Welcome to the inaugural EcoHome Editors’ Choice Awards, a program in which we honor green building products for their innovation, performance, and contribution to more efficient and healthier homes. There are many ways to measure the progress and maturity of green building in residential markets.
But whether you count the growing number of new and remodeled green-built homes, the expanded offering of housing types, the growing tally of builders who call themselves “green,” the increase of certification programs, or the surge of information flooding every sector, there’s no question that green building is a driving force in a struggling industry. It’s also impossible to miss the steady stream of products that debut every month as manufacturers make the transition with more sophisticated options for green building professionals.
A growing market like this spawns new products that give architects, builders, and remodelers more choices. This raises the quality and performance of their green homes, which in turn feeds the credibility and growth of the market. It’s a great cycle. While this green tide seems to have come ashore suddenly, it’s taken years for building products to reach this exciting new level.
Some categories like appliances, windows and doors, HVAC systems, insulation materials, and solar components have been improving for decades. Others that address building science solutions, indoor air quality, and resource efficiency are developing quickly and have become central to any green project. In some ways, we could award entire product categories for the changes they’ve undergone and the new performance levels they deliver.
That said, we chose 11 products for our first class of winners, ones that we feel stand out among the hundreds of new green building products we’ve seen this past year. —The Editors
Eleek Cast Metal Products
Eleek combines elegant design and craftsmanship with an exemplary commitment to sustainability in the products it makes and the way it makes them. The company’s philosophy and greening efforts are among the best we’ve seen; its shop and office run on renewable energy, it has reduced product packaging, and it even uses salvaged lumber to make patterns and recycled abrasives to smooth finished surfaces. In addition to beautiful cabinet hardware, Eleek designs and manufactures durable cast metal sinks and sophisticated lighting fixtures. All of the metal in the company’s products is either 100% post-consumer recycled aluminum or 90% recycled bronze, and the company is looking into ways to incorporate recycled glass into its lighting products. 503.232.5526. www.eleekinc.com.
Icestone Recycled Glass Countertops
Icestone doesn’t just talk the talk with its recycled glass countertops, it walks the walk from beginning to end. Currently the only durable surface to have achieved McDonough Braungart Design Chemistry’s Cradle to Cradle certification, VOC-free Icestone is made with 100% recycled glass in a cement matrix. To top it off, the surfaces are downright beautiful, available in an array of eye-catching color combinations for uses around the home. They are strong like granite and heat-resistant like stone, but are not as porous as marble, says the firm. The company’s environmental principles carry over to its office and factories with a laundry list of environmental and sustainability efforts on its résumé, including water management based on the Hannover Principles: Design for Sustainability, and the Water Principles of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, and stressing social responsibility in its mission statement. More than 80% of the company’s waste is recycled, recovered, or composted. 718.624.4900. www.icestone.biz.
Serious Materials Ultra-Efficient Windows
Window manufacturers just might have one of the toughest jobs in providing green building products: making large “energy holes” in walls more efficient. They’ve come a long way, but there’s still lots of room for improvement. Serious Materials, following a recent acquisition of Alpen Energy Group, has once again taken the effort a giant step forward with the introduction of ThermaProof windows, which boast full-frame R-values from 5 to 15, a significant jump from the R-2.5 to R-3 of a typical double-pane, low-E unit. The windows are made up of three efficient components: window glass with a layer of metal-sputtered Mylar that boosts center-of-glass R-values; a choice of a foamed PVC frame or a fiberglass frame with soy foam insulation; and an Eco Spacer that reduces heat loss at the edges. With this introduction, the company is also looking to shift industry-accepted efficiency language to full-frame, rather than center-of-glass, and to R-value, which they say is more familiar and under-standable, rather than U-value. 800.797.8159. www.seriousmaterials.com.
Bosch Evolution and Integra Dishwashers
The popularity of the Evolution SHE98 and Integra SHX98 dishwashers among green building circles can be explained in a single number: 147%. That’s how much these two models exceed the minimum federal energy standard, with a yearly usage of 190 kWh. The EcoSense soil-sensing feature customizes the wash cycle for additional energy and water savings. Cycle options include EcoAction, which can reduce energy use another 25%, along with Half Load, QuickWash, and Sanitize settings. On top of that, the dishwashers also are some of the quietest on the market, operating at 42 dB. 800.944.2904. www.boschappliances.com.
American Clay Spray Finishes
Durable, beautiful, and environmentally friendly finishes are easy for us to get behind. Now, with American Clay’s Enjarre, a zero-VOC, spray-on earth plaster, you can apply a plaster finish over drywall that looks like it’s layers deep. Enjarre blends clays, aggregates, and mineral pigments that can be applied and textured in a single pass to provide a hard, durable, mold-resistant, and natural-looking finish. Eight pre-tinted colors are available. 866.404.1634. www.americanclay.com.
