The Bullitt Center in Seattle, Washington, is one of the most self-sufficient buildings on the planet. It is net zero energy and, after the water reuse system is approved by city authorities, net zero water. Net zero means that the building uses the same amount as it creates or generates – it is self-sufficient. In a series of posts here on GBE, we will look at what makes this building tick.
Healthy Green Materials
The Living Building Challenge requires projects to avoid as many of the chemicals and substances that are found on the Red List as possible. These substances have been recognized by government agencies, such as the US Environmental Protection Agency, the European Union Commission, and the State of California, as potentially harmful to human or animal life on Earth. Not all of the substances can be avoided, though, due to the lack of availability of materials that do not contain them.
The Bullitt Center team avoided over 360 known chemicals on this list. Some were easy to avoid, as alternatives were readily available. The team also worked with suppliers to create products that met their requirements, changing the way the products were made and making them available to others.
- Most plumbing valves, even those made of brass and bronze, contain up to 7% lead. Lead free valves, with an allowable lead content of only 0.25%, were used in both the potable and non-potable water systems, including fire sprinklers.
- Phthalates are commonly used in PVC and other plastic products. A high-performance water barrier company performed 6 months of research to develop a product that did not contain phthalates, just for the Bullitt Center project. The new product has now replaced the original version going forward.
- Dioxins are a by-product of the manufacture, combustion, and disposal of products containing chlorine, most notably PVC products. Couplings for no-hub ductile iron pipe are commonly made with neoprene, which contains chlorine. The team worked with the manufacturer to special order couplings made of EPDM (ethylene propylene diene monomer) rubber.
- The electrician was able to find electrical wire not coated in PVC that met code standards.
- The fiberglass insulation in the project is held together by a plant-based polymer, not the usual one that contains formaldehyde.
The Bullitt Center is a wood-framed structure. Because of its location and the importance of the timber industry in the Pacific Northwest, the project team decided this was the best choice for the project. 100% of the lumber in the building has been harvested from an Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified source. The project was also recognized as the only commercial project to receive the Forest Stewardship Council Project Certification, in recognition of responsible forest products use throughout the building.
Perhaps the greatest story about green materials and the Bullitt Center involves the curtain wall (window) system. Due to the high performance needs of the project, only one product could be used, and it was only manufactured in Europe. A Washington company partnered with the European manufacturer to gain the knowledge to manufacture and install the system in the US. The Washington company flew their employees over to find out how to make and install the system, and a licensing agreement was reached. Now this high performance system is available in the US for future projects to use.
The Bullitt Center team worked with contractors and suppliers to provide green materials throughout the building, some of which were not available before this project. The team changed the future of green building by asking questions and challenging the status quo.