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Tag: Resiliency

Integrating Social Equity into Green Building – Part 1: “Just Sustainability”

The causes of social inequity and injustice are deeply rooted within the systems that shape our society, including the built environment. The built environment represents the literal foundation of our society’s presence in the world – from the smallest rural community to the largest city. The way in which buildings are designed, constructed, and maintained has a tremendous influence on the equity (or inequity), and the justice (or injustice), of our society. The way we build and the strategies we employ can either continue to worsen social issues or can lay the groundwork for significant progress to be made on these issues in places around the world.

The building industry continues to make progress on reducing negative environmental impacts of the built environment. In fact, we’re increasingly seeing practices and strategies go beyond “sustainable” to “regenerative,” with such goals as net-positive energy, water, and waste. Now, the industry is reckoning with the urgent need to integrate social equity into its definition of sustainability in order to also reduce negative social impacts of the built environment. We might accelerate the process by framing the goal as “net-positive equity.” (more…)

Choosing Insulation for Carbon Value – Why More is Not Always Better Part 1

SWA’s Enclosure Group is acutely aware that insulation is the most important single material choice to maximize the enclosure’s thermal resistance over its operational life. Many of us in the building industry believe that, combined with a good continuous air seal, the highest insulation value makes the greenest enclosure, helping to reduce a structure’s carbon footprint and combat climate change. It may come as a surprise, then, that some of the most commonly used insulation materials are so carbon-heavy to manufacture and/or install, that for many decades they wipe away the carbon-energy savings they are supposed to provide.  The following is a detailed discussion of how and why this is, and what the industry is doing to change the equation.

Embodied vs. Operational Carbon

The built environment looms large in the climate picture, because almost 40% of the total carbon put into the planet’s atmosphere each year is attributed to buildings. Over the past 30 years of green building, we have overwhelmingly focused on operational carbon – the carbon that buildings emit as they are being used. Only recently have we begun to focus on embodied carbon – the carbon that goes into constructing buildings, which is typically far greater than the energy saved in the first decades of operation. Changes in energy codes are aimed at operational carbon, and even those organizations and standards that have been at the forefront of promoting sustainable building [LEED, PH] have not been quantifying or limiting embodied carbon, although they bring attention to it.

The Time Value of Carbon

Assuming that a building stands for many decades, or even centuries, its operational carbon will eclipse its embodied carbon over its lifetime, and therefore when the building’s carbon Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) is calculated, operational carbon savings will be more important than embodied carbon saved/spent in the long run. Why does embodied carbon deserve equal weight with operational carbon? Because of the total global carbon emissions from buildings, 28% is pegged to embodied carbon. That’s already a large percentage, but when you consider the near term, the first 30 years of a building’s life, the percentage jumps to about 50%. In effect, every new building is in carbon debt upon completion due to the huge amount of carbon emitted  in order to construct it., And in order for the climate to benefit from the energy savings provided by a well-insulated and sealed enclosure and a high efficiency energy system, the building needs to last and be used for a very long time. The problem is that we may not have 30 years, let alone 60, to pay off that carbon debt.

In the first 30 years of a building’s operational life, 50% of its total carbon emissions are still due to embodied carbon (Source: Architecture 2030)

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Climate Week NYC: Seven Days of Climate Action and Discussion

 

Climate Week logoLast week, as I was writing this blog, I came across a New York Times article: “The Amazon, Siberia, Indonesia: a World of Fire.” By now, I’m sure most of us are aware that the Amazon Rainforest has been burning for weeks, but this deliberate act of environmental destruction will contribute to a feedback loop. These fires release carbon dioxide and kill the trees and species that not only remove greenhouse gasses from the air but are part of vital fragile ecosystems. As more climate-warming gasses fill the air, extreme weather patterns, drought, species loss, and global warming are exacerbated. These effects then accelerate the spread of infectious disease, global poverty, and human health defects. Overall, climate change and environmental degradation negatively affect both humans and the planet, which makes us less resilient and allows for climate change to accelerate even more aggressively. And the cycle continues.

So, for the sake of our (really wonderful) natural planet, and humankind, it is crucial that we try to hinder this feedback loop and make climate action a priority around the world. And, although individually we can try to have a more reciprocal relationship with the planet, our actions and voices carry more weight collectively, which is where Climate Week NYC comes in.

What is Climate Week NYC?

Organized by The Climate Group, Climate Week NYC is an annual week-long gathering for citizens and global leaders to join forces and take action to mitigate environmental harm caused by human activity. There will be a number of public events each day from September 23-29, including tours, film screenings, conferences, and more.

Fun fact: Swedish teenager and activist Greta Thunberg sailed across the Atlantic all the way from England to meet with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, and to attend the United Nations Climate Action Summit, scheduled on the first day of Climate Week NYC!

