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Zero(ish) – Waste Living

In a world where everything seems to be packaged in two layers of plastic, where we are encouraged to constantly discard items to make room for new ones, and where social media drives our desire to consume the newest trends, it can seem impossible to reduce our waste. Living a zero-waste lifestyle seems almost too overwhelming. I find myself wondering, “How can I possibly reduce waste when industries target consumers to do the opposite?” and “Even if I do make changes in my own habits, is it enough to make a difference?

I struggle with the same paralyzing vastness that Jonathan Chapman mentions throughout his book Emotionally Durable Design. Paralyzing vastness describes the tendency to do nothing when a task seems too large to conquer, instead of taking smaller steps. In the past, the seemingly vast nature of zero-waste living discouraged me from doing anything beyond entry-level recycling, but I realized that minimizing my waste is something worth tackling. Therefore, I will be sharing some ideas for working towards a zero(ish)-waste lifestyle — because going from zero to one hundred, or in this case one hundred to zero can be scary — and I’ll include my experience implementing a few of the ideas myself.

WEEK ONE: Apartment Composting

In blogs and articles that speak on behalf of zero-waste living, the importance of sharing with others and asking for help getting started is most frequently emphasized. For example, my apartment complex does not offer any composting services, but the SWA office does (yay sharing!). For week one, I started composting and designated two small resealable containers — one for food waste, and another for paper towels — that are now living on my kitchen counter. I intended on utilizing these two bins throughout the week, and then bringing them to the office for a dump. If you have the ability to start your own compost bin, that’s great too.

While using paper towels throughout the week, I felt less bad about it knowing that they wouldn’t be going into the landfill, but I developed some questions: If I use the paper towel with cleaning supplies, can it be composted?… Is it worth collecting small bits of food waste when I could just eviscerate them in the garbage disposal?… Are garbage disposals bad for the environment and/or do they affect the energy utilized for wastewater treatment?

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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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Five Steps to Get Started with Net Zero Energy Buildings

Net zero buildings are becoming increasingly popular, and some jurisdictions, such as Washington, DC, are projected to become code within the decade. Massachusetts will also begin development of a net zero building code. Curious if your building is a net zero contender or what it would take to reach net zero targets?

What Does it Mean to be Net Zero?

The term “net zero” commonly refers to zero-energy buildings. In simple terms, a zero-energy building is one that produces as much energy as it consumes on an annual basis. There can be nuances and caveats to this definition, but for now, we want to bring you up to speed on five key net zero energy strategies to consider if you’re interested in developing a net zero building.

1. Maximize space for on-site renewable energy.

How tall is your building?

  • Any building over five stories will be challenging, if not impossible, to achieve net zero with on-site renewable energy production alone because building energy demand will likely exceed available site area. Maximize your solar with a smart layout and consider if other renewables, such as geothermal, are possible.

    Image of roof layout

    Typical roof layout for multifamily building, including necessary setbacks for fire access, mechanical equipment access, and shading from bulkheads. Fire access is based on FDNY guidelines.

Do you have other spaces available for solar photovoltaics (PV)?

  • Your development may have a separate parking garage or parking lot on site. These are great places to install a PV system, which can significantly increase the amount of on-site renewable energy production and help make achieving net zero more of a reality.

Do I have to have all renewables on-site to be net zero?

  • If you don’t have enough room for on-site renewables, you can look into purchasing off-site renewable energy options, such as community solar, power purchase agreements, or renewable energy credits.

Now that you’ve considered renewables, let’s move on to net zero building design considerations.

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Buildings to Cool the Climate

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), viewed as the most credible source of climate change research, issued an alarming report on October 2018 removing all doubt – absent aggressive action the atmosphere will warm up by as much as 2.7 ° F above preindustrial levels by 2040, inundating coastlines and intensifying droughts and poverty. The significance of this report is that the effects of climate change will occur in our lifetime.

The building construction sector has a critical role in drawing down carbon emissions by 2040. As nations all over the globe tackle operational emissions from buildings, we must now address our total emissions impact.

Estimated cumulative carbon emissions from new buildings 2020 to 2070

Life-cycle emissions resulting from buildings consist of two components: operational and embodied. A great deal of effort has been put into reducing the former as it is assumed to be higher than the latter. Studies have revealed the growing significance of embodied emissions in buildings, but its importance is often underestimated in energy efficiency decisions.

According to the Embodied Carbon Review 2018 by Bionova Inc, embodied carbon is the total impact of all the greenhouse gases emitted by the construction and materials of our built environment. Furthermore, during their life-cycle, the same products also cause carbon impacts when maintained, repaired, or disposed of.

