January 2014

Volume 23, Number 1

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Article Contents

Innovative Products and Technology from the Greenbuild Expo

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Our product editors pick some winners from the expo floor at Greenbuild 2013 while raising questions about some materials.

By BuildingGreen’s Editors

Even if you did make it to the expo floor at Greenbuild 2013 in Philadelphia, it’s next to impossible to cover the whole expo and ferret out the true standout products. That’s why we sent a team to do the work and brought back this overview of highlights.


Eben Bayer and Gavin McIntyre, seen here in their production facility, were showing their mushroom-based insulation and other wares at Greenbuild this year.

Photo: Ecovative

Fair warning: EBN usually focuses our coverage on commercially available products, and usually on products that we would actually recommend. We’ve relieved ourselves of those standards here, including some forward-looking innovations—and some that we’ll wait and see on.

Structural and Insulation Products

We are continually on the lookout for products that can improve building performance while reducing the toxic burdens of our most common insulation materials. We saw some promising innovations at Greenbuild.

Kingspan IPN-Nano Halogen-Free Foam Insulation

Kingspan Insulated Panels has introduced the industry’s first halogenated flame retardant (HFR)-free plastic foam insulation, IPN-Nano. Available in the company’s Benchmark Engineered Façade Systems, IPN-Nano has taken the chlorine out of Tris(1,3-dichloro-2-propyl)phosphate, or Tris (a common flame retardant found in most polyiso foam insulation), while still meeting fire codes.

EBN has not yet obtained details on whether the new formula has its own toxicity concerns, but removing chlorine is a promising step, and Kingspan has been out front in the material transparency movement, being one of the first to have completed environmental product declarations (EPDs) and health product declarations (HPDs). According to Paul Bertram, Kingspan’s director of environment and sustainability, working on the HPD for its panels was a key motivator for removing the flame retardants.

The “nano” in IPN-Nano refers to the small cell structure of the foam, which increases its density and should also increase the R-value and overall performance of the panels, though exact R-values are not yet available. This polyiso foam also uses pentane as the blowing agent, which has zero ozone-depletion potential and a relatively low global warming potential of seven.

The company will be transitioning to IPN-Nano in the coming year as manufacturing locations switch over—and some Kingspan products will continue to contain Tris, so you’ll have to specify the HFR-free foam to avoid it.

Mycelium-Based Building Products from Ecovative

On the cool quotient, Ecovative Design’s prototype products at Greenbuild were clear winners. We’ve covered Ecovative’s unique mycelium-based packaging in the past (see our green building wish list) and have been hoping to see replacements for petrochemical-based foam plastic products emerge from the company’s research activities.


Ecovative is offering not only an insulated sheathing but also grown-in-place insulation and a particleboard alternative.

Photo: Ecovative

Ecovative’s founders have figured out how to grow mycelium (the underground portion of mushrooms, often appearing as fine, white tendrils) quickly in rice hulls or other cellulosic waste material and form a strong, lightweight material. After growing for a while under optimal moisture and temperature conditions, the material is dried, which deactivates the mycelium. Their molded packaging has been a cost-effective replacement for Styrofoam for several years now.

At Greenbuild, Ecovative showed off its new Myco Foam Insulated Sheathing. One sample we picked up is 1-⅝" thick with a rough texture showing some biobased fibers and an off-white tofu-colored surface. Its specifications are reasonable in comparison with foam insulation, including an R-value of R-3.6/inch and a Class A fire rating with no added flame retardants.

Ecovative has licensed the technology to Fortifiber Building Systems Group for further product development, testing, and hopefully 2014 production.

Grow-In-Place Mushroom Insulation. Howabout growing insulation in place? Ecovative has been testing its MycoFoam for in situ insulating, probably in a pre-fab factory setting. The foam takes about a month to grow, according to the company; then it would be allowed to dry out, producing an airtight structural wall assembly. The company built a tiny house in 2013 to demonstrate this system, and builders interested in trying it out can purchase materials for it today.

Myco Board. For a denser, particleboard-like product, Ecovative can vary the crop-waste fiber content and produce a compressed particleboard product. The lightweight sample we picked up is just over a half-inch thick. Ecovative says that Myco Board can be molded into unique shapes—for producing furniture components, for example—reducing waste and dust from milling. Myco Board can be faced with veneer or even grown into veneers, avoiding synthetic adhesives.


Windows and Doors

Innovative companies continue to improve the performance of windows and doors, as shown by several products shown off at Greenbuild.


