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Mandatory Energy Benchmarking.. Coming to a City Near You?

Measurement enables Management; Transparency enables Accountability… The quintessential concepts driving adaptation of mandatory energy benchmarking legislation.

Commercial_Benchmarking_Policy_Matrix (cities) - 8.1.14 (2)

Mandatory energy benchmarking represents a pivotal step towards reforming energy usage in American cities, as it galvanizes populations through collective reduction. Like any immature “innovation”, the practice faces barriers and static hindering widespread adaptation and dissemination into the mainstream.

What factors influence proliferation?

Unique building stock and varied regulatory needs necessitate city-specific reporting plans. Until there is a scaleable model of best-practices, development will continue to be resource and time intensive for administration.

Complexity in execution threatens data integrity and program usefulness. Unintentional errors, difficulty in obtaining information, and unfamiliarity with ENERGY STAR’s Portfolio Manager all weaken database strength. The remedy lies in educating elected reporters. Program handlers must be well versed with the operations and techniques necessary to perform their role effectively.

Stakeholder push-back during implementation deters participation and damages program reputation. Greater visibility of post-retrofit results will dispel doubts of program usefulness, while increased availability of financial incentives will quiet claims of marginalization [under-performers stigmatized as poor living options] and unfair penalization [fining of historic buildings or financially underserved properties].

The Access Files – The Truth is Out There

Peter Stratton

Peter Stratton, SWA’s Director of Accessibility Compliance and Consulting

SWA Access is the quarterly publication created by SWA’s Accessibility Compliance and Consulting Group to convey the importance of, and help  demystify the often complex world of accessible design, construction, and compliance. After all, as the group’s director, Peter Stratton, often says, “Sustainable Design is Accessible Design.”

Each edition of the newsletter features a section that answers specific questions asked during project work or public seminars. We will periodically post these items to Party Walls, but if there’s something you would like answered now, you can post your question in the comment section below and someone from SWA’s accessibility team will answer them (and in a timely manner!)

Q: Under the Fair Housing Amendments Act, are multifamily housing developments that utilize valet parking still required to provide a total of 2% accessible parking spaces serving covered dwelling units?

A: Yes. the guidelines require that accessible parking be provided for residents with disabilities on the same terms and with the full range of choices that are provided to all residents. Providing valet parking in lieu of self parking does not change this requirement. A minimum of 2% of the parking spaces that serve covered dwelling units must be accessible. Local code requirements may be more stringent when it comes to requirements for accessible parking. Find more information by visiting:
Supplement to Notice of Fair Housing Accessibility Guidelines: Questions and Answers about the Guidelines.

Q: Is it true that HUD now accepts the 2010 ADA Standards (2010 Standards) as an alternative to the Uniform Federal Accessibility Standards (UFAS) for compliance with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504)?

A: Yes. HUD issued a Notice, effective May 23, 2014, that permits recipients of Federal funding to use the 2010 Standards as an alternative to UFAS on projects subject to Section 504. However, HUD has deemed certain provisions of the 2010 Standards to provide less accessibility than is currently required by UFAS. So, be sure to learn about the exceptions if you choose to apply the 2010 Standards to your next project. HUD’s Notice remains in effect until the agency formally adopts an updated accessibility standard for compliance with Section 504.

Where is it now: Greenbuild’s LivingHome

We’ve talked about this conference already this month, but we couldn’t leave out one of the coolest parts that one of our own SWArriors, Maureen Mahle, got to participate in – a modular green home assembled on the showroom floor at the 2014 Greenbuild Conference and Expo. SWA is a partner of the Greenbuild LivingHome which was created in collaboration with Hanley Wood, LivingHomes, Make it Right, and the International Cradle To Cradle Products Innovation Institute. This show home, which Greenbuild attendees got to tour, achieves an array of lofty goals that enable it to be supremely sustainable both for the environment and its owners.

Greenbuild LivingHome, led by California-based designer of green modular home, is the result of a unique integrated design process, utilizing designers, vendors, and building science know-how from all over the country. Today, vendors are using the home as an opportunity to showcase the latest and greatest in residential green building products, including Cradle to Cradle certified products and Forest Stewardship Council certified woods.

One of the stand-out LEED® features of the home is the commitment to durable, resilient construction. Other site features include:

  • Permeable paving to maintain an almost permeable lot for managing stormwater.
  • Framing was treated for pest resistance.
  • Termite barriers installed at base plates, and a non-toxic termite bait system surrounding the home.
  • Closed cell foam, used to insulate the elevated floor.
  • Continuous drainage plane directs bulk water down and away.

So where is the home now?
On its site in the Lower 9th Ward in NOLA, owned by the Make it Right Foundation, contributing to the city’s growing stock of green affordable housing. Make it Right is working to complete the home for occupancy in the next few weeks!

Here are some pictures of the construction of the modular home – gblh2014roughinsGBLH2014MainPorchgblhroofframing GBLH2014Firt2Modules

A virtual tour and more information can be found here: http://livinghome.greenbuildexpo.com/

Read more about the 2014 Greenbuild LivingHomes in our WinterGreen Newsletter.