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It’s Time to Focus on Our Schools

If you are a parent like me, I am sure you cherish your kids and seek to offer them the best opportunities in life. I even moved to a different school district. And, while the education is top-notch in my town, I have come to realize that it really doesn’t matter what school district you are in…all our schools need help. I am not talking about smaller class sizes, better pay for teachers, after-school programs, and more school supplies, although those are important. School buildings need attention. With budgetary pressures, a lot of maintenance and repairs are being deferred and schools are not aging well. Whether it is repairing existing systems, replacing systems at the end of their useful life, renovating, or building a brand-new school to service your community for future generations, advocate for your Board of Education (BoE) to think holistically about improving the conditions for our children.

Why My Call to Action?

This year I was asked to join our elementary school’s Tools for Schools committee, which is tasked with implementing an indoor air quality (IAQ) management plan. This experience gave me an opportunity to get involved and provided me insight into the school’s systems and the operations and maintenance (O&M) processes that were in place.

Unfortunately, at the start of the 2018 school year, mold issues were identified in our local middle school and the building was closed. In fairness, I quickly realized that buildings were outside the BoE members’ knowledge base. Afterall, they are educators, not facility managers or building scientists. They sought outside consultants but didn’t know the right questions to ask. After some time, the BoE decided to get input from local experts in the community. Fortunately, we have several experts (including me) who were willing to volunteer their time. As part of a task force, we laid out a strategy to remediate the mold issues in the school and to implement short- and long-term repairs to minimize/eliminate water incursion and elevated moisture issues within the building.

I am not saying you must get involved at this level, but I do encourage you to attend a BoE meeting and start asking questions related to IAQ. Ask if the school has deferred maintenance needs and if/when these are being addressed in the annual budget. Ask when (if) comprehensive physical needs assessments and energy audits were performed on all school buildings. Educate yourselves; then help educate your BoE and your community on IAQ guidelines for schools. Here are some great resources:

How Can SWA Help?

In working with schools, I have learned that one of the greatest challenges school decision-makers face is not knowing where to turn for support and guidance. Steven Winter Associates, Inc. (SWA) has been working to improve educational facilities for decades. Whether you have questions related to mold, moisture, comfort, absenteeism, accessibility, high utility bills…on up to zero energy design and progressive learning environments, SWA can support you. Here is just a sample of past school projects that SWA has worked on:

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Foundation Waterproofing – Proper Installation and What NOT to do!

As mentioned in Foundation Waterproofing 101, water damage to a foundation can be very costly and difficult to repair. By paying close attention to how and where water might enter the foundation during the early stages of construction, typical failures can be avoided by following these simple guidelines…

For the Designer: Keys to proper installation

Design and Quality Assurance

  • Don’t wait to design the foundation waterproofing system after you’re already in the ground!
  • Specify and detail the appropriate system for each project. Meet with manufacturer reps early!
  • Require shop drawings and kickoff meetings to ensure the entire team understands the importance of the design! Review examples of common failures.
  • Get your consultants on board early: Geotechnical engineer, Structural engineer, Waterproofing/enclosure consultant.
  • Review warranties, require third party inspections, installer certification, and contractor training.

For the Installer: Keys to proper installation

Substrate preparation

  • Provide smooth continuous surfaces to install waterproofing – minimize jogs, protrusions, and sharp edges.
  • At slabs: compacted fill/rigid insulation board/rat slabs
  • At walls: fill bugholes, remove/grind concrete fins, mortar snots, fill form tie holes, verify form release agents and compatibility.

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Foundation Waterproofing 101

Foundation Waterproofing Cutaway

Credit: Basement Waterproofing Baltimore (2018, February 20). http://aquaguardwaterproofing.com

Designing buildings with water protection in mind is critical to protecting buildings from future damage, difficult/costly repairs, and potential litigation. Foundations are by necessity in the ground. So is water. Foundation waterproofing is intended to keep them separate, by providing a layer of protection between a below-grade structure and the moisture present in the surrounding soil and fill. Waterproofing is especially important when the foundation lies below the water table or in a flood zone. Read on to learn about different approaches and materials used to waterproof foundation walls and slabs and specific detailing needed to provide a watertight enclosure. And, check out Part 2 of this series for specific guidance and examples to achieve a watertight enclosure.

Why is foundation waterproofing necessary?

Did you know? Water intrusion makes up more than 70% of construction litigation.Water

Foundations are basically holes in the ground that want to fill with water. Poor site drainage, through-wall penetrations, concrete cracking/mortar joints and movement, door/window/vent openings, flooding, high water tables, hydrostatic pressure – all contribute to the propensity for water to fill the subterranean void we have established. Foundation leaks are difficult and costly to rectify, not to mention designer/contractor financial liability. Water in a basement is water in a building. Excess moisture within a building is a recipe for higher RH and increases the potential for condensation, and mold and other allergens.