HydroPoint Satellite-Linked Irrigation Controls
Using potable water to irrigate lawns and gardens is bad enough, but installing irrigation systems controlled by timers alone adds a level of waste that should be avoided. Common timers don’t know when it’s raining, and homeowners don’t always pick the best time of day to run their systems. So we have selected the WeatherTRAK ET for its innovative technology that gathers and delivers NOAA satellite downloads and weather station updates to site-located receivers, which can adjust irrigation scheduling to actual and changing weather conditions. The data delivered is accurate to within 1 square kilometer of the receiver and takes into account precipitation, humidity, solar radiation, and temperature. WeatherTRAK systems also can be programmed to account for variations in plant type, soil type, and site slope. This level of control results in water savings of 59% and runoff reductions of 71% over typical irrigation systems, according to EPA studies. 800.362.8774. www.weathertrak.com.
Huvco Fiber-Optic Skylight System
Anything that makes it easier for pros to incorporate natural light—a key component to any green home—gets our attention. Huvco’s fiber-optic system takes daylight to the darkest of places, illuminating interior rooms, closets, and bathrooms. Optical lenses on exterior-mounted solar panels capture sunlight, then channel it through thin, flexible, fiber-optic cables to interior rooms. Luminaires within the room recreate the feeling of sunlight. Also available are hybrid luminaires that combine daylight distribution with an electric light for times when the sun isn’t shining. According to the company, exchanging half a building’s electrical lighting for this system can lower energy costs 20% to 25% and greenhouse gas emissions 10% to 15%. 800.832.6116. www.huvco.com.
Dow SIS Insulated Structural Sheathing
Insulation and structure have been at odds in high-performance homes for years, giving pros the challenge of providing strength and efficiency while minimizing cost and extra labor. Dow’s Styrofoam SIS panel combines both functions in a structural foam sandwich that eliminates the need for bracing or shearwall panels on projects using foam exterior sheathing to beef up R-values. Three layers are pressure-laminated to produce the SIS panels in ½- (R-3) and 1-inch (R-5.5) thicknesses: a moisture-resistant blue foil outside face, polyisocyanurate foam core, and structural sheet. Builders can use ½-inch panels to sheathe entire exteriors or the 1-inch-thick panels as shear panels on corners to match up with 1-inch foam sheathing on the rest of the exterior. Joints between panels are sealed with Weathermate tape. SIS panels contain 80% post-consumer recycled content and are Energy Star rated. 866.583.2583. www.dow.com.
Grand Hall Eternal Hybrid Water Heating System
Eternal Hybrid water heating combines the benefits of a tank water heater and a tankless into one super-efficient unit. Rather than a single-pass heat exchange that Grand Hall says can waste heat, the Eternal Hybrid uses a multipass heat exchanger that drives heat downward and recycles it through 44 stainless steel pipes for maximum efficiency, the maker says; water spreads evenly around the pipes for fast heat absorption. Cold water flows upward to prevent sedimentation buildup. The firm says the counterflow technology allows for faster delivery for multiple applications at once versus a tankless. The unit is half the size of a 50-gallon tank model but provides 300% higher output. The Eternal Hybrid is 86% efficient and generates near-zero greenhouse gas emissions. 877.934.7455. www.eternalwaterheater.com.
Coolerado High-Performance Air Conditioner
Often mistaken as an evaporative cooler because of their high efficiency, Coolerado’s high-performance air conditioners rely on patented heat and mass exchangers that reject heat from buildings via evaporative cooling through channels and plates in each unit. The company’s residential model R600 achieves EER greater than 40, delivering 5 tons of cooling while drawing only 600 watts, according to its specs. That’s just one-fifth to one-tenth the amount of electricity used by typical air conditioners. And because Coolerado’s units deliver cooled, filtered, fresh air into the home at the ideal humidity level, occupant comfort level increases compared to traditional air conditioners that re-circulate the same dry air during operation. 303.375.0878. www.coolerado.com.
GridPoint Connect Integrated PV Energy Control and Management System
The advent of photovoltaic solar electric systems that connect and interact with grid power has opened up new categories of products to monitor, distribute, store, and control electrical supply and demand to and from solar-powered homes. Load centers, inverters, and distribution panels combine to link the solar collectors with the house loads and utility grid. And so far, backup battery systems only add to the complexity of a PV installation. So we are impressed with GridPoint’s Connect management system that combines these functions and more into a single integrated, versatile, and easy-to-install unit. Not only does GridPoint control and manage the PV power supply to the house and utility grid, it includes a battery backup system that automatically comes on line to power selected electrical appliances wired into a separate load panel. GridPoint Connect also can tap into an online interface and give information on energy consumption and backup power, and to select energy consumption preferences. 888.998.4743. www.gridpoint.com.