Accessible Design: Common Mistakes & How to Avoid Them

Part 2: Dwelling Units

As promised, we’re back with Part 2 of the most common mistakes that our accessibility group encounters when assessing for compliance with regulatory requirements for accessible design and construction. This time, we’ll focus on frequent problems that we have encountered within dwelling units. Remember, in order to save time and money on costly remediation once construction begins – and reduce the risk of exposure to future litigation – it is best to tackle these issues early in the design phase.

Here are just a few of the violations frequently identified by our inspectors:

1.  Doors: Clear Width

Clear width is measured between the face of the door and the opposing stop, when the door is open 90 degrees.

Clear width is measured between the face of the door and the opposing stop, when the door is open 90 degrees.

Every door within a dwelling unit that is intended for user passage must provide the necessary clear opening to  provide access to a person with a wheelchair, or other mobility aid. The minimum clear width requirement varies (32 inches nominal or 32 inches minimum), so it is important to consult federal, state, and local codes to ensure that the specified doors will comply. This requirement applies to all doors within the unit – it does not matter whether there are multiple doors providing access to a particular room.

Specifying user passage doors that are 3’-0” or 2’-11”, including doors to closets deeper than 24 inches, will help to ensure that a compliant clear width is achieved.

2.  Kitchen Clearance

Projecting appliances often encroach into the required clearance in dwelling unit kitchens.

Projecting appliances often encroach into the required clearance in dwelling unit kitchens.

The minimum clearance between opposing elements in a kitchen depends on whether the kitchen is a galley kitchen (40 inches) or a U-shaped kitchen (60 inches). Clearance is measured between the furthest projecting element of opposing countertops, appliances (excluding handles), and base cabinets.

Often, the range and refrigerator are not aligned with the edge of the countertop, as commonly drawn on plans. These appliances frequently project beyond the edge of the countertop and often compromise the required minimum clearance. If larger appliances are selected (or substituted) after kitchen layouts have been designed, it is important that the layouts are reassessed with the updated appliance dimensions to ensure that clearances are maintained.

3. Outlets, Switches, and Environmental Controls

Switches, electrical outlets, thermostats, and other controls intended to be used by the resident must be located within accessible reach range. Noncompliance often occurs when reaching over an obstruction to access the controls is required (e.g., kitchen countertops). Often, electrical subcontractors install light switches and outlets at a consistent height, which while compliant for an outlet mounted on a wall in the middle of the room, will not necessarily work for an outlet mounted over a counter. We highly recommend installing all switches, outlets, and other controls no more than 44 inches above the finished floor, measured to the top of the electrical box.

Dimensioning to the top of the electrical box for outlets mounted high on the wall and the bottom of the electrical box for outlets mounted low on the wall will ensure that all operable parts are fully mounted within accessible reach range.

It is never too soon to think about accessible design requirements. The earlier these common problem areas are taken into consideration, the easier it will be to ensure compliance with accessibility laws and regulations once the construction phase of the project begins. By planning ahead, it is possible to address the most widespread issues in the design phase, significantly reducing the amount of delays in the field. A little effort now could eliminate a lot of headaches later.

HUD IAH Competition

Innovation in Affordable Housing Competition Results in Bicoastal Winners

On April 21st the four finalist teams from the 2015 HUD Innovation in Affordable Housing (IAH) Student Design and Planning Competition gathered at the HUD headquarters in Washington, DC to take part in the Final Four Jury and Awards Presentation (you can read more about the competition here). There, the graduate student teams presented their final submissions to the jury and audience for either the rehabilitation or redevelopment of Bayou Towers, a 300-unit residential high-rise that is home to over 500 senior citizens of the Houma-Terrebonne Parish in Louisiana.

Wayne Thibodeaux

Wayne Thibodeaux, Executive Director of the Houma Terrebonne Housing Authority speaking at HUD in Washington, DC.

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CT Zero Energy Challenge (Part 2) – An Alphabet Soup of Certifications

Earlier this week, we posted a video about the CT Zero Energy Challenge’s first-place winner, the Benker/Wegner Residence. Today we bring you the story of the third-place winner in this year’s challenge, the Taft School’s Residence. Aside from housing faculty members, the home is serving as a teaching aid for Taft students to study the design details of a high-performance home, and to understand the experience of living in one.

