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Posts by Steven Winter Associates

Staff Profile: Minaiel Shoaib – Building Systems Analyst

Each day, SWA employees collaborate to create more sustainable, efficient, healthy, and accessible buildings. This holistic approach to the built environment necessitates talented teams with a wide range of specializations. (Want to join us? Check out the open positions on our Careers page!)

For our second staff profile, we interviewed Minaiel Shoaib, a Building Systems Analyst on our BODE (Buildings Operation, Decarbonization, and Efficiency) team. Minaiel is based out of our New York City office and has been at SWA for 1.5 years!

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Best Practices for Designing & Installing VRF Systems in Commercial and Multifamily Applications (Part 1)

With LL97 fines around the corner, building owners and managers are looking to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. To do so, building systems will need to rely on an increasingly green electric grid rather than fossil fuels.

And as we look to electrify our buildings’ heating and cooling systems, Variable Refrigerant Flow (VRF) systems have emerged as one solution. With buildings increasingly turning to this technology, we are sharing our current best practices for designing, installing, and operating VRF systems to help everyone — from design engineers and developers to installers and building operators — learn more about the nuances of VRF.

These best practices are based on manufacturers’ literature, ASHRAE and IECC standards, conversations with field technicians, design engineers, building operators, and manufacturers’ representatives, as well as Steven Winter Associates’ extensive functional testing experience. While the focus is intended to be large VRF systems ( >5 tons), many of the best practices are also applicable to smaller mini-split or multi-split systems.

Common terms used throughout this post are defined for those new to the topic and can be found by scrolling to the bottom of the blog.

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Staff Profile: Joe Andracchio – Senior Sustainability Consultant

Each day, SWA employees collaborate to create more sustainable, efficient, healthy, and accessible buildings. This holistic approach to the built environment necessitates talented teams with a wide range of specializations. (Want to join us? Check out the open positions on our Careers page!)

In our first staff profile, we have Joe Andracchio, a Senior Sustainability Consultant on our Residential Buildings Services group. Joe is based out of our Washington, D.C. office and has been at SWA for around 4.5 years. He is also a licensed Professional Engineer in the state of Maryland!

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Passive + Adaptive Resiliency: A Recipe for Sustainability

The need for sustainably designed buildings and infrastructure is critical as extreme weather patterns and natural disasters resulting from climate change persist. One of the truest measures of sustainability in this case is resiliency. How the site, the building, and the systems respond to an extreme weather event or other consequences of climate change can determine its livability. For green building, resiliency can be passive or adaptive, meaning reactive to these types of events or proactive in surviving them.

The recent events in Texas highlight the need at a national level for building and infrastructure resiliency.  Sudden freezing temperatures forced the grid to shut down and left millions of residents without power. The failure of uninsulated water pipes and lack of winterization throughout the energy supply could (and should) have been remediated decades ago.  In fact, a commissioned report released after similar blackouts 22 years ago recommended the incorporation of resilient designs into the system by “installing heating elements around pipes and increasing the amount of reserve power available before storms”. Michael Webber, an energy professor at the University of Texas said: “We need better insulation and weatherization at facilities and in homes.. There’s weaknesses in the system we [still] haven’t dealt with.”[1] Now, politicians and leaders are calling for more of these passive solutions that may be too little too late on such a massive scale.

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Designing for a Post-COVID World with Passive House

Passive House design for large multi-family buildings aligns with and builds upon industry guidance for mitigating the spread of infectious diseases.

As the world continues to be turned on its head by the impacts of COVID-19, the building industry has been scrambling to respond, encouraging designers and building operators to learn about how their buildings are being ventilated. Industry experts have produced an array of documents and reports outlining guidelines for reopening buildings safely while minimizing the risk of transferring infectious disease. Much of the focus of this guidance has been on using mechanical ventilation and proper air distribution to dilute contaminant levels in spaces and minimize the spread of viruses. The American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air-conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) has produced a significant amount of guidance for designers. One of their main documents, produced in April, is the “ASHRAE Position Document on Infectious Aerosols,” which provides useful information for how buildings should be designed and operated in response to a pandemic. However, it has prompted questions from design teams about how this might conflict with the goals of very low energy buildings, such as Passive House (PH). This blogpost is written as a response to some of these questions and to highlight the benefits of Passive House design in light of recent recommendations by groups like ASHRAE.

Benefits of Passive House for Mitigating COVID Transmission

The following are some of the benefits of Passive House design for multi-family buildings compared to code requirements as well as some additional guidance for how to design to mitigate virus transmission.

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Comprehensive Heating Upgrades for Two-Pipe Steam Systems

Most people who have lived or worked in a steam-heated building are familiar with the typical occurrences of uneven heat (underheating/overheating), banging pipes, and having to open windows all winter long. Not only are occupants uncomfortable, but the heating bills are high as well.

