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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

Moderate Rehabs in Pre-War Buildings: Practical Limits to Hydronic Building Energy Savings

Written by Bryan Simpson, Mechanical Engineer

New York City has established high goals for CO2 reductions as part of the 80 x 50 plan enacted under Mayor de Blasio’s administration. In short, NYC aims to reduce its CO2 production by at least 80% by 2050 (from a 2005 baseline). This requires vast energy conservation and renewable energy production proliferation across the city’s energy, transportation, waste management, and building sectors. Buildings themselves account for 68% of current CO2 production in the City, and as such have the largest reduction targets1. Goals can only be met by implementing repeatable and scalable scopes of work in coordination with policy updates and improvements in other energy sectors. To better understand the efficacy of these moderate improvements on overall energy consumption, we’ve analyzed the results from a recent portfolio rehabilitation. These findings help us to create a map of where we need to go in order to approach 80 X 50.

Figure 1: 80 x 50 NYC Buildings CO2 Reduction Goals, NYC Mayors Office of Sustainability, Roadmap to 80 x 50 Report

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Laundry Rooms are Complicated: Integrating Vented Clothes Dryers in Multifamily Passive House Projects

Written by the SWA Passive House Team

Common laundry rooms are typically provided in market rate and affordable multifamily buildings. Because there are no ventless clothes dryers available for commercial use in North America (such as condensing or heat pump dryers), Passive House (PH) projects must make do with standard coin-operated, conventional vented clothes dryers. With a conventional electric or gas vented dryer, ambient air from the laundry room is heated and blown into the dryer’s drum as it tumbles. This air picks up the moisture from the laundry and is exhausted – sending hot moist air and lint particles to the outside. For any dryer that exhausts more than 200 cfm and in common laundries that have several dryers, make-up air must be supplied to the room so the dryers have enough air to operate properly. This make-up air must then be heated or cooled and therefore, increases the building’s energy demand.

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Why the Whole Building Approach Matters

At Steven Winter Associates, Inc., we support the whole building approach to design and construction by doing our best to ensure that projects meet sustainability, energy efficiency, and accessibility requirements, among other design strategies and goals. From our perspective, accessibility compliance is a key factor in determining whether a project is truly sustainable and efficient.

The Whole Building Approach to Design (from the Whole Building Design Guide, “Design Objectives”)

As an example, I was recently contacted by a New York City-based housing developer. They received a letter from an attorney stating that three of their recently constructed projects in New York City were “tested” and found to be noncompliant with the accessible design and construction requirements of the Fair Housing Amendments Act and the New York City Building Code. SWA toured the buildings and confirmed that the allegations were in fact true. We identified issues such as excessive cross slopes along the concrete entrance walk, the presence of steps between dwelling units and their associated terraces, the lack of properly sized kitchens and bathrooms, the lack of compliant clear width provided by all user passage doors, etc. It quickly became apparent to us and to the developer that the cost of the remediation required to bring the projects into full compliance would be astronomical.

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The Value of Commissioning

Written by Jenny Powell, Energy Engineer

What is Commissioning?

Many energy and sustainability programs, standards, and codes require commissioning, including LEED, ASHRAE 90.1, NGBS, IECC, IGCC, the PSEG and NYSERDA’s commercial performance-based incentive programs (see glossary below). As states embrace these codes and enforce commissioning requirements you may ask yourself: what is commissioning and why is it beneficial?

Commissioning agents provide third-party quality assurance throughout the construction process. They review design drawings and submittals, periodically inspect construction progress, witness functional performance testing of mechanical equipment, and ensure that the building staff is trained and ready to operate the equipment after it’s turned over. Commissioning agents work on behalf of the owner to ensure that the owner’s project requirements are met. Most importantly, commissioning improves construction quality and reduces maintenance and energy costs.

The benefits of commissioning are never more apparent than during a retro-commissioning project. While commissioning involves a third-party review of operation during the construction process, retro-commissioning is a third-party review of operations well after construction is complete. Some difficult retro-commissioning projects have shown us how valuable it is to resolve issues when the design intent is still clear (or clearer) – and while the construction team is still onsite!

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