This window-integrated shade from Marvin, produced through a partnership with Hunter Douglas, fits into a track in the window jambs and can be operated remotely.

Photo: Marvin Windows and Doors


Marvin Exterior Roller Shades

The Europeans long ago figured out that regulating solar heat gain is best done outside—before sunlight and heat come indoors. Exterior roller shades and roller shutters are common on European windows, but they have been very slow to catch on in the U.S.

That might be changing. One of the leading U.S. window makers, Marvin, has introduced a new exterior roller shade. The window-integrated shade, produced through a partnership with Hunter Douglas, fits into a track in the window jambs and can be operated remotely from indoors.

The system includes semi-rigid PVC (vinyl) slats either connected by a flexible, exterior-grade, acrylic fabric backing or as separate louvers attached to insect-screen backing (the latter allowing some visibility through the shade). The slats or louvers are available in five colors, and in the case of the version with fabric backing, there are corresponding fabric colors.

Each blind rolls up into a hidden, integral “head box” at the top of the window, so the blind is fully concealed when not in use. Marvin has done a great job integrating the shading system into the window.

The motorized openers can be programmed to operate automatically based on time of day or controlled by occupants as needed. Marvin wasn’t able to give us cost information, but the product certainly isn’t cheap. Also, with the vinyl construction, the shades will not provide much security or protection from hurricanes, as some roller shutters provide.


If utilized together, SageGlass Simplicity and Lightzone technologies create one pane of glass that is wirelessly tinted to three different levels.

Photo: SageGlass


SageGlass Simplicity

With an impressive booth setup complete with a bar, Sage Electrochromics chose Greenbuild to debut SageGlass Simplicity—the latest update to its electronically tintable exterior glazing, which has been around for about a decade now. SageGlass blocks solar heat gain using thin-film ceramic coatings that darken with a low-voltage electric current. It can adjust to variable tints on demand, from 60% visible light transmission when fully clear to 1% when fully tinted, helping to cut heating and cooling loads. However, in applications like skylights or clerestory windows, installing the necessary wiring can be difficult.

The new Simplicity line addresses this problem by using solar cells and Internet connectivity to create a wireless system. A thin strip of solar PV installed on the glass pane powers the electronic tinting, and a small battery provides backup power for up to two days. Tinting can be controlled automatically with light sensors or a building management system, or on demand using an iPad app. Products in this line are expected to become available mid-2014 for commercial curtainwalls, windows, and skylights. Already available is a new product called LightZone, which, like trifocal glasses, allows three sections of a single pane of glass to have different tints.


The EcoSky3 skylight has an acrylic outer glazing and an inner glazing panel filled with Lumira silica aerogel.

Photo: Wasco Products, Inc.


Wasco EcoSky3 Skylight

The residential and commercial skylight company Wasco—based in Maine, rather than Wisconsin or Minnesota, like most of the rest of the window industry—has been at the forefront of skylight energy performance for years.

At Greenbuild, Wasco showed off its new EcoSky3 skylight. This bubble-type unit has an acrylic outer glazing and an inner glazing panel filled with 10 mm of Lumira silica aerogel. (Lumira, made by the Cabot Corporation, was previously called Nanogel.) The EcoSky3 unit skylight offers a remarkable U-factor of 0.25, SHGC of 0.34, and visible transmittance (VT) of 0.43. This is the only unit skylight to meet requirements of the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) in all climate zones. According to Wasco, thermal properties of the skylight outperform the leading competitor three-fold. It is available in both dome and pyramid styles in sizes ranging from 25-¼" x 25-¼" to 95-½" x 95-½", including both square and rectangular designs.

Wasco also showed off its Parans fiber-optic daylighting system, which we’ve covered in the past, and triple-glazed roof windows with U-factor and solar heat gain coefficient (SHGC) both below 0.3 (making them great for overhead applications).

Water Efficiency

Even as many key plumbing fixtures have been bumping up against a ceiling in terms of their water efficiency, some companies are finding new ways to improve water conservation and resource recovery at the whole-building level.


The Aquatron uses gravity and centrifugal force to separate liquids from solid waste. The solids drop down into the biological chamber, gradually turning into compost, and the liquids are diverted through filters and used for irrigation.