Luckily, foundation water intrusion is usually preventable. The goal is to identify all the potential water transport mechanisms, and address them, through good design practices, proper detailing, and quality execution. (more…)

Bridgeport, CT – A Model for Resiliency

The pattern along the water’s edge in Bridgeport, Connecticut presents a familiar scene to New Englanders: active harbors and historic homes interspersed with blighted buildings and weathered infrastructure. The city’s architecture suggests a prosperous past and a difficult present. But this city—prone to acute and chronic flooding, and facing the ills of climate change and sea level rise—will not leave its future to chance. The City of Bridgeport has a plan to survive and even thrive in the next decades of environmental change, and may position itself as a national leader in resiliency.

Map of the study area showing proposed floor barriers and low impact development

Map of the study area showing proposed flood barriers and low impact development

In this context, “resiliency” refers to adaptation to the wide range of regional and localized impacts that are expected with a warming planet. Last fall, David Kooris, former Connecticut Director of Housing, visited SWA’s Norwalk office and presented Bridgeport’s vision: Resilient Bridgeport. The project began in 2014 when the City assembled a multidisciplinary design team, led by New Orleans-based Waggonner and Ball, to prepare an integrated resilience framework for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Rebuild by Design Competition. The following year, Connecticut was awarded a HUD grant of $10,000,000 to develop a plan for reducing flood risk, improving resilience for the South End and Black Rock Harbor areas, and building an ambitious pilot project in the South End that combines physical barriers and low impact development.

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Replacing Indian Point – An Update

Last year, we wrote about New York State’s plans for replacing the 2,000 megawatts of electricity provided by Indian Point. As of March 2018, Indian Point is still slated to close in April of 2021. The New York State Independent System Operator (NYISO) will reassess the plant’s retirement plan later this year and will continue reassessing this plan regularly to ensure that the state’s electricity needs are met. At the time of the initial closure announcement, the replacement plan leaned heavily on increasing transmission capacity to New York City, particularly via the proposed Champlain Hudson Power Express. However, there were still some gaps between downstate’s power requirements and the total power available without Indian Point.

Indian Point Image

In December 2017, NYISO released an Indian Point retirement assessment report and concluded that downstate’s power requirements will be met, providing that three proposed power plant projects in New York and New Jersey are completed on time. The CPV Valley Energy Center will be a 680 MW natural gas-fueled combined cycle plant in Wawayanda, NY, opening later this year. The Cricket Valley Energy Center will be a 1,100 MW natural gas-fueled power plant in Dover, NY, and is slated to begin power generation in 2020. An additional 120 MW of capacity will be added in Bayonne, NJ. As of the end of 2017, NYISO has determined that all three of these projects must come online by 2021 in order for the Indian Point shutdown to go through.

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The Energy Code of the Future: Modeling and Performance-Based?

It has been clear for some time that energy codes are on course to require carbon-free buildings by 2030. Adoption at the local level will see some areas of the country getting there even sooner. For example, California has set net zero goals for its residential code by 2020. These developments have accelerated the debate about the effectiveness of energy modeling versus performance-based approaches to compliance.

Chart: Improvement in ASHRAE Standard

Improvement in ASHRAE Standard 90/90.1 (1975-2013) with Projections to 2030. Courtesy of Pacific Northwest National Laboratory 2015

Let’s start with energy modeling, where change is coming for the better. In the past, the energy modeling community has been required to continuously respond to energy code cycle updates with new baseline models. That is, the bar for uncovering savings would be increased each and every time a new energy code was adopted. Following a code update, program staff and the energy modeling community would have to go through another learning curve to determine where to set a new bar and how to model the changes. (more…)

Designing Solar for High Density Areas

As seen in:

Humans have been trying to harness the power of the sun for millennia. The advent and popularization of photovoltaics in the latter half of the twentieth century made doing so accessible to the masses. Today, solar arrays are commonly seen adorning the roofs of suburban homes and “big-box” retailers, as well as on other landscapes including expansive solar farms and capped landfills. Until recently, the common thread amongst these locations has been the employment of open space. Solar applications have historically been reserved for use in areas of low-to-moderate building density.

By the end of 2050, solar energy is projected to be the world’s largest source of electricity. While utility-scale solar will comprise the majority of this capacity, there will also be significant growth in the commercial and residential sectors – particularly in cities. Industry influencers are increasingly focused on creating opportunities for solar applications in high-density areas, where much of the demand lies.

In their 2014 Technological Roadmaps for solar PV and solar thermal electricity (STE), the International Energy Agency (IEA) predicts Solar PV and STE to represent over 25% of global electricity generation by 2050In their 2014 Technological Roadmaps for solar PV and solar thermal electricity (STE), the International Energy Agency (IEA) predicts Solar PV and STE to represent over 25% of global electricity generation by 2050.

 

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