Finishes and Indoor Air Quality at the Bullitt Center

Posted by Nina Smith-Gardiner, AIA, LEED AP on Thu, Dec 05, 2013 at 12:10 AM

© Benjamin Benschneider

© Benjamin Benschneider

In selecting the finishes for the Bullitt Center, two issues were foremost arbitrators:  the Living Building Challenge materials Red List and the VOC content of finish products, according to Joe David of Point 32, who worked with the integrated design team on product selection.  Since the Living Building Challenge (LBC) requires indoor air testing for VOC’s, Joe took it upon himself to select materials that meet standards for both priorities.  While the third floor was still a finished shell, complex tests were undertaken to assess the indoor air quality of the space.  Preliminary test results show that the indoor air quality is excellent.  Using this data as a baseline, further tests will be performed to analyze the indoor air quality over time.  Nine months after the building’s opening, the LBC will test all floor levels.  Those results will be analyzed with the previous tests to see how the VOC thresholds compare over time.  The LBC Materials Review must wait until the third floor is tenanted.

The exciting news is that the complete “As Built” list of materials is available to the public now.  All the hours Joe spent researching materials for the building is being shared, in keeping with the Bullitt Foundation’s goal of promoting and fostering a new way to think about the built environment.

In this blog post I will take you through the finishes used throughout the building.  It is a short list, relatively speaking, since one of the goals of the building was to limit finishes and have the structure itself serve as the finished surface.

(C) Nic Lehoux

(C) Nic Lehoux

WOOD:  The team selected Rubio Monocoat to seal the dimensional lumber, glulams, and staircase treads.  This is a two part product with 0% VOC. Where more durability was required, AFM Safecoat was used on kitchen cabinets.  This product provides a higher sheen, is more durable, has a low VOC, and passed the Red List requirements.

CONCRETE:  The concrete floors are sealed with Consolideck, a sealer made by Prosoco.

PAINT:  The Bullitt Center team established a building standard for paint.  The primer and paint used is Acro Pure by Miller Paint.  This paint is Red List compliant as well as having a very low VOC content.  For the exposed steel structure in the interior spaces, Sher-Cryl by Sherwin-Williams was used.  There were not many options to choose from since this paint had to go over an intumescent fire-proofing paint applied to the steel.  This product is more of an exterior grade paint and has a higher VOC content.

KITCHEN:  The casework in the kitchen is made with a product called PureBond, a truly formaldehyde-free line made with FSC-Certified wood from Columbia Forest Products.  The counters, Trinity Glass made by Squak Mountain Stone, are an aggregate concrete product.  These super-green countertops are Red List compliant, use low-carbon cement, have no VOC issue, and are locally made.  The faucets in the kitchen are an extension of the lead-free plumbing in the building.  All faucets and fixtures are lead free.  Thanks to the California and Vermont lead-free law there are now many options to choose from.  The fixtures selected are the ECAST line from Chicago Faucets.  Code requires the building to have a hydration station as well as a sink faucet.  A short bar faucet was selected because there was no available lead-free option for the hydration fixture.  The sink itself is stainless steel.  For appliances the strategy was to look for the most energy efficient options at a reasonable price.  The refrigerator is a Frigidaire.  The Bosch dishwasher was selected primarily because it offered very low water usage and was energy efficient.  A GE Profile microwave was selected based on the energy draw.  As mentioned earlier, the cabinets were finished with AFM Safecoat.

CARPET:  The LBC requires that all carpet meet the Red List requirements.  The carpet also must be made domestically under the LBC radius scheme of sourcing materials responsibly.  The only carpet that the team could find that met both criteria was manufactured by Patcraft.  Most other carpets are made with PVC in the backing.  A competitor, Interface, makes a carpet in Europe that is PVC free.  If the carpet tiles are pre-used then Interface carpet works under the LBC.  The office space of the Integrated Design Lab on Level 2 uses this product in their office.

FURNITURE:  The LBC doesn’t review furniture so this becomes an area where the building owner can set some parameters.  The Bullitt Center decided to set some reasonable guidelines on what sort of furniture would be appropriate for the interior.  The suggestions are that the furniture contain no Red List materials and that it meets CARB Phase 2 standards.  CARB stands for the California Air Resources Board, which has set a threshold for formaldehyde emissions from furniture.  Greenguard Certification from UL Environment is also an acceptable standard.  Another option is selecting used furniture.  The work stations on Level 4 are Red List free and contain only a small amount of formaldehyde in the laminate of the desktops.  To make it easier for prospective tenants, the Bullitt Center team worked with various furniture manufacturers to identify three furniture lines that are Red List free and contain limited amounts of VOC.  These three manufacturers – Herman Miller, Watson, and Teknion – each put together a test fit for the floor plans at the Bullitt Center that meets the LBC requirements.  This way a prospective tenant can see what furniture has already been vetted and how it will work in the space.

DOORS:  Hollow metal doors were used throughout the building.  Although initially painted wood doors were planned, the complication of locating, matching, and finishing salvaged doors or trying to adhere an FSC Certified veneer onto a salvaged door was deemed too complicated and not worth the effort.

BATHROOMS:  The tile in the bathrooms is from Daltile, a ceramic product.  The material in the grouts was vetted.  The fixtures are ECAST fixtures from Chicago Faucet.  The bathroom partitions were not as straight forward a call as you might imagine.  Some options had formaldehyde issues or a foam core with flame retardant.  One viable option was high density polyethylene (HDPE, used in the ground source well loops and the graywater tanks) which is LBC compliant.  But when used for smooth surfaces, it scratches easily and didn’t have the right aesthetic.  So the final solution was using FSC certified wood panels painted with a robust exterior grade hard enamel paint.

ELEVATORS:  Carpet is pre-used Interface carpet tiles.  Rather than using the typical composite finish panels, the elevator interior has stainless steel panels.

A great deal of effort went into using carefully selected interior finishes.  Preliminary indoor air quality tests suggest that the effort was a success.  Future indoor air quality tests will give new data points for the continued high quality of the interior environment.  After all the effort monitoring every single building material used on site, it only makes sense to be just as careful selecting the final finishes and the furniture brought into the space by tenants.