Party Walls

Posts by Steven Winter Associates

Efficiency and Health: Prioritizing Occupant Health and Wellbeing in High-Performance Buildings

We like to say that a building is not sustainable if it does not sustain the health and wellbeing of all its occupants. This includes considering how the materials, technologies, and building systems affect indoor air quality, comfort, and the physical and mental health of those utilizing the space.

In our post-COVID world, it also includes how a building can protect its occupants from viruses and other airborne illnesses.

We’re sharing real-world examples of how SWA consultants have helped to mitigate potential negative impacts on occupant health in high-performance buildings. (more…)

Indoor AirPlus Version 2: What Changes Are Coming? [Updated]

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) began revising its Indoor AirPlus (IAP) specification for homes and residential buildings in early 2020. Since the first drafts of version 2, several factors have shaped the new standard, including the public’s hyper-awareness of indoor air quality (IAQ) during and post COVID, input from strategic partners, and considerations from multiple public comments.

The goal to improve IAQ across new and existing housing while addressing affordability and expanding access to healthy housing among disadvantaged populations will not change.

But a lot will change for building designers, developers, owners, and property managers that earn the Indoor AirPlus label for their buildings.

For starters, the program will now be written as Indoor AirPlus (previously “airPLUS”), and there are two levels of certification: Certified and Gold. EPA anticipates that version 2 will be available for use in fall 2024, and version 1 will be sunset in January 2026. During this overlap period, partners may opt to use either version.

Below, we’ve summarized the changes to expect from Indoor AirPlus version 2. (more…)

Benchmarking Data Verification in DC – What We’ve Learned (So Far)

In case you missed it, emergency legislation has extended the DC third-party data verification deadline to July 1, 2024.

In the past few months, SWA has helped Washington, DC, building owners complete mandatory third-party benchmarking data verification for 2023 calendar year data. With the deadline extended, now is a good time to talk about the recurring issues we’ve seen and the lessons we’ve learned.

Now: Perform Third Party Data Verification Process. Deadline Extended: July 1, 2024: Third Party Verified Benchmarking Report Due. April 1, 2025: Benchmarking Report Due. April 1, 2026: Benchmarkig Report Due. Start before January 1, 2027: Repeat Third Party Data Verification Process. April 1, 2027: Third Party Verified Benchmarking Report Due.

Third Party Verification Timeline (Source: Building Innovation Hub)


To Your Health – What to Know About Cooking and Indoor Air Quality

There’s more to a healthy meal than what’s on your plate. Cooking inside a home or apartment produces contaminants—those of primary concern are PM2.5 and nitrogen dioxide (NO2)—and without an exhaust strategy, these pollutants will remain inside and diminish indoor air quality.

In addition, one of the biggest news stories of 2023 was the Canadian wildfires. These events had many on the East Coast thinking about outdoor air quality and how to keep their indoor air as healthy as possible. The primary pollutant of concern from smoke is PM2.5.

There are numerous ways to keep polluted outdoor air outside, but what about the additional exposure to PM2.5 that can happen indoors?

Homeowners and renters can create a ventilation strategy to maintain safe levels of PM2.5 in their living space—whether there are outdoor air quality warnings or not. Keep reading to find out how. (more…)

What Can Go Wrong with Passive House Ventilation Systems—and How to Prevent It

The envelope of a Passive House building is designed to be significantly airtight. Mechanical ventilation systems introduce fresh, filtered air and exhaust stale, contaminated air 24 hours a day—which is extremely important in maintaining optimal indoor air quality and occupant comfort.

As the saying goes, build tight and ventilate right.

When ventilation systems are designed correctly, but installed, commissioned, or operated incorrectly, the system ends up being leaky and inefficient and uses more energy than expected.

Project teams for Passive House buildings must find solutions for these implementation and commissioning hurdles, or the potential energy penalty can adversely effect the building’s high-performance design intent.

What happens when a Passive House construction expert and a commissioning engineer collaborate to find a solution to common ventilation system issues that cause excess energy use? We, the authors of this blog post, did just that!

Keep reading to learn about common construction issues with Passive House ventilation systems and five lessons learned based on our experiences in the field. (more…)

5 Strategies to Create Sustainable and Affordable Housing with Enterprise Green Communities (EGC)

Access to sustainable and healthy buildings should be a universal right. Unfortunately, underserved communities and low-income families often face significant barriers to living in buildings that are efficient, supportive, and resilient.

