MENU

Party Walls

Accessibility Tech Notes: Trash Chute Closet Design

As an amenity provided to building occupants, hoppers—otherwise known as trash chutes—are required to be accessible. Most commonly, hoppers are included in conventional trash rooms and not located in closets like the one depicted in the image below. The hopper/closet design is uncommon, but we do see it in a fair number of projects.

Evaluating the hopper/closet design to ensure that it’s accessible is more complex than one might imagine. Let’s go through how we would conduct an evaluation of the hopper/closet design.

How to Evaluate for Accessibility Compliance

Diagram of the hopper closet design.The image on the left depicts a trash chute closet (circled in red) in a residential building that’s accessed from a common hallway. The hopper is revealed when the conventional swing door is opened.

Step 1: Isolate the swing door

First, we’d think through how the conventional swing door is operated and used. We know that the door must be opened, which triggers requirements for maneuvering clearance on the common side of the door. Ample maneuvering clearance must be provided to support its use by those who might use a wheelchair or other mobility aid. (more…)

The DC Building Energy Performance Standards (BEPS) Compliance Rules Are Here. Are You Ready?

This blog post was originally published on September 11, 2019. It was updated on November 18, 2021 with new guidance in response to the DOEE’s final BEPS compliance rules. Click here to learn more.

The Clean Energy DC Omnibus Amendment Act of 2018 was signed into law in 2019, establishing minimum Building Energy Performance Standards (BEPS) for existing buildings. The law requires all private buildings over 50,000 SF to benchmark energy use and demonstrate energy performance above a median baseline beginning January 1, 2021. The law also lowers the threshold for buildings that need to benchmark; buildings between 25,000 and 49,999 SF will need to benchmark energy use beginning in 2021. Buildings between 10,000 and 24,999 square feet will need to benchmark energy use beginning in 2024.

If a building does not score above the median performance of Washington, DC buildings, it has five years to demonstrate improvement or face financial penalties. By definition, 50% of the buildings required to comply with BEPS will fall below the median—even those just a point or two under. (You can download a list of property types and their medians here.) Building owners can use this map from DOEE to check if their building meets the BEPS.

This month, DOEE released the final BEPS compliance rules. These rules cover the different compliance pathways and the documentation required for each pathway.

(more…)

DC’s Green Building Requirements for Tax Credits and Funding, Explained

The District Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) recently updated their Qualified Allocation Plan (QAP), which is required by the IRS for issuance of Federal Low-Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC), and their Request for Proposals (RFP), a companion piece that governs all other funds, both federal and local.

While there has been a large public focus on the $400 million increase in Housing Production Trust Fund announced by Mayor Bowser, another major development has been the change in green building requirements. DHCD is now requiring that all applicants for any public funding for affordable housing achieve more stringent energy efficiency targets.

New Construction (larger than 50,000 SF)

For new construction projects 50,000 square feet or larger, buildings must meet Enterprise Green Communities (EGC) Plus certification. The Plus level requires deeper levels of energy efficiency by certifying with near zero or zero energy programs such as DOE’s Zero Energy Ready Homes (ZERH), Passive House International (PHI), or Passive House institute US (PHIUS) among other programs. Currently ZERH applies to projects five-stories or less, with an expanded multifamily version expected to be released for public comment in early 2022. EGC Plus certification also requires dehumidification strategies to address potential humidity concerns.

(more…)

Staff Profile: Michael Schmidt – Building Systems 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 this staff profile, we’re catching up with Michael Schmidt, a Building Systems Consultant on our Passive House team in New York City. Michael started his career as an intern with SWA, and upon graduation, joined the team where he has now worked for almost two years.
(more…)

Inclusive Design and Building Performance: An Inclusive Approach to Improving the Built Environment

Human beings spend most of their time in or around the built environment. As we live, work, and play, the design of the spaces we occupy can have a profound impact on our wellbeing.

The way that our environments affect our physical and mental health has long been a topic of discussion in the fields of architecture, urban planning, and environmental psychology. Physical barriers to access can result in the exclusion of people with disabilities; lack of indoor air quality or access to natural light can impact cognitive development or lead to future health issues.

From a mental health perspective, studies have shown that most of our reactions to a space are on an emotional, rather than a rational level and emotional reactions can vary among the occupants of a space. [1,2] Some may feel uneasy, while others feel comfortable.

Articulating the characteristics of a space that trigger certain emotions is a challenge but by considering the people for whom a space is intended, designers can create spaces that positively impact quality of life for those who inhabit them.

