Energy Codes: Who Needs ‘Em?

Energy Code. We could use that term for many things: how you feel after a cup of coffee, before a dreaded workout, or even at 2am when you’re staring at your bedroom ceiling knowing you have to be up in 4 hours. But here we’re talking about buildings, specifically in NYC.

Apparently, nine out of every 10 buildings have failed to meet the energy code, a set of standards that have been in place for a whopping 30 years. Crain’s New York published an article about it, featuring the NYC DOB’s audit results of thousands of architectural plans for new and renovated office and residential buildings.

Worried that your building might fail? Don’t fret, SWA’s in-house energy code expert, Michael O’Donnell, answered a few questions for us. Get the low down on what the energy code is all about and what these results mean.

Party Walls: So tell us, what is the energy code? And what (or who) brought about the need to enforce an energy code?
Michael O’Donnell: The energy code contains the minimum requirements that buildings must meet with regards to energy efficiency measures. According to the Department of Buildings, to meet the City’s goal of reducing greenhouse emissions by 30% by 2030, the New York City Energy Conservation Code (NYCECC) sets energy-efficiency standards for new construction, alterations, and changes to existing buildings. All new building and alteration applications filed on or after December 28, 2010 must comply with the 2011 edition of the NYCECC. The need to for an energy code has been around for many years but it is only really being enforced relatively recently.

PW: What are the benefits of a building meeting the energy code?
MO: Buildings that effectively meet the energy code will be better insulated, have better HVAC systems, and better lighting systems. As these systems are designed, implemented, and optimized, reduced operating costs for both owners and tenants will result. There are also environmental benefits of reducing greenhouse gas emissions achieved by utilizing less electricity and/or heating fuel.

PW: What are the potential risks of not meeting the energy code standards?
MO: Potential risks of not meeting the energy code include tenant comfort complaints, higher operating costs for electricity and/or heating fuel, and, more recently, action by the Department of Buildings. Energy code audits of building plans have the potential to stop a project in its tracks as well as impose fines for constructed buildings that are not meeting the code.

PW: What are the biggest reasons buildings fail to meet the energy code?
MO: There are a few reasons buildings fail to meet the energy code. Specific details are often missed or not included in the construction drawings and specifications. If details are not included, the contractor will not incorporate these items into what actually gets built. Even if specific energy related items are incorporated, the contractor may not have the knowledge to properly install or execute what is shown. Finally, it takes a trained inspector to know what to look for to ensure buildings are compliant with energy code. NYC requires the large majority of projects to file a “TR8: Technical Report Statement of Responsibility for Energy Code Progress Inspections” form through which a licensed architect or engineer takes the responsibility of inspecting for energy code compliance. This form is required in NYC, but other jurisdictions, which do not require the progress inspection run the risk of having items overlooked or missed since there is not a third party inspecting specifically for energy code items.

Read the Crain’s New York article here:
http://www.crainsnewyork.com/article/20140818/REAL_ESTATE/308179994/9-of-10-building-plans-fail-basic-test

Greenbuild Recap: Steven Winter Talks Building Science

As part of Hanley Wood’s Vision 2020 Sustainability Council, Steven Winter presented his thoughts on how building science can have a big impact on meeting 2020 energy efficiency targets.  The presentation took place on the first day of Greenbuild 2014 (10/22) in NOLA. (I should write out the city’s proper name, but it’s a fun acronym that I don’t often get to use!)

Some great themes to watch for: Thinking about large-scale impacts, the role that new technology will play, how to motivate change.

 

So, carrots or sticks? What do you think’s more effective?

Get This: Engineer Runs House with Car!

Gayathri Vijayakumar, a seasoned Buildings Systems Engineer at SWA ,took a unique precaution against future electrical power outages…

Gayathri connected her Toyota Prius to her New Haven home’s power system.

Gayathri and her Prius

How did she do that?

Gayathri took a special inverter and connected it to her hybrid car, which created a generator. This distinctive system works by connecting the inverter to a transfer switch and starting the Prius, generating enough electricity (1600 Watts) to run the critical circuits in her house, including pre-selected lights, refrigerator, and the electric ignition to the tankless gas water heater.

