How to Talk Windows with a Passive House Nerd

Before we get into this topic, please take a few seconds to consider the following questions:

  • Do you plan to work, or have you ever worked, on a Passive House building? (If not, the rest of your answers are probably no.)
  • Has your Passive House consultant ever told you that the window U-Value you provided “won’t work in their energy model?”
  • Has your Passive House consultant ever told you that your window “doesn’t meet the comfort criteria?”
  • Have you ever scratched your head when someone asked you to provide the “Psi-spacer” for your window?

If you answered yes to two or more of these queries, please read on. If not, you’ll still learn some useful information, so why not continue?

If you’re still reading, then you are probably somewhat familiar with a “U-Value” and you may know what “SHGC” means. If not, no worries. This article will explain both, and by the end you’ll be able to talk about these terms with most Passive House nerds.

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Tech Notes: Door Surface

The 2010 ADA Standards and the A117.1 Standard for Accessible and Usable Buildings and Facilities require the bottom 10 inches on the push side of a door to be smooth and free from any obstructions for the full width of the door. While there are some exceptions (e.g., sliding doors or tempered glass doors without stiles), this requirement applies at the following locations:

  • 2010 ADA Standards:
    • Public and Common Use Areas: All doors along the accessible route
    • Accessible Dwelling Units: The primary entry door and all doors within the unit intended for user passage
  • A117.1 Standard:
    • Public and Common Use Areas: All doors along the accessible route
    • Type B Dwelling Units: The primary entry door
    • Type A and Accessible Dwelling Units: The primary entry door and all doors within the unit intended for user passage

The door surface provision is intended to ensure the safety of people with disabilities who require the use of a wheelchair, walker, cane, or other mobility aid. It is common to utilize the toe of the wheelchair or leading edge of another mobility device to push open a door while moving through it. The smooth surface allows the footrest of a wheelchair or other mobility device that comes into contact with the door to slide across the door easily without catching.

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Whole Building Blower Door Testing – Big Buildings Passing the Test

The residential energy efficiency industry has been using blower door testing since the mid 1980’s to measure the air tightness of homes. Since then, we’ve evolved from testing single family homes, to testing entire apartment buildings. The Passive House standard requires whole-building testing, as will many local energy codes, along with assembly testing. While the concept of – taking a powerful fan, temporarily mounting it into the door frame of a building, and either pulling air out (depressurize) or pushing air into it (pressurize) – is the same for buildings both large and small, the execution is quite different for the latter.

Commonly called a whole-building blower door test, we use multiple blower doors to create a pressure difference on the exterior surfaces of the entire building. The amount of air moving through the fans is recorded in cubic feet per minute (CFM) along with the pressure difference from inside to out in pascals. Since the amount of air moving through the fans is equal to the amount of air moving through the gaps, cracks, and holes of the building’s enclosure, it is used to determine the buildings air tightness. Taking additional measurements at various pressure differences increases the measurement accuracy and is required in standards that govern infiltration testing. Larger buildings usually test at a higher-pressure difference and express the leakage rate as cubic feet per minute at 75 pascals or CFM75.

Image of SWA staff setting up blower door test

SWA staff at a project site setting up a blower door test

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Electric Cars: Are They Better for Your Pocket and the Climate Right NOW?

Last week, I read a blog post from Connecticut Fund for the Environment President Curt Johnson, and he reaffirmed what I already expected: my next car will likely be an electric vehicle (EV). I currently drive a Toyota Prius hybrid, but when I bought it in 2013, the price to purchase and to operate an EV did not work out, so I chose the Prius, which has very reliably achieved 50 mpg over the last six years.

As an engineer who admittedly knows nothing about cars, I feel like the information out there on EVs is either slightly biased (i.e., published by EV manufacturers) or not transparent enough with the math to convince me. So I set out to create a blog post that was unbiased and transparent. I liked this one from Tom Murphy, an associate professor of physics at the University of California, San Diego, so hopefully I’m making it a bit more user-friendly and applicable to your current/local situation.

I just wanted to know two simple things (and admit to ignoring a long list of other factors that influence the type of car most people will choose to drive):

Number 1: At what gas price is an EV cheaper to drive per mile?

Number 2: While EV tailpipe emissions are zero, is my local electric grid clean enough that it’s a good idea, right NOW? I know my next car will be electric, I just don’t know WHEN the grid will be clean enough that it’s better for the environment for me to switch.

When I began writing this article, I had no idea what the answers would be.

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Tech Notes: Accessible Parking in Precast Garages

When designing accessible parking spaces, it is important to remember that the slope of the ground surface for the entire parking space and adjacent access aisle must not exceed 2% in any direction. We frequently see noncompliant slopes at accessible spaces, especially when the ground surface is asphalt or permeable pavers.  The slope along the perimeter of spaces at curbs or gutters is frequently more than 2% at up to 5%, which requires careful detailing and planning on the part of the architect, civil engineer, and on site contractors to ensure that a compliant slope is achieved at the accessible parking spaces. At parking structures and precast garage systems, we have found that important details and coordination needed to achieve compliant ground surface slopes are often overlooked.

 

Ground surface slopes at walls or parapets often exceed 2%, (blue highlight) resulting in noncompliant slopes at the heads of accessible parking spaces.

In parking structures, it is common for an area along the perimeter of the slab (adjacent to walls or parapets) to slope in excess of 2% for drainage purposes. In some cases, this slope is embedded into the precast system. As a result, accessible parking spaces must be located away from the sloped edges during the initial design phase.

In other cases, noncompliance results from the application of a cast in place (CIP) wash applied to the top of the precast slab. In the detail shown below, note the slope condition at the CIP topping. The wash is often indicated only in section details on the precast drawing set, making it easy to miss if designers are not specifically looking for how these details affect accessible parking spaces. The entire project team involved in the design and/or construction of the garage must be made aware of where accessible parking spaces are located and understand the specific slope requirements to ensure that details are properly coordinated.

The cast in place topping results in a slope of more than 2% at 8.33% at the head of the accessible parking space in this precast garage.

 

Once the garage is constructed, it is nearly impossible and very costly to fix noncompliant slopes at the head of accessible parking spaces. In some garages, we have been able to solve the problem by shifting the striping at accessible parking spaces. This results in the steeply sloped ground surface being located fully outside of the parking space and access aisle. The problem is that this solution is dependent upon whether the spaces can be shifted without compromising the minimum required width of the drive aisle or obstructing access to other parking spaces.

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