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Air-Source Heat Pumps in Homes: Step #1 – Be clear about goals

Building new homes that are all electric makes TONS of sense. I’ve written about that before. Electrifying existing single-family homes, however, is not necessarily straightforward. Many state and utility programs in the Northeast[1] offer hefty incentives for air-source heat pumps (ASHPs), but fuel-fired systems are often left in place and used as the primary heating system. Clearly, when that’s the case, carbon emissions are not reduced much. Other programs are pushing completely electrifying homes and removing fossil fuels, but these programs are not gaining all that much traction.

This may seem obvious, but it’s important to consider homeowners’ goals and desires when installing heat pumps in homes. I don’t necessarily see this considered by policy makers and electrification programs, and I think it’s a big disconnect. Programs and policies are focused on the big picture (appropriately) and generally want to reduce/eliminate fossil fuels to help meet carbon reduction goals. What homeowners want can vary like crazy.

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Trends in Healthcare: Hospital Gardens

“Trends in Healthcare” is a recurring series that focuses on exciting new designs and technologies we’re seeing in healthcare projects and provides best practices on how to ensure that these latest trends are accessible to persons with disabilities. We build on the wealth of knowledge we gain from working with healthcare design teams, construction crews, and practitioners to provide practical solutions for achieving accessible healthcare environments.


Accessible courtyardAccess to nature is known to promote healing and improve mental and physical wellbeing. The sights and sounds of the natural world have been proven to relieve anxiety, an attribute that can be immensely impactful in a hospital environment where patients, visitors, and staff experience increased stress on a consistent basis. With this in mind, hospital gardens that provide much needed respite have become an essential feature in many healthcare facilities. Even in hospitals built in places like New York City, where space is at a premium, healthcare owners and designers are prioritizing the integration of gardens and other natural spaces into facilities.

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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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Air-Source Heat Pumps in Homes: Soup to Nuts

As I’ve written in several posts [1], electrification is all the rage. Modern air-source heat pumps (ASHPs) are fantastic technologies, and they can provide reliable, efficient, clean, affordable, and sustainable heating and cooling when done well and in the right application. I worry that these caveats are too often glossed over. I’ve also seen really bad heat pump installations, and I think it’s easier to screw up a heat pump than a boiler or furnace.

ASHPs on the exterior of a home

Three ASHPs at a home

This post is an overview of the process I suggest for good ASHP installations. I’ll be doing a post for each of the steps here, but this first post is an outline of the whole process because I believe the whole process is really important. The focus here is on homes, mainly in colder climates, and I’m not talking about VRF systems. I use the generic second person, so “you”  can refer to different people in different steps.

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Innovations in Accessible Products 2021

Our accessibility consultants are constantly on the lookout for new products that will make it easier for our clients to comply with accessibility criteria while meeting their overarching design goals. As manufacturers become more familiar with accessibility requirements under applicable federal, state, and local regulations and building codes, new or modified products continue to emerge, making compliance simpler and more stylish.

Here are just a few examples of accessible products that we have been recommending…

SafePath EntryLevel™ Landings

Safepath

SafePath EntryLevel Landings provide an affordable and easily customizable option to address non-compliant level changes at doors.

One of the most common issues we see in remediation projects, especially as a result of litigation, is a non-compliant level change at exterior doors. Very often, a step up of more than ½ inch is provided from the exterior to the interior surface, resulting in a barrier to access for a person who uses a wheelchair or other mobility device. SafePath provides a range of customizable ramps and reducers to help overcome vertical barriers to access at interior or exterior conditions. One of the product lines we have frequently recommended is their EntryLevel™ Landings. The product provides a compliant ramped transition (1:12 max) along with a level landing (1:48 max slope in any direction) to accommodate the required maneuvering clearance at doors. Because the landings are fixed in place and easy to customize, they provide a great option for clients looking to create an accessible building entrance.

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Staff Profile: Joe Andracchio – Senior Sustainability Consultant

Each day, SWA’s team of over 110 staff, spanning four east coast office locations, collaborate closely to create more sustainable, efficient, healthy, and accessible buildings. We have a passion and drive to implement best-practice solutions that help clients reach their goals – and that ultimately help the people that occupy these spaces and the environment.
We offer a wide breadth of services at SWA, in turn, we have a lot of staff who do very different things! Our knowledgeable staff provide consulting for services such as existing building decarbonization, accessibility compliance, net-zero construction, and green building program certification. We also have an outstanding operations team that help to ensure the business is optimized to run smoothly and efficiently on a daily basis.
We want to highlight all of this amazing talent that we have at SWA; so, join us in our series of staff profiles that will span across all teams, job levels, and offices. Check out our Careers page as well, for our open positions!

First up to bat, 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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The New FHA Safe Harbors: FAQs

word bubbles with a question mark and exclamation point insideNow that HUD has adopted the 2009 edition of the ICC A117.1 Standard and the 2009, 2012, 2015, and 2018 editions of the IBC as additional safe harbors that can be used to demonstrate compliance with the design and construction requirements of the FHA, what changes? What do designers need to know before moving forward with selecting their chosen safe harbor? Here are a few of the most common questions that our Accessibility Team has been asked about the use of the new safe harbors since they became effective on March 8, 2021:

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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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The New HUD-approved FHA Safe Harbors

Houses in a rowEven though the Fair Housing Act (FHA) has been in effect for more than 30 years, owners, developers, architects and others are still cited for noncompliance with the FHA’s seven design and construction requirements. Based on our experience, a major contributing factor to this continued noncompliance is the common misconception that following the accessibility requirements of a building code (e.g., current editions of The International Building Code) will result in compliance with the FHA. To ensure compliance with the design and construction requirements of the FHA, it is important to incorporate one of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) approved safe harbors into the design of a multifamily development. The long-standing list of safe harbors has not been updated in nearly 14 years, when the 2003 edition of the ICC A117.1 Standard was approved by HUD. Before that, the 2006 edition of the International Building Code was the latest version of the code to be HUD- approved as meeting the design and construction requirements of the Act. As a result, while the building codes have continued to progress, HUD has lagged behind – until now.

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