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Electrifying Central Ventilation Systems in Multifamily Buildings

A common strategy to provide ventilation in multifamily buildings is to design a central roof-top air handler that distributes outdoor air to each unit. The energy cost for this system, which commonly uses natural gas for heating for either a gas furnace unit or hot water from a central boiler is paid for by the building owner. However, there is another option – VRF[1]. With the unprecedented rise of VRF technology in the last decade combined with regulations such as New York City’s Local Law 97 of 2019[2] (carbon emission penalty), the industry is taking a giant leap towards building electrification. There are always questions and concerns raised against building electrification ranging from initial cost to operating cost to reliability of the VRF technology. From the owner’s perspective, the biggest question is usually surrounding the operating cost of an electric system compared to a natural gas system for heating, but the cost of ownership must consider multiple energy metrics. I was curious to understand the impact on various building energy profile metrics associated with a Dedicated Outdoor Air System (DOAS) using the conventional gas fuel source vs. the latest VRF heat pump technology using electricity in a multifamily building. The findings of this investigation challenge the deep-rooted notion that electricity, being more expensive than natural gas per BTU, will always cost more to operate.


Passive House: An Alternative Compliance Path to Toronto Green Standard Tier 3

It is clear to see that the Passive House (PH) standard is here to stay! Across North America, more States, Provinces, and Municipalities are integrating PH into their building standards. One of the more recent adopters is the City of Toronto. In the most recent version of the Toronto Green Standard (TGS), the PH standard is offered as an alternative compliance path to TGS Tier 3, and with this alternative compliance path one obvious question comes to mind: What is the major difference in required component efficiency for a multifamily building in Toronto that is looking to meet either the PH standard or TGS Tier 3?

The PH standard is performance-based and is focused on decreasing whole building energy demand, improving building durability, providing optimal occupant thermal comfort, improving indoor air quality, and reducing carbon emissions. The PH standard reduces building operation costs, decreases carbon emissions, and supports an improved indoor environmental quality for building occupants. The TGS has similar goals and benefits when compared to the PH standard, and there are some obvious synergies in the program design between TGS and PH. The tiered energy category in the TGS takes a similar approach to PH by offering an annual budget for three different categories. For PH you must comply with a total energy budget for annual heating demand, annual cooling demand, and total source energy use intensity. Similarly, but slightly differently, the TGS offers a budget for total site energy use intensity (TEUI), annual heating demand or Thermal Energy Demand Intensity (TEDI), and the additional category of Greenhouse Gas Intensity (GHGI). In both standards, the path to compliance is non-prescriptive and designers can implement a variety of component efficiencies and system options. See table 1 and 2 below:


Image of passive house criteria standards

Table 1: Passive House Standard Criteria

Second image of passive house criteria

Table 2: Toronto Green Standard Tier 3 Criteria


Just Your Typical Blower Door Test… in Sri Lanka – Star Garment Innovation Center

As the number of projects pursuing Passive House certification increases, so does the demand for whole building blower door tests. And so, performance of recent blower door tests took us to uncharted territory, not only for SWA, but for the Passive House Standard.

Rendering of Star Garment Facility


Working remotely with a project team across the globe, the Passive House team at SWA was tasked with retrofitting an outdated factory in Katunayake, Sri Lanka, into a Passive House certified garment manufacturing facility. Jordan Parnass Digital Architecture (JPDA) recruited SWA to provide technical assistance to the project team. Responsibilities for this project included Passive House design analysis and recommendations, mechanical design review, energy and thermal bridging modeling, and the testing and verification necessary to achieve certification from the Passive House Institute (PHI).


Pathways to Passive House Certification

Passive House logosDid you know that there are two pathways for earning Passive House certification? There’s Passive House International (PHI) and Passive House Institute US (PHIUS). Using an energy modeling software, both programs evaluate a building based on a variety of factors. Despite the misleading moniker, certification is not limited to just housing. In fact, building types from residential and commercial high-rises to industrial factories have earned Passive House certification around the globe. However, the two certification programs are run by separate institutions, using different energy modeling software and standards. However, both ultimately maintain the shared goal for high performance, low energy buildings.

Historically, around 2013, the PHIUS organization developed a new standard called PHIUS+ 2015 with a climate-specific approach and an alternate modeling software. Starting in March 2019, PHIUS projects will be held to updated requirements under the PHIUS+ 2018 program.

PHI also offers project and climate specific cooling demand thresholds, having previously begun offering alternate certification options in 2015. Additionally, PHI created a program called EnerPHit to provide more flexibility for retrofits. PHI recognizes buildings that exceed its standard certification by offering Plus and Premium certification, as well as a Low Energy Building certification pathway for projects that are near PH efficiency.


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…)