corresponding reduction in waste water), I looked at the strictly economic benefits of making the switch.  In our household, switching from our old 2.5 gpm showerhead to the 1.5 gpm Delta faucet saves us over 5,000 gallons of water per year.  (yes, I timed our showers.)  This comes to a savings of $44 in water per year, plus an additional $36 in water heating, totaling $80 saved every year, which is more than the cost of fixture.  Water is relatively cheap in Vermont, so if you’re in another part of the country, the savings could be even more.
 
5.  STEALTH TOILET by Niagra Conservation
Some day in the not-so-distant future, I predict we will look back with amazement that we would take perfectly good drinking water and literally flush it down the toilet.  Not too long ago, it was common to dump over 3 gallons of water with each flush, and before 1982, toilets used 5 to 7 gallons per flush.  Today, the maximum is 1.6 gpf, but there are some fixtures that are doing even better.
 
The Stealth Toilet by Niagra Conservation is an ultra-high efficiency toilet that uses a mere 0.8 gallons of water per flush by forcing the water through the toilet chamber with hydraulic pressure.  This is even less water than my dual-flush Toto that comes in at 1.6 or 0.9 gpm, depending on your .. ahem… disposal needs.  Because of the clever design of the Stealth, you get more flushing power with less water.
 

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