Top 10 Green Building Products for a Changing Climate

Top 10 Green Building Products for a Changing Climate

Winter 2020 | Written by Calvin Hennick

For the past 18 years, experts from BuildingGreen, a network source on healthy and sustainable design and construction strategies, have been issuing top 10 lists to highlight new and innovative building materials. One year, the list focused on products that would help design and construction teams to achieve LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) points. Another year, experts highlighted solutions that would reduce water use.

For this year’s list, BuildingGreen is shining a spotlight on products that address climate change—both through mitigation and adaptation.

“We’re looking for innovative products that solve problems,” says Brent Ehrlich, product and materials specialist for BuildingGreen. “These are products that fundamentally change the way we build our buildings.”


ThinGlass Triple and ThinGlass Quad

ThinGlass windows from Alpen use 1-mm interior panes, creating a high-performance window with a thinner and lighter profile. BuildingGreen notes that the product has “enormous potential” for retrofits and upgrades of historic structures, and that the windows are available for both the residential and commercial markets.

“Many triple- or quad-paned windows can be super thick,” says Ehrlich. “We’re talking three inches. Imagine you’re working on a preexisting building, and you need to retrofit. If you have to put one of these thick triple panes in there, you have to redo that entire window. But with Alpen ThinGlass, you can get the performance of a triple pane that will fit into a double-pane space.”


Medium Density Fiberboard (MDF)

CalPlant uses rice straw to manufacture medium-density fiberboard (MDF) and high-density fiberboard (HDF)—a development that Ehrlich calls “very exciting.”

Decades ago, rice farmers in California burned off rice straw after the harvest, releasing carbon into the atmosphere. After California banned that practice in 1991, rice growers began intentionally flooding their fields after the harvest to speed up decomposition of the rice straw. This not only wasted massive amounts of water (a valuable resource in the Central California agricultural region), but the decomposition process also resulted in the release of methane, a greenhouse gas.

By using rice straw, BuildingGreen notes, CalPlant is saving water and preventing greenhouse gas emissions. CalPlant has the ability to process 300,000 tons of rice straw per year, drawing on farms within a 15- to 25-mile radius of the processing facility. The move is expected to save local farmers up to $20 million per year, while also creating hundreds of new jobs.


Electric Vehicle Charging Network

“Replacing vehicles powered by fossil fuels with electric vehicles (EV) is critical for reducing our carbon output,” BuildingGreen notes in its explanation of why it chose the ChargePoint Electric Vehicle Charging Network for its top 10 list. “ChargePoint offers electric vehicle charging systems that are engineered to accommodate a variety of EVs, using software to optimize the experience.”

Some chargers from ChargePoint are best suited for commercial or multifamily buildings (where faster charging rates are not usually necessary), while others can charge at up to 100 to 250 miles of range per hour (RPH). Also, software from ChargePoint monitors charging station performance, shows station availability and tracks greenhouse gas emissions.


CL-Talon 300

This wall cladding system incorporates thermal breaks, significantly increasing the insulating capability of the product. It also features an innovative framework that speeds installation. “The base track includes measurement lines to help ensure the Therme Clips are installed at the same place along the wall, and a level system ensures the tracks are truly vertical,” BuildingGreen notes.

CL-Talon has connectors for fiber cement, limestone, granite, Alumawood, Innowood, Trespa, brick, aluminum composites, Boston Valley Terra Cotta and other cladding options.

Duracryl International

Corques Liquid Lino

This liquid linoleum product has been available in Europe for some time, and Ehrlich predicts that it will quickly make inroads in the United States. “This is one of those products where I wouldn’t be surprised if it gobbles up the market,” Ehrlich says. “Linoleum has been around forever.”

Corques Liquid Lino uses the same natural ingredients found in standard linoleum in a fluid-applied form that takes less energy to produce and less time to install. Corques Liquid Lino comes in 5-gallon buckets and is mixed on-site.

The product has the consistency of thick paint, and it self-levels after installers pour, trowel and roll it onto the floor. It cures overnight at room temperature, resulting in a significantly smaller carbon footprint. The product also creates less waste than standard linoleum, since it doesn’t require trimming.

“These folks can create a seamless floor with a natural material,” Ehrlich says. “It’s a market differentiator.”

EP Henry

ECO Bristol Stone with Solidia

These pavers are the first commercially available products made from Solidia cement.

“The difference with Solidia is that it cures entirely through carbonation. During its curing process, it absorbs the CO2 back. That’s how it cures and forms. You’re getting a much better carbon footprint, and it’s using much less water.”

Hanging Gardens

Smart Blue Roof Stormwater Systems

BuildingGreen chose Hanging Gardens Smart Blue Roof Stormwater Systems for this year’s top 10 list in part because a warming climate can result in increased precipitation and flooding problems, and this solution helps buildings to better harness and collect rainwater.

The system incorporates smart drains that use sensors and weather data to monitor and adjust the amount of stormwater held on a building’s roof. While a standard passive blue roof system can capture rainwater, Hanging Gardens’ systems can release or retain the water based on local conditions and stormwater capacity. This prevents water treatment facilities from being overwhelmed—in turn preventing scenarios where wastewater is dumped into the watershed. Also, when conditions are dry, the system can automatically supply a green roof of irrigation systems with water, or feed into graywater systems.

Johnson controls

YORK YZ Magnetic Bearing Centrifugal Chiller

BuildingGreen notes that the YORK YZ Magnetic Bearing Centrifugal Chiller uses energy-efficient, low-maintenance magnetic levitation bearings technology, but the big leap forward is that this is the first commercial chiller to be optimized for a next-generation refrigerant with a global warming potential (GPW) of 1.

Other refrigerants, Ehrlich points out, have a GPW of up to 1,400—meaning that they have 1,400 times the impact of carbon dioxide on global warming if they leak. “If that refrigerant escapes into the atmosphere, you lose all of the benefits,” he says. “A 10% leak can basically negate the positive impact of an efficient system.”

The refrigerant R-1233zd(E) has roughly the same impact on climate change as carbon dioxide, meaning that even a large leak will have little impact. However, one refrigerant can’t easily be swapped out for another; the fact that this system was designed specifically for the next-generation refrigerant makes it far more efficient.

R-50 Insulation Systems


By enclosing vacuum insulation in a protective layer, BuildingGreen notes, this product “pushes the limits of thermal insulation”—achieving R-50 with a panel that is just 1.5 inches thick. The R-50 Insulation Systems Rich-E-Board uses vacuum insulation sandwiched between a coated, fiberglass-matted, high-density polyisocyanurate (polyiso) insulation—creating a performance level eight to nine times that of standard rigid foam insulation.

This product is a good fit for roofs, where punctures are unlikely, and where adding thicker insulation might require expensive alterations to maintain building aesthetics.


Sheetrock Brand EcoSmart Panels

There are few building products more ubiquitous than standard gypsum wallboard (or “drywall”). Because of how pervasive the material is, and the sheer quantities that go into new and renovated buildings each year, even a small improvement in the product can result in massive environmental gains. “Using EcoSmart as a drop-in replacement can reduce a building’s embodied carbon without requiring any other changes to the building,” BuildingGreen notes.

EcoSmart drywall panels require less water to make and are lighter than standard drywall, meaning they require less energy to dry and less fuel to ship. Two million square feet of EcoSmart panels for a large project would generate 121 fewer tons of CO2 and use 137,000 fewer gallons of water during manufacturing than standard drywall, according to USG.

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