Image: Rosie’s Natural Way


Rosie’s Natural Way

Rosie’s Natural Way distributes a urine-diverting system, called the Dubbletten, and a composting system, called the Aquatron. The Dubbletten is a low-flow toilet with a split bowl that separates urine from other waste at the outset; solids go in the back and liquids in the front. A 1.0 gallon flush is used for the back, and an optional “spritz” (0.01 gallons) is provided for the urinal. Urine goes directly to a storage tank, where it can be collected for use as a nitrogen-rich fertilizer. (See “Urine Separation: The Next Wave of Ecological Wastewater Treatment.”)

The Aquatron attaches to the back bowl of the Dubbletten or can be used to retrofit a conventional toilet into a composting toilet. A non-mechanical separator installed at an angle below the toilet uses centrifugal force generated by the momentum of the flushing water to separate 98% of liquids and flush water from solid waste. Solid waste is diverted to a biological chamber, where it eventually composts; the company recommends using composting worms to speed the process and decrease the volume of waste. Liquid waste can then be directed through a UV filter and a phosphorous trap, filtering it to meet standards for use as graywater, according to the company. In testing, the number of bacteria present after exposure to the UV light was below Sweden’s National Food Administration’s limits for drinking water; however, utilizing this water for irrigation or for toilets in the U.S. might take some wrangling with health codes.

The Dubbletten has the look and feel of a conventional toilet and has the potential for widespread adoption (if you can wrap your mind around the split bowl), and the Aquatron can be installed up to 196 feet (60m) away from the toilet, making it flexible to install in new construction or as a retrofit utilizing a basement or crawlspace. The system can also accommodate larger uses, such as apartment buildings or schools with composting chambers up to 3,170 gallons (12,000 liters) that are designed for 10 to 12 toilets. According to Stubby Warmbold, founder of Rosie’s Natural Way, the system has drawn attention from those interested in the Living Building Challenge, and the system designers are currently developing a third component to naturally filter the “graywater” byproduct into drinking water using peat moss.


In a line of waterless or low-flush urinals, having one or two with a higher flush can help clear the piping. The Zurn Omni-Flow and the Steward Hybrid are designed for this purpose.

Photo: Mark Hillary. License: CC BY 2.0.


TOTO Urinal Retrofit, Zurn Omni-Flow Urinal, and Kohler Steward Hybrid

We were so excited about the urinal offerings at Greenbuild that we have to mention three. TOTO is offering a high-efficiency urinal with a 0.125 gallon per flush (gpf) that can easily replace standard full-size units. The Commercial Washout High-Efficiency UT105U model has top or back spud inlets of ¾", making it a simple retrofit option. In fact, we installed this model at our BuildingGreen office and have been very satisfied with operation so far. TOTO recommends also purchasing its 1/8 GPF EcoPower Flush Valve for best performance.

Zurn’s Z5755 Omni Flow urinal provides the unique feature of accommodating multiple flow rates from 0.125 gpf to 1.0 gpf. This allows plumbers to install multiple low-flow urinals and set one or two to high flow to help move water down the line, preventing uric salt build-up and pipe corrosion. The urinal comes in a standard size for retrofitting, and the flush valve has a 10-year life on the battery.

Finally, Kohler, manufacturer of the Steward Waterless Urinal, has released a new hybrid model that looks like the waterless but is plumbed so that it flushes. At 0.125 gpf, it is still efficient but could be used like the Zurn to clear the pipes for waterless urinals installed down the line. Kohler is also promoting its Hybrid Energy System, a hybrid energy cell for flushometers, with approximately a 30-year lifespan, according to the company. This technology uses a layered capacitor to power the flushometer by collecting the small electrical discharges of the battery, leaving the cell with nearly full storage.

Graywater Harvesting from Wahaso

The arrival of an NSF standard for onsite residential and commercial graywater systems (NSF/ANSI 350) in late 2011 signified the potential, at least, for a new era in water reuse: packaged systems that can be reliably installed and operated—hopefully with minimal routine maintenance. There haven’t been many NSF-350 certified systems yet, but a commercial-grade system from Wahaso Water Harvesting Solutions is pending certification.

Wahaso’s systems, including pumps, storage, filtration, and controls are custom-designed by the company and pre-built on skids, delivered ready for installation. They include two-stage filtration for particulates, sanitation with chlorine or UV light (despite the downside of the added chemicals, the company recommends chlorine for its greater effectiveness), and automated controls and reporting compatible with building automation systems running BACnet.


Drain water from the shower flows along a copper plate with copper tubing beneath it, through which incoming water flows for pre-heating.

