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Posts by Andrea Foss

5 New Year’s Resolutions for a High-Performance Year

We took some common New Year resolutions and put our SWA spin on them. This year, make resolutions to improve the built environment in 2020!

 

  1. Go on a (Carbon) Diet – diets are difficult, but as with all things, moderation is key. Reducing operational carbon use with super-efficient buildings is only part of the equation. We also need to understand the full Life Cycle of carbon use including building materials and products. Fortunately tools such as EC3 are making these analyses easier to understand; and products, including lower carbon insulation options and lower carbon concrete, are becoming readily available.
  2. Quit Smoking – enforcing no smoking policies is one of the best strategies to improve the health of all building occupants. If you do allow smoking, make sure you develop a good fresh air strategy and compartmentalize your units with a good air barrier. And check out more of our strategies for healthy indoor environments.
  3. Save More Money – lighting provides a significant area for savings. Sure, LEDs are great, but efficient design also means considering lighting power density (LPD). High efficiency fixtures placed in high concentrations still use a lot of energy and can result in over-lit spaces, which drive up upfront and operating costs. Lower your bills and the harsh glare with a smart lighting design.
  4. Travel More – seek out hotels and restaurants that people of all abilities can navigate with ease. Access Earth is an app that tracks the accessibility of public spaces worldwide to help take the guesswork out of accessible accommodations in new locations.
  5. Learn a New Skill or Hobby – looking to expand your horizons? Check out SWA Careers and join our team of change-makers to help develop and implement innovative solutions to improve the built environment.

 

 

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Whole Building Blower Door Testing – Big Buildings Passing the Test

The residential energy efficiency industry has been using blower door testing since the mid 1980’s to measure the air tightness of homes. Since then, we’ve evolved from testing single family homes, to testing entire apartment buildings. The Passive House standard requires whole-building testing, as will many local energy codes, along with assembly testing. While the concept of – taking a powerful fan, temporarily mounting it into the door frame of a building, and either pulling air out (depressurize) or pushing air into it (pressurize) – is the same for buildings both large and small, the execution is quite different for the latter.

Commonly called a whole-building blower door test, we use multiple blower doors to create a pressure difference on the exterior surfaces of the entire building. The amount of air moving through the fans is recorded in cubic feet per minute (CFM) along with the pressure difference from inside to out in pascals. Since the amount of air moving through the fans is equal to the amount of air moving through the gaps, cracks, and holes of the building’s enclosure, it is used to determine the buildings air tightness. Taking additional measurements at various pressure differences increases the measurement accuracy and is required in standards that govern infiltration testing. Larger buildings usually test at a higher-pressure difference and express the leakage rate as cubic feet per minute at 75 pascals or CFM75.

SWA staff at a project site setting up a blower door test

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Building Energy Performance Standards (BEPS) are Coming to D.C., Are You Ready?

In January of this year, the Clean Energy DC Omnibus Amendment Act of 2018 was signed into law, establishing minimum Building Energy Performance Standards (BEPS) for existing buildings. The law requires all private buildings over 50,000 square feet to benchmark energy use and demonstrate energy performance above a median baseline beginning January 1, 2021. If a building does not score above the median performance, it has five years to demonstrate improvement or face financial penalties.

While quite a few of the details on enforcement are still being worked out, the median scores will be based on 2019 building performance and there are actions you can take today to get ready for BEPS.

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Multifamily Green Building Certification Program Comparison

If you’re designing and constructing multifamily buildings, chances are you’ve run into one of the many green building certification programs. Whether mandated by code, tax credits, your loan, or because you want to improve building performance, the differences between programs can be difficult to understand. One of the most frequent questions we help design teams answer is “which multifamily green building program should we choose?”

To help shed some light on the major green building standards, we’ve outlined some of the most important requirements for multifamily building performance that tend to differentiate the programs the most.

ENERGY STAR

Administered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, ENERGY STAR is a free program that includes envelope, mechanical, and moisture management requirements. There are two pathways to certification – ENERGY STAR Certified Homes and ENERGY STAR Multifamily High-rise – based on the height of the building. In the near future these programs will merge into one Multifamily New Construction standard.

Although it isn’t considered a full green building program (it doesn’t address materials, site or water), ENERGY STAR is included in this comparison because several programs and standards reference it as a base requirement.

Energy Star comparison chart (more…)

Reducing Air Leaks in Multifamily Buildings (and why you should care)

If there was ever a silver bullet when it comes to best practices in multifamily buildings, air sealing would be it. Compartmentalization – or air sealing each unit to prevent infiltration between units and to the exterior – addresses many major issues we see in buildings.

Better HEALTH

  • Air sealing is the best strategy to keep pests out and limit their movement within a building.
  • Air carries a lot of moisture, so eliminating air leaks helps keep buildings dry and reduces the risks of mold and water damage.
  • Compartmentalization prevents contaminated air from garages, basements, attics, and other undesirable sources from entering living spaces.

Improves COMFORT

  • Air sealing reduces drafts and eliminates hot and cold spots.
  • Limiting air transfer from one unit to the next reduces transmission of noise, smoke, and odor between units.

Wastes less ENERGY

  • Air sealing lowers heating and cooling bills maintaining a more consistent indoor temperature.
  • Compartmentalization improves the performance of ventilation and mechanical systems by limiting pathways for stack effect – the force of warm air from low to high – to occur in larger buildings.

How to Air Seal Multifamily Units

It’s important to remember to create a complete air barrier around the entire cube of a multifamily unit, not just to the exterior – any and all penetrations need to be sealed.

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Montgomery County Green Building Requirements

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Montgomery County, Maryland recently passed new green building requirements, including adoption of the 2012 International Green Construction Code.  Montgomery County was one of the first jurisdictions in the country to enact a green building law in late 2007. Now, county officials have repealed the original law and replaced it with Executive Regulation 21-15 that will likely reduce requirements for many new buildings.