The inverter, purchased from ConVerdant Vehicles, was less expensive than a standard gas generator, provides electricity by using half the fuel, and is much quieter.

Inverter

 “We were not prepared for our first power outage in Connecticut, but we were able to use the gas stove for cooking and our gas fireplace kept the first floor at well over 70F. Being without a fridge and hot water was a challenge though. Now that we have the Prius, at $4/gallon of gas, generating electricity through the inverter is still more than twice as expensive as buying it from the utility. But in a power outage situation, being able to provide basic power for three days on one tank of gas is pretty amazing” said Gayathri.

Mother Nature is showing us that even though it is critical to focus on energy-efficient building designs and renewable systems, we must include storm resiliency as another component of designing truly sustainable buildings.

Have you taken any unique precautions to protect your home/building against future storms?

Engineering – It’s Not Just a Job, It’s a Lifestyle

Having been in the energy efficiency industry for over a decade, it was always a sore point when SWA’s senior engineer, Srikanth Puttagunta, talked about his own home.  Built in 2003, the townhome was energy inefficient and uncomfortable. With the thermostats set at 70°, temperatures in individual rooms could be 5-10° colder or warmer than the setpoint.

What was the best solution?

Moving. This past year Sri purchased an older split-level home with upgrades to the kitchen and bathrooms. But, it was still energy inefficient. With the help of trusted SWA collaborators Preferred Builders Inc. and Controlled Temperatures Inc., Sri followed the same advice he’d been giving all these years.

Steps to Energy Efficiency

The first step was to insulate and air seal the building shell.  The  old fiberglass batts were removed from the exterior walls (a) prior to dense packing  the wall cavities with cellulose (b), taping all seams in the sheathing (c), installing a drainable housewrap (d), and re-siding (e) with fiber cement siding. After that came air sealing of the roof deck with closed cell spray polyurethane foam (f).

The Perks of Natural Gas

Taking advantage of the availability of natural gas, the old heating system – an oil boiler with an immersion coil for domestic hot water – was replaced with a natural gas, condensing tankless combi-boiler that feeds the existing baseboard radiators and provides domestic hot water.

Keeping it Cool

Cooling was previously provided by a through-wall air conditioner in the kitchen area and window air conditioners in the bedrooms. These were removed and a multi-head mini-split heat pump was installed that provides cooling and supplemental heating. Finally, a 5.2 kW  solar PV system was installed on the roof (g).

The Results

Based on the previous homeowners’ oil and electric bills, energy modeling and testing of the home (73% reduction in air leakage), and initial utility bills since moving in, the upgrades that were performed on this home should result in a nearly 70% reduction in annual energy costs. With about $3,850 per year in savings, the simple payback is less than 15 years. Now that is a home that anyone can be proud of!

Composting with Celeste

Composting

Sustainability Consultant and SWA’s Master Composter, Celeste McMickle, recently lead the workshop, “In-Home Composting” at the GreenHomeNYC Forum. Celeste discussed best practices for at-home (or in-office!) composting, as well as the tools and resources needed for the experienced composter and newbie alike.  For those of us who were unable to attend the workshop, we asked Celeste a few questions about one of her favorite topics.

SWA: What is compost?

CM: Composting is the process of speeding up natural decomposition through science.

SWA: How did you get into composting?

CM: I have always loved gardening and composting is a vital part of the gardening process as it provides nutrients and vitality to the soil and plants. I wanted to learn more and was thrilled to find out about the NYC composting initiatives and wanted to get involved.

SWA:  What are the greatest benefits of composting?

CM: It’s a great way to divert food waste from the overall waste stream. About 40% of household garbage is compostable. Think about what that can do for our ecological footprint, especially as many landfills are at or beyond capacity. We always think of trash and waste as a problem, and I love that compost can be a solution. It’s this marketable desirable product that we can create just be eating the foods we love and choosing to not put them in the landfill.

SWA: How do you use compost?

CM: I’m very fortunate to have a vegetable garden nourished by the compost I make at home (fueled in part by the efforts of team members at SWA!). If you don’t have a garden you can use compost for house plants, street trees, give it to friends, or donate it to a local collection site.

Have you tried composting before?  Let us know what you think!