Balancing these systems is a huge opportunity for energy savings. It is important to point out that the root of the issue is in the distribution system, and it’s that distribution system that needs to be fixed. The steam traps are the weakest link, and when they fail, residents lose the ability to control the amount of heat delivered. This in turn makes the space uncomfortable and results in the necessity to open windows and waste fuel.

The steam traps are supposed to be replaced building-wide every three years to catch broken traps, but due to the expense and logistics of such a task, this is rarely done.

Cartoon of clanging pipes in the winter

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Integrating Social Equity Into Green Building – Part 3: Design, Construction, and Operations

In part one of this blog series, we established that buildings are only sustainable if they are equitable and accessible for all occupants. In part two, we detailed how to apply these principles to the planning stages and provided resources for improving social outcomes in your projects. In this post, part three, we will outline ways in which we can integrate principles of social equity into the design, construction, and operations phases.

Design Phase

Image of JUST label

JUST Label (https://living-future.org/just/case-studies/ilfi/)

Stakeholders

The earlier you commit to an inclusive and integrative design process, the better. The broader the group of stakeholders involved, the better. For example, consider including members from the following groups, among others, to participate in early visioning and planning discussions and workshops:

  • Leaders of local community groups;
  • Members of future user groups (occupants, tenants, staff, operations team, people with disabilities, etc.);
  • Public health professionals;
  • Local policymakers and government officials;
  • Representatives from local cultural organizations;
  • Specialists in the local natural and social history, ecology, economy, ethnography, building code, etc.;
  • Subject matter experts in sustainability, energy, accessibility, etc.

When possible, recruit project team members from companies that have committed to social responsibility by publishing a JUST Label or other social responsibility report. Companies can pursue a JUST Label and become a resource for others.

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It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like …. Cold Season

Imagine it’s Christmas morning. You wake up from a nice sleep eager to spend time with family and open presents. You can’t wait to get out of bed but know that the warmth you have under the covers will soon escape into your cold, drafty apartment. The window doesn’t close that well, and the baseboard heater can never quite get up to the desired temperature. Now you’re cold. Your body is working harder to warm you, so now you’re tired too. Your only comfort is the idea of sitting by a fire soon with a cup of hot cocoa… except it’s not actually Christmas. It’s just a normal day, and you’re cold…again.

For most of us, feeling cold is simply just uncomfortable and may decrease our productivity. However, for the elderly being cold can lead to health problems, organ failure, and even hypothermia. Seniors who are chronically cold during the winter may not even know the toll their discomfort is causing to their health, and they may require a more adequate living environment to keep them safe.

When preparing for the development of a new senior residence, it is important to take into consideration the needs of the senior demographic during the design phase. Keeping our seniors safe is one of the biggest priorities for senior living facilities, not only when it comes to ADA compliant and accessible living conditions, but also regarding tenant comfort and health.

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Why Commission Solar Photovoltaic (PV) Systems?

Falling costs and rising demand for clean energy have increased the specification and installation of solar photovoltaic (PV) systems worldwide. In NYC, Local Laws 92 and 94 require solar PV and/or green roofs on all new buildings and alterations where the existing roof deck is being replaced. Third-party commissioning increases the likelihood that a PV system will perform as designed throughout its lifetime and reduces poorly performing PV systems, which erode the bottom line and damage solar energy’s reputation. This is probably why the NYC Energy Conservation Code requires that renewable energy systems greater than 25 kW be commissioned (C408.2).

Many factors can affect a PV system’s power output. Let’s look at some reasons why output may be less than expected.

Design Flaws

Commissioning agents help prevent design flaws when brought onto the project early in the process. Here are a few common design flaws:

Electrical Issues: In traditional string systems, modules are wired in series to increase voltage, as shown. However, if too few or too many modules are wired in series, the voltage will be outside of an inverter’s input range and there will simply be no power output. If modules of dissimilar current are wired together output will be reduced since the current of a string is limited by the module with the lowest current.

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Finding Your Way: Third-Party Assurances for Your Properties

Over the last several months, experts in sustainable design related to human health and interior wellness have developed guidelines, protocols, and toolkits to adapt existing buildings to the ‘new normal’ caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. These tools can be leveraged by building owners and property managers to enhance their healthy building strategies, ensuring their properties are mitigating risk with building wellness and safe building protocols. And, once implemented, building teams can earn recognition for their hard work with industry recognized organizations, which will build confidence for tenants and employees.

We’ll be highlighting three programs that complement your ESG and/or wellness goals across any portfolio or building typology. All three were created to be scalable, flexible, easily implemented, and cost-effective. Let’s get started.

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