Photo: George Smid


Ecodrain Shower Heat Exchanger

Ecodrain is a simple, passive heat-recovery device to transfer heat from outgoing shower wastewater to the cold-water line going into the water heater or going to the shower directly (or both). We are big fans of capturing waste heat from showers, and we have covered the even-simpler GFX (gravity-film exchange) products that are available from at least four manufacturers. Water heating is representing a larger fraction of total energy consumption as our buildings get more efficient, making reduction of water-heating energy a higher priority.

Ecodrain has been under development since 2008, but the current version we saw at Greenbuild has evolved considerably. It is designed for relatively flat (horizontal) installations, though steeply angled and vertical installations (like DFX systems) are also possible.

The heat exchange occurs across the bottom of the Ecodrain unit. Graywater from the shower flows through a specialized section of drain line, and cold water flows through small-diameter, squared copper tubing at the bottom of the unit. The cold-water tubing, connected by a manifold, slows the water flow, improving heat exchange. Testing by the Food Service Technology Center showed heat-recovery efficiencies to be between 33% and 45%.

Our concern with early versions of the Ecodrain drain-water heat exchanger was the formation of biofilms and clogging. The new design seems to have addressed this fairly effectively with much less impeded drain-water flow, but we will still be anxious to hear about long-term testing of this heat exchanger. The company claims that an “environmentally friendly” nonstick surface will minimize deposition on the walls of the heat exchanger, which should keep the heat-exchange efficiency high. The company also recommends using a screen in the shower drain to capture hair.

Like the GFX systems, the Ecodrain only works when the graywater flow is coincident with incoming water flowing to the water heater or shower. Draining a bathtub or clothes washer, for example, typically does not allow for heat recovery.

In addition to the residential systems, Ecodrain showed off a commercial product at Greenbuild that mounts on the underside of a larger-diameter, low-slope commercial wastewater pipe. A copper squared-tubing water-to-water heat exchanger, molded to the pipe radius, is secured to the wastewater pipe. This B1000 system is available for pipe diameters ranging from 3" to 12" in lengths of 48" and 96".


The Nexus eWater system treats up to 200 gallons of graywater onsite and has what the company chairman affectionately terms a “shower-powered” water heater. Heat is recycled from waste graywater and used to heat the home’s clean water.

Photo: Nexus eWater


The Nexus eWater System

The Nexus eWater system more actively utilizes a home’s graywater heat for water heating and also filters it to be nearly potable. Graywater is directed to a collector that has an embedded heat exchanger, which uses refrigeration coils to transfer the heat to a water heater. The result is an amazingly efficient water heater with a coefficient of performance (COP) of 4.0 and a typical daily energy use of 15 kWh.

Once the heat is extracted, the graywater is pumped through the Nexus reCycler. Bubbles are circulated to adhere to soap, dirt, and oils, eventually hardening into a foam that is returned to the sewer. After passing through a UV and carbon filter, the water is nearly potable and can be used for irrigation or for toilets (code allowing).

The system requires separate blackwater and graywater plumbing, which is rare and an expensive retrofit in the U.S. but may become more popular in new construction, according to Ralph Petroff, chairman of Nexus eWater. However, the system itself is quite affordable, at under $5,000. Petroff claims that in a new home, this system can reduce potable water consumption by 45%, cut sewage production 60%–70%, and reduce the energy used to heat water 75%–80% compared to a conventional system.


When water at 95°F (35°C) reaches the valve of the RoadRunner II showerhead, the flow is reduced to a trickle. Full flow is restored by pulling the attached lanyard.

Photo: ShowerStart


Evolve ShowerStart

We first saw the ShowerStart valve in 2008, shortly after the product had been introduced. This quirky water saver has not only survived but has also really taken off, with more than 500,000 units installed to date (thanks to strong support from the State of California).

The ShowerStart solves a huge problem with shower operation: people turning on the shower and leaving the bathroom while they wait for hot water to get to the shower. There are other solutions to this problem—like the Metlund D’Mand on-demand circulator that brings hot water to the point of use quickly while returning water that’s been sitting in the pipes back to the water heater—but the ShowerStart valve is a simple, quick, affordable retrofit solution.

Here’s how it works: After installing the Evolve Ladybug Showerhead Adaptor or the Roadrunner II 1.5 gallon per minute (gpm) showerhead with integral ShowerStart valve, the user turns on the shower. When water at 95°F (35°C) reaches the valve, the flow is reduced to a trickle by a valve that is activated by paraffin melting against a rubber membrane. Full flow is then restored by pulling the attached lanyard or twisting the bypass lever.