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What is the Carbon Footprint of Your Holiday Shopping?

Have you ever wondered about the carbon footprint of your shopping habits? Is online shopping better for the environment than brick and mortar shopping? There are many studies on the subject and there are myriad factors to consider when answering these questions. To try and make this process a little easier, we have pulled together existing research and have developed a guide to reducing your carbon footprint this holiday season.

Image of Santa gifting coal

One 2013 study by MIT looked at the impact of online vs. in-store shopping for a few items (a t-shirt, a Barbie Doll, and a computer) and concluded that a few key factors can tip the scales in either direction. While this study ignored the impact of the embodied carbon of these items (more on this later), let’s look at the biggest factors that could contribute to your holiday shopping carbon footprint and factor into the store vs. online debate.

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How to Implement an Efficient Lighting Strategy in a Multifamily Passive House

Walking the aisle of your favorite home improvement store, you’ll notice the wide array of options for very efficient light fixtures. Don’t be fooled – truly efficient lighting design is achieved through thoughtful layout and proper controls.

Hallway lightingA high performance building warrants an efficient lighting strategy. With so many efficient LED fixtures available on the market, individual fixture efficiency is rarely an issue. However, these fixtures are often placed in high concentrations or at a higher wattage than necessary to adequately illuminate a space. The result is high lighting power density (LPD), which is measured by dividing the total light fixture wattage in a room by the square footage of that room. Even with controls such as occupancy or vacancy sensors, high LPDs are especially energy intensive in frequently occupied common areas, e.g., corridors and lobbies of multifamily buildings, impacting the bottom line efficiency of all buildings.

Projects pursuing Passive House certification are impacted by an optimized lighting scheme more so than a code-built building. As the heating and cooling energy used in a Passive House building decreases due to an excellent thermal envelope, the ratio of lighting energy used increases. Reducing lighting energy use can drastically improve the building’s overall primary energy demand. (more…)

Sustainable Spaces for Seniors

Panelists and organizers at the “Sustainable Spaces for Seniors: Design for Aging and the Environment” event at Hafele’s NYC Showroom

On May 1st, 2018, Steven Winter, founder and chairman of Steven Winter Associates (SWA), and Harold Bravo, Accessibility Consulting Director at SWA, moderated an event at the Hafele Showroom to discuss senior housing in New York City and its relation to accessible and sustainable design. The event was organized jointly by the AIANY Design for Aging Committee (DFA) and the AIANY Committee on the Environment (COTE).

A panel of experts presented perspectives from architecture, real estate development, and municipal government, and discussed the challenges of designing sustainable, comfortable, accessible, and healthy buildings for the aging population in New York City. The panel included Kleo J. King (Deputy and General Counsel, Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities), Isaac Henderson (Development Director, L+M Development Partners), Jack Esterson (Design Partner, Think! Architecture+Design), and Rich Rosen, AIA, LEED AP (Principal, Perkins Eastman).

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LEED v4.1 O+M is All-In!

Are you in? The US Green Building Council (USGBC) wants you to be. The “All-in” campaign has just officially expanded to include the new and highly anticipated LEED v4.1 for Building Operations and Maintenance (O+M).

Full disclosure: As a member of the Energy and Atmosphere (EA) Technical Advisory Group, I was involved in reviewing LEED v4.1 modifications. In the past, LEED had set significant barriers to entry for existing buildings. For example, LEED O+M EA Prerequisite Minimum Energy Performance set a baseline ENERGY STAR score of 75, which restricted certification to the top 25% of efficient buildings. This limitation often caused building owners to abandon LEED before even getting started, thus eliminating a key incentive for improving underperforming buildings’ environmental impact. LEED 4.1 has fixed this problem. The restrictive prerequisite for energy performance has been replaced with a voluntary credit, encouraging building owners to benchmark energy use and screen capital improvements against energy impacts.

The newest version of LEED O+M also incorporates Arc, USGBC’s performance tracking platform. In Version 4.1, the energy score is calculated based on two energy metrics:

  1. LEED v4 ImageThe traditional ENERGY STAR metric of annual Source Energy Use Intensity (kBtu/sf);
  2. The Arc metric of Annual Greenhouse Gas Emissions Intensity (GHG/person).

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Wishing You a Sustainable-ish Holiday Season

Whether you’re a Clark Griswold or an Ebenezer Scrooge, it’s that time of year again: the holiday season is upon us.

dog holiday

A less-than-enthusiastic participant of a holiday photo shoot.

