September 6, 2006


by Jill Fehrenbacher

Green Building 101, Inhabitat, Design Innovation, LEED-H, LEED for Homes, Innovation in Design, OLED, Green Architecture, Sustainable Archiecture, green design, sustainable design

The Green Building 101 series has taken us inside the house and out, looking at site selection, water efficiency, day lighting, eco-power, and environmentally friendly materials. The final segment in our series will cover the last section of LEED for Homes, which is called “Innovative Design.” This somewhat mysterious section seems to be the catch-all area: created to allow new technologies that aren’t currently covered by the rest of LEED-H to earn points. With this in mind, we’d like to showcase some of the most promising innovations in sustainable design – the stuff that might qualify for LEED’s Innovative Design points. We proudly present, in no particular order, Inhabitat’s Top Ten Eco-Innovations

Green Grid roof, modular green roofing system, Green Building 101, Inhabitat, Design Innovation, LEED-H, Innovation in Design, OLED, Green Architecture, Sustainable Archiecture, green design, sustainable design

1.) Living Roofs and Facades

It’s no secret that Inhabitat loves green roofs, green walls, and just about any other building surface covered in living material. Green surfaces help with insulation, climate control, and retention of storm runoff. Fortunately, it’s easier than you might imagine to inject a little life onto the surfaces of your buildings. Modular systems like Green Grid roofs and other consumer products can be installed and maintained with little effort or know-how. In doing so, you increase your home’s efficiency and aesthetic value, as well as helping to decrease the urban heat island effect in your neighborhood from sun radiating off of infrastructural surfaces.


2.) Building Integrated Photovoltaic Technology (BIPV)

In the past, photovoltaic panels were most often added to a building as an exterior afterthought once the construction was finished. But with the development of Building Integrated Photovoltaic Technology (BIPVs), collecting solar energy can become an integral function of a building’s envelope. BIPVs can be used as façade, roofing materials like shingles, and can even be integrated into glass windows! Because they actually form the building’s envelope in addition to generating energy, they reduce material use and all of the environmental impacts associated with transporting and discarding excessive building material, in addition to the whole energy conservation thing. (note: we don’t necessarily back the tract home development scheme pictured above, but we love the image of ubiquitous photovoltaics, even in a suburban sea.)

philips simplicity LED lights

3.) Light-Emitting Diodes (LEDs)

Don’t let the size of these tiny wonders mislead you; it is their size that provides such incredible versatility. With a typical lifespan of twenty years, LEDs provide illumination for twice as long as fluorescent bulbs and more than twenty times longer than incandescents. Their light is emitted instantaneously –- unlike the flickering start-up time of fluorescents — and they give off almost no heat compared to their incandescent cousins. Most importantly, LEDs are super efficient, use very little electricity, and can often be run on batteries, which enables portability and use in remote off-grid areas. Among the recent innovations in LED technology we’ve seen recently, our favorites include Philips’ Simplicity LED light-bulbs and the LED Glass Table, as well as the Portable Light, which was developed for use in developing regions with insufficient infrastructure.

OLEDs, Organic Light Emitting Diodes, Green Building 101, Inhabitat, Design Innovation, LEED-H, Innovation in Design, OLED, Green Architecture, Sustainable Archiecture, green design, sustainable design
Graywayter Catchement, Metropolis Next Gen Competition

5.) Rain Collection and Grey Water Systems

Recycling and filtering water from sinks, showers, and washing machines can provide a typical household with fifty to one hundred (depending on the size of the house and daily use) gallons of water for outdoor irrigation systems and toilet flushing, significantly lowering water consumption. Similarly, rainwater collection systems (depending on the region) can supply a typical household’s entire water needs, including their potable water. Though not necessarily a new idea, rainwater collection design and technology have evolved lightyears recently, as proven by this year’s winner of Metropolis Magazine’s Next Generation 2006 Competition, the Hydro Wall, a concrete and thermoplastic wall system that combines rainwater catchment, storage, filtering and recycling to supply buildings with an efficient and renewable water supply.

Privacy glass, electrochromatic glass, Green Grid roof, modular green roofing system, Green Building 101, Inhabitat, Design Innovation, LEED-H, Innovation in Design, OLED, Green Architecture, Sustainable Archiecture, green design, sustainable design

6. Electrochromic Windows

Electrochromic windows are a new enough technology that their presto-chango properties still seem like magic. At the flip of a switch, electrochromic windows go from transparent to opaque, permitting privacy on demand while maximizing daylight the rest of the time. In short, the lightswitch transmits voltage across several layers of material that change their properties when the conduction takes place. Because they control the passage of both light and heat into a room, electrochromic windows serve as energy-saving devices in addition to making you seem uber-high tech. Some of the good ones can be found here.