Effectiveness of the ShowerStart valve has been verified through field studies by several California utilities. But it’s worth noting that savings are highly dependent on behavioral patterns; formerly wasteful practices (leaving the hot water running a long time before stepping into the shower) result in the greatest savings from this product. To test performance through the Uniform Plumbing Code, a new standard was created: IAPMO IGC 244-2007a. ShowerStart showerheads and a hand-shower version are WaterSense labeled—greatly exceeding water conservation requirements for the program.


Sloan, in partnership with Excel Dryer, was displaying a sink combination at Greenbuild that included a soap dispenser (left), faucet (center), and in-sink hand dryer (right). Currently this unit is just a prototype.

Photo: Brent Ehrlich


Hand Dryers from TOTO and Sloan

TOTO and Sloan each had hand dryers on display at Greenbuild touting drying times in the 10-to-12-second range. TOTO’s sensor-activated Clean Dry hand dryer is a new style in the company’s hand dryer line. You insert your hands into the unit, as with hand dryers from Mitsubishi and Dyson, and any water that blows off is collected in a tray in the base. The Clean Dry uses only 690 watts and is surprisingly quiet at 59 decibels. It can be mounted on a wall, but mounting it in the counter, as shown at Greenbuild, should lower noise even further.

You might not have even noticed Sloan’s hand dryer since it looked like a standard faucet. The company is partnering with Excel Dryer, manufacturer of the first high-performance hand dryer, to develop a unit that is installed in the sink; it is paired with a soap dispenser and faucet for an integrated look. You use the soap dispenser on the left, the faucet in the middle, and the dryer on the right. Water blown off the hands simply goes down the sink—solving a problem that no other hand dryer has adequately addressed. We had a chance to try the dryer; it seemed to work well and, like the TOTO, was surprisingly quiet (the first XLerator wall-mounted models were quite loud). Unfortunately, the Sloan/Excel product is a prototype and is not currently available.


TOTO's Sensor Activated Clean Dry, a recent addition to the company's hand dryer line, features drying action on both sides of the hand when inserted into the unit.

Photo: TOTO



Technical innovations in heating, cooling and ventilation systems continue to expand what we can expect from these systems.

Internorm windows with built-in ERV

Need fresh air? Don’t open a window: open the window’s ventilation system.

Manufactured in Austria, Internorm products have just joined the “European Invasion” we’ve seen of windows and doors suitable for Passive House projects and other high-performance buildings. The company manufactures PVC and aluminum-clad wood windows with the impressive U-values we’ve come to expect from Central Europe—but at a lower price point because they are mass-produced rather than custom-built.

Unique from Internorm is a new window technology that integrates a small energy-recovery ventilator (ERV) right into the vinyl frame of its triple-glazed KF 400 model. The company claims I-tec Ventilation permits air exchange without compromising security or air quality, and it boasts 86% heat recovery.

Many building science experts worry that ductless ventilation pulls “fresh” outdoor air through cracks and leaks in the building envelope, bringing who-knows-what contaminants with it, but this ductless system—if it lives up to Internorm’s claims—can filter out pollen and other pollutants while drawing outdoor air into the house.

We’d like to see more empirical data supporting claims about energy recovery and air quality—as well as more information about how the system works and how much energy it uses—but this new technology is fascinating and deserves a chance to show its stuff in North America.


This 500 kW ORC unit is being shipped to a U.S. sawmill, where it will power the facility using wood waste.

Photo: BioMacht


BioMacht Waste-Heat-Recovery Systems

BioMacht provides medium-size (50kW–2MW) electricity generators fueled by waste heat from biogas, diesel, or other types of engines often used for combined heat and power at the district scale. Importing technology developed by BioMacht’s European partner, GMK, the modular systems offer a plug-and-play design. By using a proprietary organic compound as a heat-exchange medium (in a process known as the organic Rankine cycle, or ORC) rather than generating steam to turn turbines, the BioMacht systems can make use of relatively low-temperature heat that would normally be rejected.

The system can also provide combined heat and power from geothermal sources or from industrial waste heat. Two current projects include work with the government of Canada to aid isolated communities in Northern Canada that rely exclusively on diesel generators for power (their technology will generate more electricity from the waste heat) as well as a deal with Google to use waste heat from a data center to produce more electricity for the servers.