After installation of a 13kW photovoltaic (PV) system, the home achieved a HERS Index of -14! The SWA team is providing certification support for a slew of exciting green building programs including the stringent Passive House US™ Certification, LEED for Homes, Living Building Challenge™, and ENERGY STAR v3.1.

Check out the video featuring the project team members: Architect, Elizabeth DiSalvo from Trillium Architects; Builder, Chris Trolle from BPC Green Builders; and SWA’s Maureen Mahle.

Question? Comment? Submit it below; we would love to hear from you!

CT Zero Energy Challenge (Part 1) – How Low Can You Go?

There were 11 projects entered into this year’s CT Zero Energy Challenge, sponsored by EnergizeCT.  The single- and multi-family homes taking part in this competition are designed and constructed utilizing innovative techniques in order to try and reach the illustrious goal of net-zero energy-use.

I’m excited to report that SWA worked with 4 of the homes entered into this year’s competition, including the first- and third-place winners! For each of the three winning projects, EnergizeCT has created a video to showcase the story behind the homes, and to highlight some of the most notable features.

Today’s video is about the first-place winner, a single-family home in South Glastonbury, CT, constructed by Glastonbury Housesmith. The owners, Carl Benker and Elizabeth Wegner are first-time homebuyers who wanted to be able to live as close to “off the grid” as possible. Check out SWA’s HERS-rater extraordinaire, Karla Donnelly, discussing the competition, and how this home came to achieve an amazing HERS Index Rating of a -23!

(Right-click and select “run this plug-in” if you cannot see the video below)

 

The project also won the 2015 RESNET Cross Border Challenge for lowest HERS score with photovoltaics (PV)!

You can read more information on SWA’s project here. 

Lindenguild Hall: A Contemporary Approach to PV in Green Affordable Housing

Written by Katie Schwamb

PartyWalls_KatieSLinden

Katie Schwamb, one of the project’s contributing sustainability consultants

The Lantern Organization’s Lindenguild Hall is a 104-unit multifamily residential project that provides permanent shelter for under-served populations in the Bronx. On-site supportive service programming, open-use learning and activity rooms, and outdoor leisure space provide an enriched living experience for tenants. Contributing to the programmatic requirements of both LEED® for Homes™ and NYSERDA’s Multifamily Performance Program (MPP), the building’s sustainable and energy-efficient design features include high-efficiency boilers, a high-performance envelope assembly, low-emission finishes, low-flow plumbing fixtures, and a water-efficient landscaping and irrigation system. While all of these design elements contribute synergistically to high-performance operation, there is one feature that distinguishes Lindenguild Hall from many other affordable and supportive housing projects in New York…its extensive photovoltaic (PV) array.

Lindenguild Hall - Green Affordable Housing

Lindenguild Hall – Green Affordable Housing

Located on the building’s high-albedo roof, this 66-module solar electric array captures energy to help power lighting, heating, and cooling systems within the building’s common spaces, while reducing overall demand on the city’s electrical grid. An advanced feature of Lindenguild Hall’s PV system is its capacity for online monitoring, which provides building managers with real-time results, including metrics for solar generation in kW (kilowatts) and the overall kWh (kilowatt-hours) generated to date. Availability of this data enables management to assess the positive impact of renewable energy systems on their building’s performance. Long-term implications of alternative energy production on building stock include reduced life-cycle cost and protection against municipal energy uncertainties. Though less quantifiable , installation of innovative green technology adds momentum to standardizing sustainability in affordable housing design.

Lindenguild Hall - Solar Array for Green Affordable Housing

Lindenguild Hall – Solar Array

Lantern Organization, a not-for-profit housing developer and service provider, operates by actively addressing housing needs and offering social initiatives to strengthen disadvantaged NYC communities. SWA’s Residential Green and Multifamily New Construction groups helped Lindenguild Hall navigate the LEED for Homes program and secure NYSERDA MPP incentive funds. Committed to delivering the greatest benefit to their residents, Lantern acknowledges the added value of incorporating green building features into their affordable projects. Increased energy efficiency and improved indoor air quality potentially translate to lower energy cost burden and decreased susceptibility to disease for low-income populations.