The Enterprise Green Communities (EGC) certification program provides criteria to create sustainable, healthy, and affordable housing and offers a pathway our industry can use to advance equity in the built environment.

U.S. map showing 31 states, plus DC, that promote Enterprise Green Communities through their Low-Income Housing Tax Credit program.

Source: Enterprise

Thirty-one states, plus Washington, DC, require or encourage developers seeking affordable housing funding to follow the Enterprise Green Communities Criteria.

However, any housing development in the U.S. with affordable homes can earn the Enterprise Green Communities certification. (Projects that achieve the 2020 EGC certification also receive WELL certification.)

In this blog post, we’re sharing the strategies we use most often as EGC consultants, along with a common challenge and solution, to achieve certification and create more sustainable communities. (more…)

5 Misconceptions About the Americans with Disabilities Act & 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law on July 26, 1990. This federal civil rights law prohibits discrimination based on disability and declares that people with disabilities must have equal access to all areas of public life, including employment, public services, public accommodations, and telecommunications.

Cover pages of the ADA Title III Regulations and the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible DesignOne year later, on July 26, 1991, the Department of Justice released the 1991 ADA Standards for Accessible Design to be used in the design and construction of new and altered buildings. These technical standards have since been replaced with the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design that we use today.

Despite the importance of the ADA and its enforcement over the past three decades, there are still misconceptions about what the law requires for buildings and facilities.

Below are five of the most common misconceptions that SWA’s accessibility consultants encounter when working with building designers, developers, and owners on ADA compliance. (more…)

Trends in Healthcare: The State of Accessible Medical Diagnostic Equipment Standards

Medical diagnostic equipment is instrumental to the accurate and timely diagnosis of a patient’s health conditions, but people with disabilities are often met with challenges when accessing and using diagnostic equipment. This can lead to omitted examinations or inaccurate results, thus causing greater health disparities among people with disabilities.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design have made a significant impact on how architects and designers consider accessibility in healthcare settings.

Under Title III of the ADA regulations 28 CFR Part 36, hospitals are required to provide full and equal access to healthcare services and reasonable modifications of policies, practices, and procedures, as well as auxiliary aids and services. As part of this requirement, hospitals must provide accessible medical diagnostic equipment.

However, the 2010 ADA Standards do not provide technical guidance on what types of medical diagnostic equipment and how many of each type must be accessible to patients with disabilities. Because of this, the determination is often left up to the terms of settlement agreements.

How can designers and healthcare providers proactively ensure that medical diagnostic equipment is accessible to patients with disabilities? Keep reading for our recommendations. (more…)

How to Tackle Embodied Carbon Now: Low-Carbon Building Materials and Assessment Tools

Building industry professionals have made great strides in reducing operational carbon, but without losing ground, we need to shift our efforts toward building materials and embodied carbon.

The time value of carbon is the notion that reducing carbon emissions now provides a greater benefit than reducing the same amount of emissions in the future. In other words, action today is worth more than tomorrow.

We can envision a future where all building materials have low or zero embodied carbon—even carbon-capturing ingredients—and there is a plan for reusing and recycling materials at the end of a building’s useful life. But how do we get there?

Read on to explore data, resources, and tools available now to help project teams reduce embodied carbon along with operational carbon.

Embodied Carbon: How We Define It

Building Life Cycle: Product Stage, Construction Process Stage, Use Stage, and End of Life Stage. Use Stage represents operational carbon emissions, and all others represent embodied carbon emissions.There are several stages in a building’s life. The middle stage is when a building is in use, and it’s all about the operational carbon emissions that result from running—or using—the building. Addressing operational carbon has been critical to reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and the building industry has made some progress. But important climate action opportunities are missed by focusing only on the middle stage. (more…)

NYC Building Energy Efficiency Letter Grades: What Owners & Property Managers Need to Know

New York City buildings over 25,000 square feet must display a Building Energy Efficiency Rating Label, as required by Local Law 33 of 2018 and Local Law 95 of 2019.

Each year, buildings are given new energy efficiency grades based on benchmarking data from the previous calendar year.

New labels are available to building owners every year on October 1. Labels must be downloaded and posted in the lobby of each building by October 31. Failure to display the label by this deadline will result in a violation from the Department of Buildings and fine of $1,250 for applicable buildings.

Keep reading to get answers to all your questions about New York City’s building energy efficiency letter grades and labels from our energy experts. (more…)

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