Posted in education on November 6, 2017 2:36 pm EST

The Top Sustainable Building Products of 2017

From use in building structures to overall building performance, sustainable products see year-long growth in the worship sector, according to project-active church architects. A Church Designer exclusive report.

A green roof is part of the First Unitarian Society of Madison's Frank Lloyd Wright-designed National Historic Landmark Meeting House addition in Madison, Wis. Image courtesy of The Kubala Washatko Architects Inc. (TKWA) of Cedarburg, Wis.











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TAGS: architecture, building materials, materials, sustainability,


By Erica Cottrill

Sustainable building concepts extend beyond the walls of structures and include a myriad products that have a dramatic impact on our environment. Why are they so important? The design and construction of the buildings in which we worship, live and work are responsible for the consumption of our natural resources. Although sustainable design has become mainstream, there are materials and products that continue to become relevant. From cooling roofs to efficient lighting to cement alternatives, sustainable building trends have continued to make their mark throughout 2017.

According to Chip Lindeke, architect and principal of Rafferty Rafferty Tollefson Lindeke Architects in St. Paul, Minn., churches in particular, with a lack of staff and financial support, need sustainable materials more than ever. Architects overall note that client demand and regulations drive the need for energy-efficient, eco-friendly and sustainable buildings and materials.

Walls & Windows

“When designing sustainable buildings,” says Lindeke, “it’s just common sense to create structures that will last a long time, say 50 or 70 years or more, with durable materials such as stone, brick or precast concrete. A well insulated building – which is sealed tight with smart windows that are triple glazed and tightly sealed doors – saves dramatically on energy.”

Specifically, Lindeke adds, window and door systems with thermal breaks, a continuous barrier between the inside and outside of the window or door unit that limits conductive thermal movement, helps to improve a building’s performance.

The newest energy code has really challenged the traditional exterior wall assembly in its requirement of continuous insulation, notes Mindy Wilkinson Mechlem of Studio Red Architects in Houston. “The SmartciSystem/Green Girl allows designers to meet the requirement of continuous insulation, is flexible in terms of the building system it can be used with, and is environmentally friendly.”

SmartciSystem's website describes the system this way, "Smartci is a continuous insulation system that can dramatically reduce the cost to heat and cool a building, plus it meets ASHRAE 90.1-2013 and ASHRAE 160-2009 code. It can assist in LEED certification and utilizes green building technology, so it’s environmentally friendly, [as well]. The system is made up of thermally insulated sub-girts, insulation, universal cladding attachments and an engineered installation package."

Richlite resin paper samples; images courtesy of Richlite.

Lindeke notes one of the newest top sustainable materials in his book is an FSC- and Greenguard-certified resin-infused paper panel product called Richlite. The recycled paper goes on the exterior finish of buildings and is 100% sustainable. Its surface texture comes from the natural variation in the way fibers lay within paper. Richlite is a choice material for architects and designers because in addition to its durability and versatility, it is highly green-friendly.

LED Lighting

Justin Hames, an engineer for the Wave Group in Harrisburg, N.C., a worship and studio production company, believes LED lighting is one of the top products for 2017. “Now we can use a houselight, like the Chroma-Q Inspire which operates at 100w and provides the ability to paint the entire auditorium in color. Six years ago we used a 500w incandescent lamp that put off as much heat as it did light,” he notes.

“When it comes to LED, a product like the ETC ColorSource Spot or S4WRD fixture is an effective front light for stage,” Hames adds.

ETC ColorSource spots; image courtesy of Electronic Theatre Controls (ETC).

“These are now operating at around 140w where even two years ago the closest equivalent was a 575w lamp.  So we have been able in our designs to drastically decrease the number of electrical circuits required for lighting a stage, reduce the power service needed into the building, and also minimize the load on the mechanical systems which in itself creates a multitude of savings.”

Remote-Control Breaker Panels

For Hames, another top contender for 2017 is the use of remotely operated breaker panels. “We have used the Lyntec RPC panels or the ETC IQ panels, which allow the operators to remotely turn off circuits and power off equipment that may be difficult to reach,” says Hames. 

"Its most common application is moving lights rigged over a stage, even when the lamp is off and the fixture is running. Cooling fans and motors are generating heat and consuming power. But being suspended in the air makes it difficult to power off; having remotely operated panels allows the tech team to completely power down the systems during the week which lengthens the lifespan of the devices," Hames reports.

Smart Glass

Smart Glass is a game changer with huge implications for the future of architecture by transforming from transparent to translucent when voltage, light or heat is applied to its surface, says James Theimer, architect and founder of Trilogy Architecture. “If our client wants a view window that faces directly into a harsh summer sun, we are no longer stuck for a solution."

"When it comes to sustainability, green is the new black. Green equals good for the planet to most buyers of building products.... Architects can help separate the real from the fake [green products]."

—James Theimer, Architect and Founder, Trilogy Architecture, Redding, CA

Smartglass, image courtesy of Smartglass International.

Theimer adds, “One of my top products for sustainability is ceiling and wall batt insulation. It is the single best investment for improving building envelope efficiency with minimal cost, and is the first thing we recommend to our clients when they ask about sustainability.” 

Theimer’s picks also includes rainscreen wall cladding. “It’s ideal for maximizing the energy efficiency of a building. Economical wall systems have improved dramatically in the last few years, and they also serve to offer more protection from the weather than traditional wall cladding such as wood and stucco siding.”   


“For years, photo-voltaic panels were always the last thing I would recommend for sustainability because they weren’t affordable,” Theimer notes. “In 2017 that is no longer true. The cost is so much lower, and the efficiency so much higher, that today, this is the second thing I recommend to my clients – after good insulation.”

Theimer adds, "When it comes to sustainability, green is the new black. Green equals good for the planet to most buyers of building products, so naturally, every building product these days is touted as green. Except it’s not always true. Architects can help separate the real from the fake for their clients, and it’s our responsibility to do so.”





Learn more about the companies in this story:





The Kubala Washatko Architects Inc. (TKWA)


Rafferty Rafferty Tollefson Lindeke Architects Inc. (RRTL)


Trilogy Architecture




Smartglass International Ltd.


Smartci Systems





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