DIY Kyoto Wattson

7.) Energy Monitoring Devices

Imagine if as many people counted the watts they consume in a day as count calories. Sometimes we just don’t understand our own consumption patterns until they’re spelled out for us. Thanks to a few clever designers with a mind for making conservation cool, the number of watts your house eats can be easily monitored. UK company DIY Kyoto launched from the idea that where greenhouse gas emissions are concerned, it’s up to each of us as individuals to make a marked reduction. Their Wattson sits in your house and gives digital readings of energy use, helping make conservation a no-brainer. The Swedish Interactive Institute has also been developing products around this idea with their Design for Increased Energy Awareness collection, which includes the widely blogged Re:Form Energy Curtain, a drapery that stores and emits solar power in woven photovoltaic textiles.

parans sunlight transport system

8.) Sunlight Transport

Most people assume that a room full of daylight can only be achieved where windows and skylights have plenty of sun exposure. Not so with sunlight transport systems. Using fiber optic cables, it’s now possible to make a windowless basement feel like a glass-encased penthouse (though there’s not much cure for the concrete and cobwebs). A number of different companies are pursuing this technology, which not only offers a more pleasant quality of indoor light, but has health benefits for people who must live and work in unlit spaces, and can be paired with solar panels to make it energy-smart and fossil fuel-free. Of the ones we’ve seen, we’ve been most impressed by Parans, Sunlight Direct and Luceplan.


9.) Structural Insulated Panels (SIPs)

Structural Insulated Panels allow builders to cut down on on-site construction time and reduce construction waste, all while providing an airtight envelope that reduces noise and as an insulation rating superior to generic stick or metal framing. Like creating a life-size livable gingerbread house, SIPS are strong enough for to be a structural wall, but light enough to be used as a roof. A fine example of SIPs put to use due to their simple construction was Sunset Magazine’s 2006 Idea House, which, after opening in the publication’s parking lot for a limited public showing, needed to be completely dismantled and put on a permanent foundation over a basement. SIPs also made an appearance when Sunset partnered with Michelle Kaufmann on her iconic prefab Glidehouse (above). Piece of cake.

Kalwall, Daylighting panels, Nanogel, Aerogel, Daylighting, energy efficient lighting,

10.) Insulated Daylighting Panels
As we raved about in our posts on lighting and new types of insulation, daylighting is good for everything: it saves energy, it provides a more pleasant quality of light than lamps, it increases productivity and is good for your health. Up until now, however, many people have been reticent to put too many windows or skylights in their house due to concerns over over-heating in the summer, and lack of insulation for keeping warm in the winter. After all, Phillip Johnson’s Glass House isn’t exactly a paragon of energy efficiency. (And we won’t even get into the privacy issues that come up with too much glass)

Fortunately now, with new technologies like translucent Aerogel insulation, you can use strong, well-insulated, translucent “daylighting” panels to build skylights, walls and entire roofs which will let natural light into your house during the day. Because they are translucent, they have the added value of letting light in while still protecting privacy. There are many companies currently making super-insulated daylighting panels, but the most well-known is probably Kalwall. Check them out here >

Come back next week for the finale of Green Building 101!


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Brittany Says:
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Hi! Loved this article - super interesting stuff and I hadn’t heard of 75% of it. I recently came across your site and hope to use it as a resource in the future for the company I work at - a professional development group for members of the environment sector.

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Nathan Says:
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I agree with the above. Its amazing the technology available now! I’d love to know more about the efforts getting Green building into practice for mainstream development

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Joyce Kelly Says:
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Great article though missing a few key facts in LED section.
1) They are not as efficient as fluorescents; their efficiency ranges somewhere between halogens and fluorescents.
2) They produce heat, though not quite as much as incnadescents.
3) No mercury waste and less waste in general over 20 years.
4) They are costly.

And design-wise, they’re effective for tight spaces and spaces with maintenance issues. Just don’t count on them for alot of lumen output per watt yet. Maybe in 5 years. In the meantime, think signalling, sparkle, color effects.

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Anthony Says:
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This just goes to show what can be accomplished. Obviously, there is a burning need for innovation across our entire societal landscape, but this “tip of the iceberg” is a nice cross section of efforts that are now ready for primetime. Another requirement, perhaps a larger requirement, is not technological though. One of the biggest challenges will be to get people to request and/or have communities require these types of resource saving innovations. As a long time night sky activist, I can tell you that many people simply don’t like change regardless of the issue at hand. Education (and lots of it) will be the key to transforming our wasteful society into an efficiency minded society.

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Kristin Carter Says:
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Can these articles be downloaded?

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We’re working on educating homeowners about green home options here at ecoLogical Home Ideas magazine ( There’s a lot of demand for information, as evidenced by feedback from our first few issues and at the Expos/Fairs we attend. Feel free to send green home info to me, especially on low-cost homes and products. That’s one of the strongest needs we find, and one of the hardest to fill - affordable green homes.

I love finding sources of info like this, can’t wait to explore the rest of your site!

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[...] GREEN BUILDING 101: DESIGN INNOVATIONInhabitat - Sep 6, 2006… In the past, photovoltaic panels were most often added to a building as an exterior afterthought once the construction was finished. … [...]

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Brandi Bosworth Says:
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Any recommended sites for building commercial green buildings — affordably?

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Tim Ruffo Says:
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the use of concrete instead of hot asphalt will reduce the heat island effect, concete can also contain recycled materials such as flyash and blast furnace slags that would otherwise be wasted. Pervious concrete will achieve the storm water reclaimation and ground water recharging.
Insulated Concrete Forms can be used to form walls that are energy efficient and cut down the use of lumber in a house. This is probably the best way to create the building envelope and provide for the best sustainability.

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brian Says:
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This is an amazing site. Lots of info.

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ewishki Says:
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Have you ever considered using infrared cameras to also pick up on heat emitted from devices. I am a home inspector and often see energy efficient bulbs that appear off in the camera where normal ones appear bright red because of the heat they emit. Here are a couple examples of fairly low cost thermal imagers

Those are some good examples with a lot of resources on what thermal imaging can do.

B Ewishki

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