New Requirements

There are some pretty big changes brought about by the new law, which took effect on December 27, 2017 and includes a six month grace period for projects already under design. New projects permitted after June 27, 2018 will need to comply with the following:

  • Projects 5,000 gross square feet and larger must comply, lowered from 10,000 gsf.
  • Buildings must meet the 2012 International Green Construction Code (IgCC), replacing the requirement that buildings must meet LEED Certified criteria.
  • Residential projects under five stories must use ICC-700/NGBS at the Silver Energy Performance Level.
  • R-2 and R-4 portions of Mixed-Use buildings may comply with ICC-700/NGBS and the non-residential portion shall comply with the IgCC or the entire building may comply with IgCC or ASHRAE 189.1
  • R-1, non-residential and R-1/Mixed-Use projects may select IgCC, ASHRAE 189.1 or LEED Silver with eight points or more under the Whole Building Energy Simulation path.
  • All buildings using the IgCC compliance pathway must achieve a Zero Energy Performance Index (zEPI) score of 50 or lower.

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Which LEED Rating System Do I Use? NC versus Midrise (Part 2)

LEED midrise imageHere’s a question that we’re often asked by our clients: “I’m building a new residential building, should I use LEED for New Construction (NC) or LEED for Multifamily Midrise (MFMR)?” The answer isn’t exactly simple, especially with the introduction of new credit requirements in LEED v4 and the fact that USGBC allows project teams to choose between the two rating systems. Ultimately, it will come down to a difficult decision based on the goals and final design of the project. So, in an effort to help clear up the confusion and possibly make the decision a little easier for you, we decided to break down a few scenarios that highlight key differences between the rating systems that may not be apparent upon first glance.

In our first installment, we took a look at a four story multifamily building and highlighted many of the key differences between the rating systems; you can find that post here. In this edition, we will explore the options for a different building type.

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#UnfreezePA: SWA at the Helm of the PA Icehouse Demonstration

On Tuesday, June 6, 2017, leaders of Pennsylvania’s clean energy movement took to the steps of the State Capitol Building. The cause? To demonstrate just how much room PA State Energy Codes have to improve. Amidst a cohort of speakers and presenters, USGBC’s Central Pennsylvania chapter erected two sheds, each filled with 1,080 pounds of ice: one built to 2009 Code requirements, currently in place under PA state law; and the other built to Passive House standards. Over the course of the month of June, the public will be able to watch as the respective blocks of ice melt within their structures. Ultimately, the difference in the rate of ice melt between the Code House and the Performance House (Passive House) will illustrate the degree to which current energy laws and codes are lacking, while simultaneously offering a model for advancement.

Code Icehouse 3pm 6/14

Performance Icehouse 6/14

In 2009, the International Energy Code Council (IECC) developed energy-saving standards that were adopted by most U.S. state governments. While the 2009 Code was widely instituted in the period following its publication, several states have since embraced even more efficient requirements that are quickly replacing outdated terms. For instance, the state of Maryland – comparable to Pennsylvania in terms of climate, population, and demographic spectrum – is operating under requirements equivalent to 2015 IECC standards.  New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Vermont are other states in the same geographic region and general climate zone that have opted towards more energy efficient codes.[1]

Passive House, on the other hand, is a set of design principles that aim to attain a “quantifiable and rigorous level of energy efficiency within a specific quantifiable comfort level.[2]” More simply, Passive House projects go above and beyond the statutes of any enforced codes to follow a “maximize your gains, minimize your losses” approach to building design. The Passive House Institute of the United States (PHIUS) provides the following summary of Passive House principles: (more…)

Which LEED Rating System Do I Use? Part 1: NC versus Midrise

Here’s a question our clients often ask: “I’m building a new residential building, should I use LEED for New Construction (NC) or LEED for Multifamily Midrise?” The answer isn’t exactly simple, especially with the introduction of new credit requirements in LEED v4 and the fact that USGBC allows project teams to choose between the two rating systems. Ultimately, it’s often a difficult decision based on the goals and final design of the project. So, in an effort to help clear up the confusion and possibly make the decision a little easier for you, we decided to break down a few scenarios that highlight key differences between the rating systems that may not be apparent upon first glance. In this first installment, we’ll start with a smaller multifamily building to get a sense of the essential differences between the rating systems and begin to understand the critical decision-making points.

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The POWER of Partnership!

PowerDownDC logoHoriz (4)

In partnership with the District of Columbia’s Department of Energy & Environment (DOEE) and the Institute for Better Communities (IFBC), SWA is implementing DC’s first multifamily housing energy and water challenge.

What is the POWER DOWN DC Challenge?

POWER DOWN DC is a 4 month building-to-building, education focused competition in Washington, DC with a goal of empowering  building residents and staff to change behavior and reduce overall energy and water usage. Residents compete as a building team against  other apartment buildings to hit a reduction target and strive to make the greatest overall  reduction. 

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Driving Savings through Friendly Competition

The basic concept is simple: bringing people together for friendly competition is more likely to encourage meaningful action than simply providing information about energy and water efficiency alone. By joining the competition, participants try to reduce their own energy and water use and help members of their apartment community  do the same. Residents will be encouraged to make a commitment to efficiency and take simple steps every day that collectively will have a big payoff. Actions like turning off lights, fixing a leak, and taking shorter showers, multiplied across dozens of apartment units will have quick results. In DC, residential buildings make up 20% of total energy use and 23% of total water use.  If all multi-family residents take action, we can save 83,000,000 kilowatt hours (KWH)  of energy, 96,000,000 gallons of water, and $31, 400,000 dollars annually. Small steps = big savings. 

Power Down DC

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