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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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Five Misconceptions about The Americans with Disabilities Act

This past summer, the country celebrated the 30th anniversary of the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Despite the progress of the past few decades, there are still misconceptions about what the law requires for buildings and facilities. Below are five of the most common misconceptions our consultants encounter.

Cover pages of the ADA Title III Regulations and the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design1.      All buildings that predate the ADA are exempt from accessibility requirements.

Unlike building codes, the ADA does not contemplate the concept of “grandfathering.” Included in the ADA regulation is the ongoing obligation for barrier removal, despite the age of a building. Specifically, if a barrier to access exists in a building that predates the ADA, then there is an obligation to remove the barrier if it is readily achievable to do so. Readily achievable means that fixing the barrier does not involve too much difficulty or expense. Such determinations must be made on a case-by-case basis and consider many factors, including financial resources.

2.      Following the accessibility requirements of the building code will satisfy the accessibility requirements of the ADA.

Even though the 2010 Standards for Accessible Design (the technical standard referenced by the ADA) is similar to the technical standards referenced by many building codes (e.g., A117.1 Standard for Accessible and Usable Buildings and Facilities), they are mutually exclusive. Compliance with the accessibility requirements of the building code does not satisfy compliance with the accessibility requirements of the ADA; and, vice versa. The general rule of thumb is to apply all applicable laws, codes, and standards and comply with the most stringent requirement.

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

Building energy efficiency labels are now available for property owners of large NYC buildings to download and post in their lobbies. Each year, the labels will be available on October 1st and must be posted by October 31st. Failure to display the label for applicable buildings by the October 31st deadline will result in a violation from the Department of Buildings and fine of $1,250.

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Integrating Social Equity into Green Building – Part 2: Pre-Design Phase

*Click here to read Part 1 of this blog!

The social and environmental context can vary greatly from one project to the next. To achieve social equity goals, a well-constructed plan for all project phases must be created and tracked. And, although the measures are not generally complicated, they can be numerous. In order to promote social equity, SWA has compiled this series of blog posts that teams can refer to as a guide to help facilitate the process. The goal is to help project teams understand, identify, and incorporate social and environmental goals and strategies into projects in a holistic and integrated way.

 

Image depicting equity vs equality

Image 1: – Credit: https://www.usgbc.org/resources/leed-project-team-checklist-social-impact

The following outline provides an overview of steps the design team can take in evaluating projects during Pre-Design. Throughout, references to LEED credits are cited.

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Integrating Social Equity into Green Building – Part 1: “Just Sustainability”

The causes of social inequity and injustice are deeply rooted within the systems that shape our society, including the built environment. The built environment represents the literal foundation of our society’s presence in the world – from the smallest rural community to the largest city. The way in which buildings are designed, constructed, and maintained has a tremendous influence on the equity (or inequity), and the justice (or injustice), of our society. The way we build and the strategies we employ can either continue to worsen social issues or can lay the groundwork for significant progress to be made on these issues in places around the world.

The building industry continues to make progress on reducing negative environmental impacts of the built environment. In fact, we’re increasingly seeing practices and strategies go beyond “sustainable” to “regenerative,” with such goals as net-positive energy, water, and waste. Now, the industry is reckoning with the urgent need to integrate social equity into its definition of sustainability in order to also reduce negative social impacts of the built environment. We might accelerate the process by framing the goal as “net-positive equity.” (more…)

Tech Notes: Sliding Doors at Dwelling Units

Private outdoor space is a desirable amenity for apartment dwellers, especially as COVID-19 restrictions have led to more time spent at home. Balconies and terraces accessed directly from multifamily residential dwelling units are increasingly popular with many of our clients, a trend we expect to see continue in the coming years. For designers looking to incorporate this feature, it is important to note that secondary exterior doors from dwelling units have specific accessibility considerations.

One of the most common problem areas that our accessibility consultants see in multifamily housing units are noncompliant secondary exterior sliding doors. The Fair Housing Act (FHA), as well as most building codes, strictly regulate these doors, from clear width and thresholds to door hardware at certain unit types. Our consultants highly recommend that swing doors are used in lieu of sliding doors at secondary exterior locations; however, if a sliding door is preferred, it is vital to consider the following requirements, among others:

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Electrifying Central Ventilation Systems in Multifamily Buildings

A common strategy to provide ventilation in multifamily buildings is to design a central roof-top air handler that distributes outdoor air to each unit. The energy cost for this system, which commonly uses natural gas for heating for either a gas furnace unit or hot water from a central boiler is paid for by the building owner. However, there is another option – VRF[1]. With the unprecedented rise of VRF technology in the last decade combined with regulations such as New York City’s Local Law 97 of 2019[2] (carbon emission penalty), the industry is taking a giant leap towards building electrification. There are always questions and concerns raised against building electrification ranging from initial cost to operating cost to reliability of the VRF technology. From the owner’s perspective, the biggest question is usually surrounding the operating cost of an electric system compared to a natural gas system for heating, but the cost of ownership must consider multiple energy metrics. I was curious to understand the impact on various building energy profile metrics associated with a Dedicated Outdoor Air System (DOAS) using the conventional gas fuel source vs. the latest VRF heat pump technology using electricity in a multifamily building. The findings of this investigation challenge the deep-rooted notion that electricity, being more expensive than natural gas per BTU, will always cost more to operate.

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Pirelli Historic Retrofit: Part 1

 

image of Pirelli buildingOne of the most important drivers in achieving Passive House certification (or achieving any goal!) is getting the project team involved from the start. Becker + Becker, the owner, architect and developer for the creative retrofit of the Pirelli Building, hired SWA’s Passive House, LEED, and Enclosures teams to coordinate during early design. Becker +Becker is invested in rebuilding for resilience, sustainability, and occupant health and comfort and appreciates the necessity of getting goals defined at the outset.

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AeroBarrier: A New Tool for Gut Rehabs?

Image of AeroBarrier eventAeroBarrier is touted as the best route to never fail another blower door test. The technology, which involves pressurizing a space with a blower door fan while misting a water-based glue into the air from multiple points throughout the space, is most often being used on new multifamily buildings after drywall is installed. SWA first experimented with the technique on the Cornell Tech high-rise building. Back in March, I reached out to Yudah Schwartz at SuperSeal Insulation, Inc. about a personal project, the gut rehab of a 2,500 SF detached single family home. While renovations aren’t something they normally do, Yudah and his team agreed to try a demo. Here’s what happened.

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