Notes from Abroad: A SWArrior in Sweden

In October, NESEA awarded SWA’s Heather Nolen with a travel scholarship through the Kate Goldstein Fund for Emerging Professionals (you can read the announcement here). Heather joined four other scholarship recipients for a two week  journey to Denmark and Sweden to explore  innovative sustainability methods being used in their buildings. The following is blog entry written by Heather, describing her experience at a location outside of Stockholm. (This entry was reblogged from NESEA’s blog; you can find the original post here.)

We met with Björn Cederquist who was kind enough to tell us about Hammarby Sjöstad, a new sustainable district, which he is quite proud of.

Stockholm is a growing city, with a population of 1.5 million and a serious lack of housing. The city central is quite developed, outside the city there are the typical suburbs, it is the area between the city proper and the suburbs that Stockholm is looking to develop in a planned, sustainable manner. To meet the city’s housing needs Stockholm plans to construct 8,000 units per year, mind you they have only been building at 5,000 units/year of maximum. This is a large undertaking for the city which is being planned in a thoughtful way.

Despite the need for more units of housing there is a strong tradition in Stockholm of midrise buildings which accounts for the reluctance to build higher. Hammarby Sjöstad is mostly mid-rise with one exception, a single 12 story building.

Located in this prime area between the city and suburbs, Hammarby Sjöstad is located at an old harbor and landfill turned Brownfield site. To convert this piece of land into a residential community public transportation had to be extended, both the subway and train lines. The presence of transit shows a commitment to the area, a feeling of permanence which is required to build the community. 80% of residents commute by public transit.

To meet sustainability goals in a comprehensive way the district aimed to be a healthy place for people to live that stimulates the body and soul with opportunities for exercise, sports and culture. Design began in 1990 to construct an “Environmental and Ecological City District,” which includes 11,000 units housing over 25,000 people; an additional 10,000 are projected to work within this area. In addition to the housing and transit systems, power plants were constructed to provide district heating and cooling, waste removal including organic waste, public water supply and wastewater treatment.

Renewable energy sources, harvesting of energy from the areas wastewater system, burning of waste combustibles along with harvesting energy from the sewage system allow Hammarby Sjöstad to operate their CHP plant free of fossil fuels. Central heat pumps at the district plant operate year round to extract energy which allows for district cooling, planned for 10 years the plant is the largest in the world. The wastewater treatment plant harvests both bio-gas and bio-solids. Bio-gas is used to power buses, taxis and some individual stoves. Bio-solids are used as fertilizer in forest, filling mines and soon to be used for agriculture purposed. Combined with advanced waste collection and energy efficient construction Hammarby Sjöstad is a unique community which is a product of long-term planning and collaboration. Sites underdevelopment are learning from Ham Hammarby Sjöstad to further advance eco-districts for long-term success.

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Energy Codes: Who Needs ‘Em?

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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!

Make-Up Air or “Made-Up” Air?

In multifamily buildings, particularly in the Northeast, exhaust ventilation strategies are the norm as a method for meeting both local exhaust and whole-unit mechanical ventilation. We can easily measure that air is exhausted. What we don’t know is where the make-up air is coming from…

Is it “fresh” from outside, from the neighboring apartment, from a pressurized corridor, or the parking garage via the elevator shaft?
Well-intentioned design teams are providing fresh air in many forms, ranging from fully-ducted systems that deliver air directly to apartments, to more passive systems utilizing designed penetrations in the envelope such as trickle vents or fresh air dampers. With funding from DOE’s Building America program, SWA is conducting field research in several multifamily buildings with different types of mechanical ventilation systems to assess how make-up air is provided under the variable pressure conditions that can occur throughout the year.

The Approach
Even though it does not comply with fire codes in at least some jurisdictions, SWA‘s approach is to leave a gap under the apartment door to allow make-up air to enter from the corridor. The general strategy is to pressurize the corridor using outside air and depressurize the apartments through local exhaust. This strategy is being assessed in a 3-story, 78 unit building, where the design called for 5,250 CFM of supply air to the corridors and common areas and a total of 4,980 CFM of exhaust from janitor’s closets, and trash rooms, and continuous exhaust (30-50 CFM) from each apartment.

Measuring the Airflows
In order to extrapolate airflow measurements based on the varying conditions in the building, SWA measured airflows across the apartment door under normal operating conditions for eight apartments. Our team also monitored the pressure differential between the corridor and apartment over a two-week period for five apartments in the building.

Measurement system for determining air flow across door as a function of pressure difference.

Here’s a “Snapshot”
The measurements in the eight apartments showed that while exhaust fans were measured to continuously exhaust 30-40 CFM, the flow into the apartments through the doors ranged from 0 CFM to only 28 CFM. When bathroom exhaust fans in the apartments were activated to their “high” setting ( ~90 CFM each), the flow through the doors increased to an average of 37 CFM, still indicating that a majority of the make-up air is not from the corridor.

The long-term measurements in the five apartments showed airflow across the door into one apartment to max out at 24 CFM. The other four exhibited net airflow from the apartment into the “pressurized” corridor, as much as 40 CFM! Why?! One potential reason: measured supply and exhaust flows in the corridors showed that the supply systems were 25% lower than design and exhaust from the trash rooms was 25% more than design.

Stay tuned for a future post on our findings and recommendations.

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!