Low-Carbon Concrete: Reducing the Embodied Energy of a Notorious Emitter

It is safe to say we are in a climate crisis. Of the last 17 years, 16 have been the hottest on record.[1] Sea level is expected to rise by as much as eight feet by the end of the century.[2] And by 2050, as many as 140 million people will have been displaced by climate change.[3] The time to act is now, and a major area of impact is buildings, which account for 40% of carbon emissions in the United States. Better envelopes, lighting, and mechanical systems are helping buildings become more efficient, which means an increasing proportion of carbon—up to 68% of a building’s lifetime emissions—is locked up in materials.[4] This “embodied” carbon gets released during a material’s extraction, manufacture, transport, maintenance, and, eventually, disposal.

If our industry is to meet the 2030 Challenge of carbon neutrality by the close of the decade, we will need to reevaluate building materials and select low-carbon alternatives.

Embodied carbon life-cycle

Figure 1: Courtesy of Faithful+Gould

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Delos Headquarters Raises the Bar for Healthy Buildings

A team of SWA consultants recently had the opportunity to tour the newly constructed Delos Office Headquarters, located in the Meatpacking District of New York City. The office, which occupies the fourth and fifth floors of a ten-story building adjacent to the High Line, has obtained WELL Platinum certification through the International WELL Building Institute (IWBI), Petal Certification through the Living Building Challenge, and is currently pursuing LEED v4 Platinum certification through the US Green Building Council (USGBC). From the inception of the tour, it was clear that the space had exceeded the expectations of these certifications, and more.

Overview

Delos entrance with monitor and greenwall

Beside the entrance, a monitor displays live building stats and company announcements

Stepping off the elevator, occupants walk over a large metal grate designed to remove debris from shoes, preventing dirt and other particles from contaminating the floor. Then, upon entering the office, visitors are immediately greeted with an abundance of natural light and sense of biophilia. The office is enclosed by large glass curtain walls and filled with an array of plant life. Next to the entrance, a large monitor displays office conditions, such as temperature, humidity, carbon dioxide, and other levels affecting tenant comfort.

The main office area is largely free address, which means employees can freely move to where they feel most comfortable. Each desk is adjustable and includes a monitor, a temperature adjustable task light, and many other utilities that foster productivity. There are greenwalls placed throughout the office (22 to be exact), which are used to purify the air. Clean air is also distributed through floor diffusers and dirty air is removed through the ceiling. Additionally, it is noticeably quiet in the office; the mechanical systems are well insulated and there is a low level white noise sound masking system that lessens harsh noises.  Read more

Foundation Waterproofing – Proper Installation and What NOT to do!

As mentioned in Foundation Waterproofing 101, water damage to a foundation can be very costly and difficult to repair. By paying close attention to how and where water might enter the foundation during the early stages of construction, typical failures can be avoided by following these simple guidelines…

For the Designer: Keys to proper installation

Design and Quality Assurance

  • Don’t wait to design the foundation waterproofing system after you’re already in the ground!
  • Specify and detail the appropriate system for each project. Meet with manufacturer reps early!
  • Require shop drawings and kickoff meetings to ensure the entire team understands the importance of the design! Review examples of common failures.
  • Get your consultants on board early: Geotechnical engineer, Structural engineer, Waterproofing/enclosure consultant.
  • Review warranties, require third party inspections, installer certification, and contractor training.

For the Installer: Keys to proper installation

Substrate preparation

  • Provide smooth continuous surfaces to install waterproofing – minimize jogs, protrusions, and sharp edges.
  • At slabs: compacted fill/rigid insulation board/rat slabs
  • At walls: fill bugholes, remove/grind concrete fins, mortar snots, fill form tie holes, verify form release agents and compatibility.

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Foundation Waterproofing 101

Foundation Waterproofing Cutaway

Credit: Basement Waterproofing Baltimore (2018, February 20). http://aquaguardwaterproofing.com

Designing buildings with water protection in mind is critical to protecting buildings from future damage, difficult/costly repairs, and potential litigation. Foundations are by necessity in the ground. So is water. Foundation waterproofing is intended to keep them separate, by providing a layer of protection between a below-grade structure and the moisture present in the surrounding soil and fill. Waterproofing is especially important when the foundation lies below the water table or in a flood zone. Read on to learn about different approaches and materials used to waterproof foundation walls and slabs and specific detailing needed to provide a watertight enclosure. And, check out Part 2 of this series for specific guidance and examples to achieve a watertight enclosure.

Why is foundation waterproofing necessary?

Did you know? Water intrusion makes up more than 70% of construction litigation.Water

Foundations are basically holes in the ground that want to fill with water. Poor site drainage, through-wall penetrations, concrete cracking/mortar joints and movement, door/window/vent openings, flooding, high water tables, hydrostatic pressure – all contribute to the propensity for water to fill the subterranean void we have established. Foundation leaks are difficult and costly to rectify, not to mention designer/contractor financial liability. Water in a basement is water in a building. Excess moisture within a building is a recipe for higher RH and increases the potential for condensation, and mold and other allergens.

Luckily, foundation water intrusion is usually preventable. The goal is to identify all the potential water transport mechanisms, and address them, through good design practices, proper detailing, and quality execution. Read more

The Results Are in from the NYC Ice Box Challenge!

On April 21, 2018, two blocks of ice weighing exactly one ton each were placed into what appeared to be identical sheds in Times Square. The purpose? To measure how much each block would melt over a 30-day period, ultimately demonstrating the efficacy of Passive House construction methods.

The first shed, or Ice Box, was built to meet current NYC Building Code standards, which lack stringent requirements for building envelope performance. The second was constructed using building principles adopted from the Passive House Standard, including the utilization of high performance building materials, a superior airtight building envelope with advanced insulation, and triple-pane windows.

Graphic of Iceboxes

After 30 days of exposure, the Ice Boxes were publicly unveiled, and the results were exactly what building professionals had anticipated. The block of ice contained in the Ice Box constructed to NYC Building Code resulted in a final weight of 126 pounds, while the block of ice within the Passive House Ice Box weighed an astonishing 756 pounds, retaining 42% of its mass!

So, What Did We Learn… Read more