With this in mind, we at SWA are developing a fresh approach to creating buildings that perform well for the occupants they serve.

(more…)

Accessibility Tech Notes: Obstructed Forward Reach

Section drawing through kitchen sink with knee and toe clearance dimensioned below. A red dashed line shows faucet controls aligned with the front edge of the toe clearance.

The reach depth to controls mounted over obstructions cannot exceed the depth of the knee and toe clearance. Reaching beyond the front edge of the toe clearance is not permitted.

Operable parts designed to be used by building occupants, including but not limited to, thermostats, dispensers, light switches, fire alarm pull stations, etc., must be located so that they are accessible to everyone. Technical standards referenced by federal, state, and local laws and building codes include design criteria developed to ensure that operable parts are accessible. A 30 x 48 inch clear floor space is required to be positioned at the operable part to support one of two types of reaches: a forward (perpendicular) or a side (parallel) reach. Of the two reach types, each can be unobstructed or obstructed. Unobstructed forward and side reaches do not require reaching over an element to access an operable part. Conversely, obstructed forward and side reaches require reach over an element, such as a countertop or shelf, to access an operable part. Of all the reaches to operable parts, the obstructed forward reach is the most challenging to design and construct. As we always say, the devil is in the details, so proper detailing of the obstructed forward reach is critical to nail down in design.

(more…)

Air-Source Heat Pumps in Homes: Step #2 – Pay Attention to the Envelope

This is part of a series; see the first post here.

This shouldn’t be news to anyone:  In most homes, insulation and air sealing are the most effective ways to improve comfort and reduce heating and cooling costs.

This holds true regardless of heating systems or fuels used. So why is it emphasized even more when talking about heat pumps and electrification? Four reasons.

1.  Heating System Capacity and Cost.

Say your home has a design heating load of 60,000 Btu/h.[1] If heating with fuel, you’ll need a furnace or boiler with a capacity of at least 60,000 Btu/h. These are easy to find. (In fact, you may have a hard time finding heating systems with capacities lower than this.) Air-source heat pumps, on the other hand, have smaller capacities. I don’t think you’ll find an ASHP with heating output of 60,000 Btu/h at cold winter temperatures. So to meet this load, you’ll need multiple ASHPs. And that gets pricey.

Even if you are not talking about multiple heat pumps, a 3-ton[2] heat pump is quite a bit less costly than a 5-ton heat pump. Costs of heat pumps scale more dramatically than costs of boilers and furnaces. So lower heating loads → fewer, smaller heat pumps → lower upfront costs.

Spray foam insulation

Spray foam in an attic – one of many ways to insulate and seal.

(more…)

Choose Your Adventure: Constructing New vs. Adapting Old

Carbon emissions from new construction graphTo meet the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement, we must make decisions that will result in the greatest near-term carbon savings. This means taking into account both embodied carbon—those upfront emissions associated with the extraction, manufacture, transportation, and assembly of building materials—as well as the carbon that’s emitted over the course of the building’s operational phase.

We can build a high-performance building with very low operational emissions, but if its embodied emissions are so high that even if it’s a net-zero energy building (meaning it has net-zero operational energy consumption) it would take decades for the building to reach net-zero carbon (meaning it has net zero whole-building lifetime carbon emissions), we’re not actually helping to solve the critical issue of near-term carbon.

(more…)

Utilizing Enterprise Green Communities to Drive Equity in Affordable Housing

EGC logoIs Sustainability only for the wealthy? While staring at the double-digit price of organic tomatoes at the local farmers’ market I am inclined to think sustainable is synonymous with exclusive. Unfortunately, many things labeled “sustainable” or “eco-friendly” seem not to be within everyone’s budget. A society where the cost of a Tesla is the average annual income of a household easily convinces us that making sustainable choices comes with a cost many can’t afford.

The ”green” housing industry is no different. Walkable and well-connected neighborhoods, where residents can enjoy abundant services are often the pricey neighborhoods. Toxic-free natural materials, daylight, fresh air, and even living green walls fill the homes of the wealthier and healthier tenants, while high-efficient mechanical systems and solar panels provide (almost invisible) energy savings as compared to their sky-high rents.

On the other side, low-income families are often located in neighborhoods at the edges of cities where community services and fresh healthy food are out of reach except by driving, and where parks and options to catch some fresh air are far and rare. Here the apartments are more likely to be exposed to toxic materials, increasing chances to develop asthma or other diseases. Energy bills are often high with little opportunity to get any lower by using newer energy-saving appliances and equipment.

(more…)

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!

(more…)