ORC systems have been in use throughout Europe for many years in combination with biomass systems. BioMacht has brought GMK’s technology to North America and is distributing in Canada and the U.S.


Air Pohoda’s Ultima 240E iERV uses a unique core that helps provide adjustable humidity control, improved durability, and freeze protection. It doesn't need a pre-heater in cold climates and can be fitted with a unit that provides cooling.

Photo: Air Pohoda


Air Pohoda Ultima 240E iERV

The Ultima 240E iERV (intelligent energy-recovery ventilator)—from the Czech manufacturer of Passive House-compliant products, Air Pohoda—was one of the coolest products at the show. Though all ERVs provide fresh air, minimize energy loss from the interior, and help manage a building’s humidity levels, the Ultima 240E is the first ERV to offer adjustable humidity control.

The 240E’s enthalpy core is the key to this control—and a host of other performance improvements. ERVs typically use flat plates that transfer heat, with small perforations in the membrane that allow moisture to cross from one airstream to the next. The Ultima 240E uses a triangular core with channels that capture the condensate so moisture can either be drained away or directed back into the living space, depending on how the air movement is controlled within the unit. The homeowner sets the desired humidity level using Internet-enabled controls, and the unit automatically makes the adjustments. The unit’s molded design minimizes any potential cross-contamination.

The technology has several advantages over other ERVs: the 240E can operate in any climate; the core does not contain perforations, so dust will not clog the unit over time; and the unit does not freeze and does not require a pre-heater (it requires only minimal maintenance in temperatures below -15°F, according to the company). It also uses an EBM Pabst electronically commutated motor (ECM), so it is very efficient, and has six-inch ducts to deliver good airflow. The company is so confident in its core design that it offers a 25-year warranty.

Air Pohoda just introduced the 240E and is pursuing Passivhaus Institut product certification, but as yet there is no third-party data to verify performance. The company claims, however, that the unit is more than 90% efficient and even outperforms models offered by Zehnder. The 240E is not cheap, at $3,500, but it doesn’t require an added pre-heater, it can provide humidification and dehumidification, and with an optional $900 “Cool-Breeze” add-on, it can even provide cooling.


Comfy is an app for smart phones or desktops that allows occupants to let the building automation system (BAS) know whether they’re comfortable or if they need their space to be warmed or cooled. As the system learns occupant preferences over time, it can save energy while improving comfort.

Photo: Stian Rasmussen


Comfy from Building Robotics

Are you hot, cool, or “comfy”? Designed to work with building automation systems (BAS), using BACnet, Comfy is a new tool that allows occupants to ask for a change in temperature via an app on a smart phone or desktop. The ventilation system responds by immediately sending a 10-minute burst of cool or warm air, depending on what’s needed. If the ventilation zone is a large office or multi-occupant area, the Comfy app can be set to ask whether another person feels the same way before adjusting the temperature. Over time, Comfy uses all of this data to provide the right temperature when and where it’s needed—and to reduce unnecessary conditioning when it’s not.

According to Lindsay Baker, vice president of research and marketing for Building Robotics, the start-up company behind Comfy, the system requires central DDC (direct digital control) and, although it can work with VRF (variable refrigerant flow) or radiant systems, it works best with VAV (variable air volume) ventilation systems because of the immediate feedback they can provide.

The company is currently testing the tool in a variety of building types to see just how much energy it can save. It will then offer Comfy as a service to buildings, priced with the expectation that it will be cost-neutral or better in terms of energy while also improving occupant comfort. While that research is ongoing, Baker says that one thing is clear: “It’s this cool app. [Occupants] love it.”

Coatings and Finishes

With low-VOC paints standard, companies are looking for other ways to stand out—with mixed success.

KNOxOUT “smog-eating” paint

We’ve been down this road before—and the emissions were terrible.

Billed by Philippines-based paint manufacturer Boysen as an “earth-friendly coating,” and finally available in the U.S., KNOxOUT paint is another in a long line of products designed to clean the air while also promoting self-cleaning of surfaces.

We’ve turned a skeptical eye to the claims made by makers of the many titanium dioxide-based products on the market. We’ve reluctantly recommended only products that bake the TiO2 into a cementitious coating that’s unlikely to flake or wash away. Thin coatings and paints, in contrast, will constantly be adding more of this powerful nano-scale antimicrobial to stormwater, where it can wreak havoc in ecosystems and wastewater treatment plants.

