It’s all in the Details: Designing for Passive House & Accessibility Compliance

The number of multifamily residential projects targeting Passive House certification has been rising steadily over the past several years, bringing along many exciting challenges. This has been especially prevalent in New York City, where increasingly stringent energy standards and a desire for innovation have made designing to Passive House standards an attractive goal. As the number of these projects passing through our office continues to grow, we have discovered some important overlaps with one of our other consulting services – Accessibility Compliance.

In the United States, multifamily new construction projects consisting of four or more dwelling units are subject to the Fair Housing Act, as well as state, city, and local accessibility laws and codes. For the purposes of this blog we will focus on projects in NYC, although the majority of newly constructed residential projects across the country will be subject to some variation of the criteria discussed below, for both Passive House and Accessibility standards. With this in mind, we have chosen a couple of common problem areas that require particularly close attention. Read more

From Cradle to Cradle: Understanding Sustainable Supply Chain

Many green building programs put a heavy emphasis on not only the sustainability of a building once it is built, but increasingly so on the sourcing and management of building materials in an environmentally responsible way. Sustainable Supply Chain (SSC), sometimes referred to as “cradle-to-cradle,” is the standard term to reference this process. But, what does it mean?

Circular Sustainable Supply Chain

Circular Sustainable Supply Chain Image via https://www.cerasis.com

What is a Sustainable Supply Chain?

SSC embodies a cyclical approach to manufacturing that considers both the recovery and reuse of materials. This supply chain’s reverse logistics strives to continually sustain itself by returning materials to the land in either a safe molecular form or by continually reusing those materials for future products. Fully developed SSC’s consider sustainability for every contributor at every step – from design to manufacture, transportation, and storage to eventual end-of-life with a goal of re-use, recycling, or low impact disposal. This forward-thinking perspective serves to reduce waste, promote ethical and socially beneficial manufacturing practices, minimize or eliminate adverse health impacts, and enable compliance with increasingly stringent regulations. Read more

Tech Notes: Accessibility of Luxury Amenities

Bathtubs for Pets® Model ADA60HGTY

As the development of luxury multifamily housing in primarily urban areas continues to rise, SWA’s team of accessibility consultants has been encountering more and more specialty rooms and features that bring accessibility into question. Wine cellars, yoga and meditation rooms, and even clothing vaults (fur coat, anyone?) are all making their way onto the scene as luxury amenities available for residents of high-end real estate. While current accessibility laws and codes remain silent on many of these types of spaces specifically, they are not exempt from accessibility requirements.

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Transformers: Problems in Disguise

Sometimes a significant source of energy inefficiency in a building can be hiding in a place difficult to detect. In some buildings, a single transformer can have a substantial impact on electrical consumption.

Image of currents flowing through a transformer

click to enlarge

Some Background

Transformers are responsible for stepping the incoming voltage to a building up or down depending on the design, intended use, or connected equipment.  A standard electrical socket in a US home or office will deliver 110-120 volts AC. Some appliances require 240 V instead. Large mechanical equipment, such as the air handling units, distribution pumps and chillers found in commercial or multifamily buildings may require 460 V. In buildings where the incoming voltage from the utility does not match the voltage required by connected equipment, a transformer is used to deliver the necessary voltage.  The voltage entering the transformer is called the primary voltage and the voltage delivered by the transformer to the facility’s equipment is called the secondary voltage.

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Harvey and Irma: Hurricanes, Floods, and the Days After

They call it hurricane season. That time of year when tropical depressions form off the west coast of Africa somewhere north of the equator. The rotation of the earth and the prevailing winds cause these low-pressure pockets to migrate slowly westward, and if conditions are apt, pick up strength along the way.

As deadly and destructive as hurricane winds are, it is typically the associated water that causes the most physical damage: horizontal rain at 100 mph overwhelming already stressed buildings, prolonged periods of heavy rain inundating drainage infrastructure, and coastal storm surges pushing tidal waters many feet above normal.

Hurricane Irma

Hurricane Irma, a record Category 5 storm, is seen in this NOAA National Weather Service National Hurricane Center image from GOES-16 satellite taken on September 5, 2017. Courtesy NOAA National Weather Service National Hurricane Center/Handout via REUTERS

As of this writing Hurricane Irma is just north of Puerto Rico with Category 5, 185 mph winds. And Harvey, a rain event lasting days and dumping up to 50 inches of rain ravaged Texas and Louisiana one week ago. Because of where and how we chose to build our communities, these disaster events will remain inevitable. There are concrete steps we can and should take to improve the resiliency and disaster resistance of the buildings we build, but in reality, much of what we built in the past is disaster prone and not resilient. Read more