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Tag: Existing Building Performance

Passive + Adaptive Resiliency: A Recipe for Sustainability

The need for sustainably designed buildings and infrastructure is critical as extreme weather patterns and natural disasters resulting from climate change persist. One of the truest measures of sustainability in this case is resiliency. How the site, the building, and the systems respond to an extreme weather event or other consequences of climate change can determine its livability. For green building, resiliency can be passive or adaptive, meaning reactive to these types of events or proactive in surviving them.

The recent events in Texas highlight the need at a national level for building and infrastructure resiliency.  Sudden freezing temperatures forced the grid to shut down and left millions of residents without power. The failure of uninsulated water pipes and lack of winterization throughout the energy supply could (and should) have been remediated decades ago.  In fact, a commissioned report released after similar blackouts 22 years ago recommended the incorporation of resilient designs into the system by “installing heating elements around pipes and increasing the amount of reserve power available before storms”. Michael Webber, an energy professor at the University of Texas said: “We need better insulation and weatherization at facilities and in homes.. There’s weaknesses in the system we [still] haven’t dealt with.”[1] Now, politicians and leaders are calling for more of these passive solutions that may be too little too late on such a massive scale.

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Why Commission Solar Photovoltaic (PV) Systems?

Falling costs and rising demand for clean energy have increased the specification and installation of solar photovoltaic (PV) systems worldwide. In NYC, Local Laws 92 and 94 require solar PV and/or green roofs on all new buildings and alterations where the existing roof deck is being replaced. Third-party commissioning increases the likelihood that a PV system will perform as designed throughout its lifetime and reduces poorly performing PV systems, which erode the bottom line and damage solar energy’s reputation. This is probably why the NYC Energy Conservation Code requires that renewable energy systems greater than 25 kW be commissioned (C408.2).

Many factors can affect a PV system’s power output. Let’s look at some reasons why output may be less than expected.

Design Flaws

Commissioning agents help prevent design flaws when brought onto the project early in the process. Here are a few common design flaws:

Electrical Issues: In traditional string systems, modules are wired in series to increase voltage, as shown. However, if too few or too many modules are wired in series, the voltage will be outside of an inverter’s input range and there will simply be no power output. If modules of dissimilar current are wired together output will be reduced since the current of a string is limited by the module with the lowest current.

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NYC Building Energy Letter Grades: What Property Managers Need to Know

Building energy efficiency labels are now available for property owners of large NYC buildings to download and post in their lobbies. Each year, the labels will be available on October 1st and must be posted by October 31st. Failure to display the label for applicable buildings by the October 31st deadline will result in a violation from the Department of Buildings and fine of $1,250.

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Pirelli Historic Retrofit: Part 1

 

image of Pirelli buildingOne of the most important drivers in achieving Passive House certification (or achieving any goal!) is getting the project team involved from the start. Becker + Becker, the owner, architect and developer for the creative retrofit of the Pirelli Building, hired SWA’s Passive House, LEED, Enclosures, and Accessibility teams to coordinate during early design. Becker +Becker is invested in rebuilding for resilience, sustainability, and occupant health and comfort and appreciates the necessity of getting goals defined at the outset.

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AeroBarrier: A New Tool for Gut Rehabs?

Image of AeroBarrier eventAeroBarrier is touted as the best route to never fail another blower door test. The technology, which involves pressurizing a space with a blower door fan while misting a water-based glue into the air from multiple points throughout the space, is most often being used on new multifamily buildings after drywall is installed. SWA first experimented with the technique on the Cornell Tech high-rise building. Back in March, I reached out to Yudah Schwartz at SuperSeal Insulation, Inc. about a personal project, the gut rehab of a 2,500 SF detached single family home. While renovations aren’t something they normally do, Yudah and his team agreed to try a demo. Here’s what happened.

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The Numbers Are In! NYC Passive House Performance Data

In a collaborative effort that merged financing and energy use analysis, the New York City Passive House industry finally has performance data. Working together with Bright Power, The Community Preservation Corporation, and NYC Department of Housing Preservation & Development, this analysis is the first of its kind.

Why does this matter?

Energy Use Intensity (EUI) measures energy consumption on a per square foot basis to compare buildings and allows interested parties to gauge one building’s usage to another (or to a group of buildings with a similar use type). The study team compared the actual EUI of six completed Passive House-certified and Passive House-like buildings against recently completed multifamily code-built buildings. Information was gleaned from the EnergyScoreCards database and the Passive House (PH) target. The weather normalized data indicates the Passive House and Passive House-like buildings are performing much better than the comparable code-built group, but are not quite as efficient as the Passive House threshold. Industry leaders have recognized this performance gap – between predictive assumptions that rely on standardized patterns of use and the real-life habits of actual people living in the building. This gap has been a hot topic  at the past several New York Passive House conferences. The results from the current analysis provide a starting point now, so the industry can focus on strategies to continue to reduce EUIs.