So what makes KNOxOUT special? The manufacturers recommend it for helping clean the air in small, localized areas that really need it—like inside parking garages and highway tunnels, and on buildings and walls surrounding bus stations. And unlike most companies, Boysen has some empirical data to back its smog-eating claims for these confined areas.

We’re still concerned about overuse of TiO2, but this manufacturer seems to have the right idea about using the material judiciously in places where it makes the most sense. So apply under the right conditions, and prepare the surface first with a thick layer of skepticism and caution.


The Steven Holl-designed expansion to the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Missouri, was the first U.S. project to use Fellert Acoustical Plaster, which is integral to the award-winning design.

Photo: Timothy Hursley/Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art


Fellert Acoustical Plaster

Acoustical plaster is an architect’s dream, providing gleaming, seamless interiors that also absorb sound and reduce noise even in a large, open space like an atrium, museum gallery, or dramatic staircase. That seamless look often doesn’t last, though: most plasters crack with normal settling and other loads.

The makers of Fellert Acoustical Plaster claim their product solves this problem while also providing unprecedented acoustical performance. With a backing made of acoustical fiberglass board and spray-applied plaster incorporating perlite, bentonite, and post-consumer recycled cotton, the product can flex—with the ASTM internal stress rating, as well as almost 30 years of performance in Sweden, to prove it. Fellert also claims that dents and dings are easy to patch.

As far as we can tell, the main drawback of the product is the antiquated binder (which contains both phenol and urea formaldehyde) in the Knauf acoustical board used in the system—but Fellert told EBN it is considering a switch to the insulation maker’s formaldehyde-free acoustical boards, processed with the corn-sugar-based Ecose binder. These upgraded boards are a darker color, says Fellert, so more testing is needed to ensure the boards don’t compromise the plaster’s color or light reflectance.

Installations requiring C-channels may also face problems if the project team is seeking to eliminate PVC for the Living Building Challenge or other reasons.


The furnishings that we took note of at Greenbuild stand out for how they are pushing conversations about resource and energy use.


KI's Strive (shown here) and Grazie lines of chairs will be the first products to use AirCarbon plastic, whose raw materials come from farm-sourced methane rather than petroleum; the company claims these chairs are carbon negative.

Photo: KI


KI Chairs with AirCarbon Plastic

KI, manufacturer of commercial furniture, had an unassuming booth at Greenbuild showing its Strive chair, which looked like any other plastic-and-steel stacking chair. But this simple chair held one of the hidden gems of the show: its plastic is made using a new petroleum-free, carbon-negative technology from Newlight Technologies, called AirCarbon, which could revolutionize the plastic industry.

Most plastics use raw materials (carbon especially) taken from fossil fuels as their building blocks, but Newlight is using methane for the KI plastic, primarily from farms, as its source. Using methane is critical because it has such powerful global warming potential. Over a 20-year span, methane traps 72 times as much heat in the atmosphere as an equal mass of carbon dioxide.

According to Newlight cofounder and CEO Mark Herrema, the process of converting the raw materials in methane to plastic is not new, but in the past, it has not been cost-effective. Herrema and his team worked for more than ten years to refine their catalyst—so that AirCarbon is now less expensive to produce than conventional petroleum-based plastics.

AirCarbon is a polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHA), a biodegradable plastic, and can be engineered to have a variety of performance characteristics, such as being rigid or flexible. The plastic used in the KI chairs is similar to rigid ABS or polypropylene and is recyclable but not biodegradable.

The KI Strive and Grazie chair lines will be the first products to use AirCarbon when they become available in early 2014. Cost information is not yet available, and KI is in the process of third-party verification of its carbon-negative claims.


Draper introduced a full line of solar shading, including the non-retractable FlexLouver system, shown here, that can be used on interiors or exteriors and is available with motorized or manual operation.

Photo: Draper, Inc.


Draper Solar Control Solutions

Draper showed off several new solar shading offerings, including its interior Bottom-Up FlexShades, which can provide shading and privacy on lower window portions while allowing light through on top. These could be paired with the new FlexWave Light Shelf that reflects light deeper into the room, reducing the need for electric lighting. These light shelves can be rotated down for easy cleaning.

Draper introduced its first exterior shading systems at Greenbuild as well, introducing several lines of shades and louvers.

Omega Venetian Blinds are commercial blinds that can be used for interiors or exteriors. Available in widths up to 16' 1" and drops of 32' 1", these blinds are available in manual (for interiors) or motorized versions.

