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HomeFree – A Healthy Material Resource for Affordable Housing Leaders

Healthy Building Materials as Contributors to Overall Human Health

Healthy Building Contributes to Human Health

What do you think of when you hear the term “healthy living?” A balanced diet? Physical activity? What about healthy building materials? The concept of healthy living can — and should — be extended to include anything that can affect people’s health either directly or indirectly. With this in mind, the impacts of building materials on occupants’ health is a growing concern of building industry professionals because exposure to unhealthy chemicals used in building materials can trigger serious health hazards.

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Tech Notes – Medical Diagnostic Equipment and Accessibility

By Victoria Lanteigne, Senior Accessibility Consultant

The United States Access Board recently issued new standards under Section 510 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 for Medical Diagnostic Equipment (MDE). The Proposed Standards provide design criteria for MDE such as examination tables and chairs, scales, radiology equipment, mammography equipment, among other medical equipment. The new accessibility requirements, “establish minimum technical criteria that will allow patients with disabilities independent entry to, use of, and exit from medical diagnostic equipment to the maximum extent possible.”

The Proposed Standards provide technical criteria that will facilitate the use of equipment for people with disabilities in the supine, prone, side-lying, and seated positions. A few key requirements from the Proposed Standard are following:

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High Performance Walls

Written by Joanna Grab, Senior Sustainability Consultant

Groggy and sleepy-eyed, I swung my feet out of bed this morning. Still waking up, I began the trek to my coffee pot, but was thrown off track when my bare feet stumbled (literally) upon a freezing patch of floor beside the door to my balcony. Suddenly wide-eyed, I ducked into the bathroom to rub my toes against my fuzzy bath mat. Outside, the city seemed to have surrendered itself to a single shade of gray, and though my feet were warming, I could feel the monochromatic January cold pressing its way through the metal window. I put on my architect’s (hard) hat and thought, “these are textbook examples of thermal bridging.” But aside from a chill or a draft here and there what’s the big deal? Well, let me provide a little insight.

Thermal bridging occurs when heat is lost through a less-insulated or more-conductive portion of a building’s exterior. On a frigid winter day, this means heat is lost where insulation is lacking, such as through a metal window frame or the floor slab in my apartment building. Ultimately, thermal bridging results in a less comfortable home that is more expensive to heat and cool.

Another hidden concern is condensation, which can be a consequence of thermal bridging. When warm air comes into contact with a cold spot on the floor or wall, water vapor in the air cools and collects as droplets on the colder surface. This can result in durability problems, as well as poor indoor air quality.

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Tech Notes – Drinking Fountain Height

Where the 2010 ADA Standards apply, 100% of drinking fountains must comply with criteria for accessible drinking fountains found at Section 602. Of those, 50% must have spout outlets located 36 inches maximum AFF to provide access for individuals in wheelchairs (ADA Section 602.4). The remaining 50% must have spout outlets between 38 and 43 inches AFF to provide access for standing persons (ADA Section 602.7). A Hi-Lo drinking fountain satisfies requirements for both standing (Hi) and seated (Lo) persons.

Where there are an odd number of drinking fountains, the odd numbered drinking fountain is permitted to comply with criteria for seated or standing persons. For example, if there are a total of 9 drinking fountains; 4 can comply with criteria for seated persons, 4 can comply with criteria for standing persons, and the 9th one can comply with criteria for either seated or standing persons. As always, be sure to check local code requirements that apply in addition to the 2010 ADA Standards.

Access Earth: An Interview with Matt McCann

Matt McCann, CEO of Access Earth

We recently sat down for a conversation with Matt McCann, CEO and Founder of Access Earth – a new app that aims to promote accessibility through public and social participation.

Access Earth is a project that began when Matt took a trip to London in 2012. Matt has cerebral palsy, and had researched and chosen a hotel that, in addition to its desirable price and location, advertised itself as accessible. But, upon his arrival he had to navigate a series of steps to get to the reception desk. When he got to his room, he could not fit his rolling walker through the door. Ultimately, Matt asked for a refund and switched his accommodations – but it was remarkable to him that this first hotel was not nearly as accessible as it had claimed to be online. He also knew that his experience was not an anomaly, but rather something that people with disabilities face every day.