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Choosing Insulation for Carbon Value – Why More is Not Always Better Part 2

In Part 1 of this blog post, we highlighted two of the most commonly used insulations in the U.S.– XPS board and closed-cell polyurethane spray foam – and noted that they are produced with blowing agents (HFC-based) that are putting more carbon into the air during construction than they save during building operation for many decades. We left you with a question: if we don’t use these insulations, how can we make up for the loss of the helpful qualities that has made us dependent on them?

Insulation Alternatives

One part of the answer comes from the development of new materials. In Europe over the last decade, Honeywell developed a new blowing agent, a hydro-fluoro olefin (HFO), which claims a global warming potential (GWP) of less than one, which is less than that of carbon dioxide.  First in Europe, and now in the U.S., manufacturers such as Demilec and Carlisle are coming to market with a closed-cell polyurethane spray foam that uses this blowing agent instead of the HFCs that carry a GWP of well over 1,000. These spray foams have a slightly better R-value  than their high-carbon predecessors, and otherwise have the same qualities that make them useful in multiple contexts – air/vapor barrier capability, conformance to irregularities and penetrations, etc.  However, they also have many of the same downsides – high flammability, potential (and not completely understood) off-gassing post-application, and the basic fact that they are petroleum products.

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5 New Year’s Resolutions for a High-Performance Year

We took some common New Year resolutions and put our SWA spin on them. This year, make resolutions to improve the built environment in 2020!

 

  1. Go on a (Carbon) Diet – diets are difficult, but as with all things, moderation is key. Reducing operational carbon use with super-efficient buildings is only part of the equation. We also need to understand the full Life Cycle of carbon use including building materials and products. Fortunately tools such as EC3 are making these analyses easier to understand; and products, including lower carbon insulation options and lower carbon concrete, are becoming readily available.
  2. Quit Smoking – enforcing no smoking policies is one of the best strategies to improve the health of all building occupants. If you do allow smoking, make sure you develop a good fresh air strategy and compartmentalize your units with a good air barrier. And check out more of our strategies for healthy indoor environments.
  3. Save More Money – lighting provides a significant area for savings. Sure, LEDs are great, but efficient design also means considering lighting power density (LPD). High efficiency fixtures placed in high concentrations still use a lot of energy and can result in over-lit spaces, which drive up upfront and operating costs. Lower your bills and the harsh glare with a smart lighting design.
  4. Travel More – seek out hotels and restaurants that people of all abilities can navigate with ease. Access Earth is an app that tracks the accessibility of public spaces worldwide to help take the guesswork out of accessible accommodations in new locations.
  5. Learn a New Skill or Hobby – looking to expand your horizons? Check out SWA Careers and join our team of change-makers to help develop and implement innovative solutions to improve the built environment.

 

 

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Higher Rated Homes = Higher Selling Value for Owners

As members of the HERS Rating community, we are very excited about the recent study conducted by Freddie Mac determining that homes rated under RESNET’s Home Energy Rating System (HERS) between 2013 and 2017 sold for an average of 2.7% more than comparable unrated homes.

Using a national random sample, the property value analysis found that better-rated homes are sold for 3 – 5% more than lesser-rated homes. In this case the “better” rating means a higher energy efficiency rating. It’s unclear from the study if this means a home with an average HERS rating, such as HERS 55 in the Northeast, could be valued at 2.7% more than the unrated home. And perhaps one approaching Zero Energy, such as HERS 10, could be valued at 5% more than the lower-rated home. I could be doing some very creative math here, but doesn’t that imply that the better rated home might just be valued about 7.7% more than the unrated home?

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The Making of the 2021 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC)

When I first started working at Steven Winter Associates, I didn’t know that one day I’d find myself involved in the development of codes and standards that impact how our buildings get built. I certainly don’t consider myself an expert, but I have learned a few things the hard way and thought they’d be worth sharing if you might be new to it.

So, here’s my very high-level summary of the code development process with respect to the 2021 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC), aka the “model” energy code. If you are looking for more detail, the ICC webpage has plenty of resources and a more detailed infographic than the one we’re showing and discussing here.

IECC Code Development Process Chart

 

 

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