FlexLouver Rack Arm System can also be used on interior or exterior windows; these louvers open and close either by hand crank or motor, but they do not retract. They are available in widths up to 20' and drops of 20'.

FlexShade Zip System is an interior/exterior roller shade system. They insert into inside side rails and can withstand winds up to 90 mph. These are available in widths and drops up to 16.5'.

s_enn Shading System (no, that’s not a typo) is an exterior shade panel consisting of stainless steel rods, though it can also be rolled up like a roller shade; the s_onro Daylight Shutter System is a roller shade that uses aluminum fins and can open from the bottom up to provide privacy and daylighting.

Share Your Innovations

What did you notice at Greenbuild, or elsewhere? Post your observations below, or if you’re a manufacturer with a cool innovation to share, let us know about it through our GreenSpec website, where the products discussed in this article may appear after going through additional screening.

Brent Ehrlich, Alex Wilson, Tristan Roberts, Candace Pearson, and Paula Melton contributed to this article.




Comments (4)

1 Additional cool products posted by Jodi Smits Anderson on 01/06/2014 at 11:36 am

I found several products at Greenbuild that are new to me ar additionally developed from when last I saw them. Here's my short list. I provided links or contact resource if I had that information handy.

Loved the Bradley integrated sink with water, soap and hand dryer (Advocate model). ? cj.erickson@bradleycorp.com

Cool fire suppression technology – the “waterless water” with no ill effect on electronics (I put my i-phone right into the full glass). ? http://multimedia.3m.com/mws/mediawebserver?mwsId=66666UgxGCuNyXTtlxTcOX... ? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KDohVakqkic#t=352

Very interested in the non-PVC (Aquatherm) piping options that can be fused at the joints by melting. ? www.wea-inc.com

Clear-vu lighting – USA-made LED lighting for construction sites (as DASNY has used at SUNY Albany rehab projects, literally saving millions in energy costs) ? dlax@clear-vu.com ? (917) 494-1734

YouthBuild and their green goals – very good to see an introduction into the trades that is so powerful for emerging professional builders.

Tate In-Floor Active Chilled Beam -very cool (no pun intended) technology building on low flow low volume underfloor distribution. ? http://www.tateinc.com/products/infloor_chilled_beams.aspx

HPD information – great to see not only the info on the HPD process itself, but to see many products well-labelled on the floor that had available HPDs or C2C certifications. ? http://hpdcollaborative.org/about/

Phase Change materials – the building wrap with the integral salts… ? www.phasechange.com

The plastic underfloor radiant heating (plastics that transmit electricity). They could be nailed into without damaging the feed, etc! ? East Coast Warmfloor llc ? NOTE – I am concerned as subsequent advertizing e-mails from the company included garish greenwashing claims such as "our product is LEED certified". Bleh.

Furniture ? Shapes Desks http://moorecoinc.com/core/feature-sheets/500598dcbe214.pdf

Home Depot promoting their sustainability labels such as Water Sense, Energy Star and Eco-options.

I wanted the Tesla. Seriously.

2 Kingspan HPDs - ? posted by Peggy White on 01/06/2014 at 05:32 pm

Re the assertion that Kingspan has completed HPD(s): "....being one of the first to have completed environmental product declarations (EPDs) and health product declarations (HPDs). " - could you share those completed HPDs with us? I know they were part of the HPD Pilot Project, but I'm not aware that they ever completed one. Thanks!

3 Sidebar: ThermaWrap from DuPo posted by Richard Keleher on 01/27/2014 at 10:37 pm

We do not specify housewraps in our practice. We do a lot of window testing (for air and water leakage) and find that we are often getting water coming into the window area from the surrounding wall when the weather barrier is a housewrap. It seems to be from water gaining entry behind the housewrap at the nails for the siding. Unlike rubberized-asphalt self-adhered membranes, housewraps do not seal around those penetrations.

4 Kingspan HPD posted by Paula Melton on 01/28/2014 at 07:48 am

Peggy, this has been a problem with companies' HPD claims: they say they've done them, but they are hard to find (or nonexistent, more commonly) online. I believe there are multiple reasons for these delay, including the need for approval from the Legal Dept. You're right to call us out on the Kingspan thing since theirs doesn't appear to be online yet. However, they did the pilot, and I believe the holdup right now is that they are putting the result through third-party review. We'll try to be more clear in the future about whether the promised transparency documents are truly available to the public.

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December 30, 2013