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Oh, the Weather Inside is Frightful!

Winter in the City

Wintertime in New York City: cold wind whips down the avenue and seems to follow you as you leave the frozen street and enter your building. The cold gust pulls the heat out of the lobby and even seems to follow you as you make your way up the building, whistling through the elevator shaft as it goes. The colder it gets outside, the worse it gets inside. Can’t somebody please make it stop? Is it too much to ask to be comfortable in your own lobby?

No, it is not too much to ask, and yes, we can help. It is 2016 and we have the technologies and expertise to better manage this all-too-common problem, but first we must examine what forces lay at the heart of the issue.

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Local Law 87 – What’s Happening and What’s Ahead

 

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Calendar year 2015 marks the start of the third year of mandatory Local Law 87 compliance in NYC. The Law—which requires buildings over 50,000 sq ft to conduct an energy audit and retro-commissioning study once a decade—has, to date, been characterized by market uncertainty and a somewhat hesitant response from the real estate community. These conditions stem largely from an unclear expectation as to what the future will hold, and what, if any, blow back there might be for being the owner of a poor-performing building.

This lack of clarity has created a wide diversity in the approach that owners opt to take in complying with Local Law 87. A notable pool of building owners, for example, have viewed the law as a burden enacted by NYC, and have opted to take the cheapest available, low-bidder approach to compliance. A large number of newly formed energy consulting firms have popped up to provide “cheapest-in-class” services, this despite the fact that many of these startup firms lack the qualifications and experience necessary to actually perform a compliant Local Law 87 project. As is almost always the case, you get what you pay for. On the other hand, a different set of building owners have viewed the law as an opportunity to improve the performance of their buildings by engaging the service of discerning engineering service providers. These owners see the value in having a 3rd party vet the operation of their buildings, as they realize that operational cost savings drop straight to the bottom line, driving improved NOI, increased asset value, while guarding against the risk of future volatility in the commodity markets.

The real estate community has, by and large, accepted Local Law 87 as a fact of life, but the lack of a clearly demonstrated vision of future goals has created a deeply fragmented understanding of how the Local Law 87 process can and will impact a building’s operation. Signs, though, are pointing toward a clarification of what this process will require into the future, and there is reason to believe that the lay of the land will be quite different in years to come. For starters, the DeBlasio administration, in the fall of 2014, issued their One City Built to Last plan. This ambitious plan provides a policy framework for achieving 80% emissions reductions in NYC by 2050—no small task, to be sure. The aggressive nature of the plan requires that the city dig deep into the performance of the built environment in order to achieve these reduction targets, as buildings account for about 70% of NYC emissions. The DeBlasio administration has taken a “carrots and sticks” approach toward compelling change and ensuring adherence to their agenda: state and local incentives have been dangled in front of the real estate community to encourage proactive adoption of energy conservation practices by building owners, while the not-so-thinly-veiled threat of future mandates loom on the horizon for those actors that fail to take appropriate action. As DeBlasio was quoted in a September Real Estate Weekly article, “For private buildings, we’ll set ambitious targets for voluntary reductions, but if steady progress is not made, we will issue clear mandates,ˮ said deBlasio, adding, “Our long-term goal is bolder still — charting a path to a full transition from fossil fuels.” Again…not so thinly veiled.

Notable carrots include limited time incentive programs, such as the Demand Management Program offered jointly by NYSERDA and ConEd, and the forthcoming establishment of a retrofit accelerator program, which will scrub Local Law 84 (benchmarking) and 87 data to facilitate engagement between key stakeholders as the City attempts to play matchmaker in a Love Connection style game of emission reduction through market transformation. Many in the real estate and sustainability arenas see great promise and opportunity in these models.

Love it or hate it, the real estate community and others need to acknowledge that the landscape is changing, and the vision of the future—at least as how Mayor DeBlasio sees it—is taking shape.
Early adopters of emissions reduction practices—e.g., buildings that participate in voluntary programs such as the Mayor’s Carbon Challenge and those that take a more rigorous approach to the Local Law 87 process—stand a better chance of avoiding the “heavy hand of government” that DeBlasio so publicly campaigned on. And they might even get to munch on a few carrots along the way.

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