Green Building

Green Building Materials

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Green Building Materials
Windows Solar Tubes Fireplace LEDs Solar Attic Fans Paint Caulk Flooring Flooring Adhesive Composite Lumber Counter Tops Wallboard Insulation


Glass in energy-efficient windows can prevent 80% of sunlight from entering a home.

But units with vinyl frames are made with a toxic material. Choose frames made with aluminum, wood, or fiberglass as better options.

Solar Tubes

While these tubes do save energy compared to skylights, both tubes and skylights eliminate roof insulation, which increases heating and cooling costs.


If a fireplace is indoors, it should be sealed and have adequate combustion and ventilation air. However, no type of indoor combustion of ANY fuel (including ethanol replacement for wood and even candles) will release toxic particulates and gases.


Residential LEDs (light emitting diodes) have increased in quality and decreased in cost since the first ones were marketed in about 2009. Look for products that have good color quality (a Color Rendering Index of 90 or above). And if you use LEDs in enclosed fixtures (with little exposure to air) or in dimmers, make sure the product is rated for these uses. Otherwise, they may not last very long.

Solar Attic Fans

In the vast majority of cases, ceiling insulation and weatherization are more effective than solar attic fans.


Hazardous chemicals in paint include Volatile Organic Compounds, biocides, antifreeze, and alkylphenol ethoxylates (surfactants that are acutely toxic endocrine disruptors that bioaccunulate in the food chain).


Some ingredients in caulking can be extremely toxic. They include solvents, phthalate plasticizers, and isocyantes.

Though every product is different and Safety Data Sheets should be reviewed, plant- and acrylic-based caulks are the safest classes of products. Polyurethane is the most toxic class of caulk.


Carpet and vinyl can contain toxic petrochemicals, Teflon stain resisters, coal ash filler, flame retardants, and antimicrobials. Together they make up more than 2/3 of flooring sold in the U.S. Carpet is also difficult to clean, and sometimes uses toxic solvents to do so.

The best flooring for the environment and indoor air quality is usually smooth (non-fibrous), and made from non-toxic plant or ceramic materials such as wood, natural linoleum, cork, tile, or stone.

Flooring Adhesive

Actually, the safest floor mount is the one without chemicals. Nails, carpet tacks, and "Floating floors" that use shoe moulding to hold the floor in place are environmentally preferable to chemical adhesives. Peel-and-stick strips are also a good choice since most of their toxic offgassing takes place when they are manufactured.

If using chemicals, plant- and acrylic-based adhesives are the safest class. Polyurethane and epoxy are the more dangerous classes.

Composite Lumber

Composite, non-structural, wood is used in the manufacture of cabinets, countertops, doors, floor underlayment, flooring, furniture, moldings, and shelving. These products can emit formaldehyde.

Products with fewer emissions are either made of solid wood (as opposed to fiberboard or particle board) or are manufactured with no added formaldehyde and employ soybean oil-based resins.

Counter Tops

• If you choose stone, granite and quartzite are extremely hard and durable. But avoid using toxic Teflon-based sealants.

• If you choose tile, avoid products that might have lead-based pigments the glazing.

• If you choose laminate, it is best to buy it premanufactured, because onsite installation can increase VOC emissions found in the adhesives.

• Avoid counter materials treated with antimicrobial chemicals, which generally more harmful than beneficial to health and the environment.

• And poor quality products (that are not easily repairable) of any kind need replacement or refurbishment; such construction creates a different kind of indoor air quality problem.


Gypsum wallboard can often contain "recycled gypsum" from coal ash, with toxic minerals and heavy metals such as arsenic, cadmium, lead, and mercury. These toxins can be exposed to workers installing the product, and can get into house dust until installation clean-up occurs. When building or remodeling, use as little recycled gypsum as possible.


Insulation can affect the indoor or outdoor environment even if it is wall-off in the building's shell. Though formaldehyde has been removed from many fiberglass and rockwool products, some fiberglass ductboard and rockwool batt products still may contain this chemical, which can offgas Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) into a home. Make sure to consult the Safety Data Sheets. Spray foam insulation that is not properly installed can also offgas VOCs into a home, including formaldehyde and asthmagens.

Foam board insulation can contain toxic fire retardants and pesticides that can leach into the outdoor environment.

Austin Energy Green Building

Austin Energy Green Building developed the world’s first rating system for evaluating the sustainability of buildings.  It created a model for many other cities, as well as direction for the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED® certification system.  The rating system, begun in 1991, encourages energy efficiency, water quality and conservation, indoor air quality, waste reduction and recovery, and site development in a holistic package.  It created a model for many other cities, as well as direction for the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED® certification system.  

The rating system received recognition from the United Nations in 1992 and 2011. Rated buildings now include over 15,400 single family homes, 26,500 multifamily units, and over 30 million square feet of commercial space including over 9,000 high-rise residential units. 

By 2019, 28 Years of Green Building and Energy Code equaled: 

  • Greenhouse Gas emission reduction of over 192,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent;
  • 477,000 megawatt-hours (MWh) saved annually – the average yearly electrical use of over 45,000 Austin homes;
  • 614 million gallons saved annually – the average yearly water use of over 9,000 Austin homes; and
  • One-time construction waste diversion of 402,000 tons – the yearly trash collection of over 623,000 Austin homes.

Some of these stories focus on our more recent leading-edge initiatives. Others are written to help new home buyers as well as builders better understand sustainable building concepts and products.

Austin’s Zero Energy Duplexes

The dedication of four duplexes in the Guadalupe-Saldana Net  Zero Subdivision in 2013 marked an important step on the road to development of net zero energy residences in Austin.  “Net zero” is a term used to describe a home so energy-efficient that renewable energy can offset all or most of its annual energy use.   Have all the units achieved the goal?  Some have done so by a modest margin, while others have missed the target.  Over the 22 months since residents moved in, net monthly energy use averaged 54 kilowatt hours per dwelling unit. Energy use is greatly influenced by occupants’ lifestyles, habits and awareness.

Built for Durability

It can be difficult to think about long-term durability when building a new home. Every material seems durable at that time.  But what would happen if you left each material outside, exposed to the sun, rain, high winds and other elements over years or decades?  The reality is that new, apparently durable materials can still be damaged if they’re not installed properly or protected adequately.  This article describes the most common durability mistakes in residential construction, their causes, and how to avoid them.

Myth-Busting: Windows, Attic Fans, and Solar Tubes

Common misconceptions about modern products can lead to misuse, overuse, or non-use. This article delivers the facts people need to consider when building or remodeling a home regarding windows, attic fans, solar tubes, and skylights.

Myth-Busting: LEDs, Fireplaces, and Spray Foam Insulation

The second in a series, this story looks into common misconceptions about light emitting diodes (LEDs), fireplaces and their affect on indoor air qualtiy, and spray foam insulation.

Green for Good

It is no coincidence that during the fall of 2015, 100% of the active nonprofit projects on Austin Energy Greenbuilding’s commercial ratings docket voluntarily chose to build green.  Green building is especially attractive to nonprofits, both those building their own facilities and those whose mission is providing affordable housing for low-income residents.  Here are some of the incentives and benefits.

Cool House Tours

The Cool House Tour is an annual self-guided tour produced by Austin Energy Green Building (AEGB) and Texas Solar Energy Society (TXSES) since 1997. The Tour showcases houses designed and built to superior standards of energy efficiency, comfort and regional design, and all tour homes are AEGB-rated for sustainability.  Many incorporate solar technologies. Tour guidebooks from over the years show how the tour has moved beyond listing the home’s green features to telling the story of how the homeowners create and live in a sustainable home. 

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