Even those of us who try to live a greener, more eco-conscious lifestyle have a tendency to abandon ship and surrender to the flow of unabashed consumerism and waste in the name of “just getting it done.” It’s hard to put added pressure on ourselves to be mindful of our environmental impact when there are gifts to be purchased, cards to be sent, stockings to be hung, and photos of dogs in Santa hats to be taken.

But you don’t need to do it all to have an impact.

Find one or two ways to improve your holiday traditions by making them greener. Perhaps pick the ones that justify you doing less work in the name of the environment (Reusable bags instead of gift wrap? Yes please). Think of it as a gift to Mother Earth or humanity, or as a way to further annoy that aunt who just can’t understand why on earth you would want use cloth diapers. Sigh.

Here are some ideas, tips, and tricks to help you be just a little more sustainable this holiday season:

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Five Year Solar Performance on Connecticut Home

Written by Gayathri Vijayakumar, VP – Senior Building Systems Engineer

Over the last 10 years, we’ve seen great strides in the solar PV market in the United States. Between the federal tax credit and utility-sponsored incentives, the price to install PV systems came within reach of many homeowners. For others, eager to make a positive impact on the environment, power purchase agreements with solar companies and no up-front costs made it possible to utilize their roofs to generate electricity.

While the calculated cost-effectiveness of solar panels relies on the future price of electricity (which we can’t predict), we can confirm that they do deliver energy. In a very scientific study of exactly one home, owned by a SWA engineer, five years of generation data is available. Sure, it’s not the pretty Tesla roof, but these panels were installed back in November 2011. At 4.14 kW, with no shading and great Southern exposure, the panels were estimated to generate 5,400 kWh/year of electricity in New Haven, Connecticut (Climate Zone 5). The panels have exceeded expectations, generating on average, 6,200 kWh/year, which is roughly 70-80% of the electricity required by the 2,500 ft2 gas-heated home and its 4 occupants.

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Project Spotlight: 1115 H Street – Transforming the Neighborhood with LEED Platinum

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Front elevation of the building

The newly constructed five-story mixed-use building located at 1115 H Street, NE is raising the bar with a LEED for Homes Platinum certification in the works. Offering 16 high-performance condominiums with an array of sustainable practices, including environmentally preferable products, and water- and energy-conserving fixtures and appliances, the project is contributing to the rapid revitalization of the H Street Corridor neighborhood. Steven Winter Associates, Inc. supported the energy and green building goals for the project, including LEED certification.

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The Adventures of Mo and Her No Mow Lawn

I always thought the phrase ‘about as interesting as watching grass grow’ conjured a vision of ultimate boredom. That was before I attempted to grow my own no mow lawn. It turns out that watching grass grow can be a roller-coaster of emotions: the angst of wondering whether my inability to precisely follow directions would matter… the excitement of seeing the first blades of green poking up… the anguish over bare spots… and the pride over healthy, lush sections.

No Mow Lawn 1

April 2015 – The lower tier is seeded; the upper tier wall-building is still in progress

For years I advised clients to consider no mow lawns in their green homes, but I had never seen the end product through a full cycle of seasons. Friends of friends who own a turf farm expressed their interest-slash-skepticism at my undertaking, which more or less echoed the sentiments of a whole stream of landscape architects before. “Sure, you could try no mow if you really WANTED to… ” A search of local nurseries turned up nothing available. I couldn’t figure out why something that sounded so ingenious wasn’t more popular! An internet search for “no mow grass” turns up Prairie Nursery in Westfield, WI as a major supplier. A colleague used their product, and they were extremely helpful on the phone, so I ordered the No Mow Lawn Seed Mix online.
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SWA Lifestyles: A Simple Weekend Cabin

By Kai Starn, Sustainability Consultant

kai_starn_headshot

Autumn has arrived again in the Northeast and the foliage is in full splendor. Over the Canadian Thanksgiving / Columbus Day weekend, I headed up to Ontario to deliver one final truckload of building materials to my family’s property there, which is located an hour and a half across the Canadian border. While I am a Connecticut native, the land bordering the Frontenac Provincial Park has been in my family for generations. In the 1980’s, my grandfather logged the area, and subsequently built a road and a log cabin on the property, which is where my grandmother now spends time during the summer.

The main cottage is a gathering place for family reunions; as such, I had always envisioned building a small weekend cabin to accommodate extra people for the occasions when there was sure to be a full house. About a year ago, I began to design and build this structure. When completed, the tiny cabin will be a simple, un-insulated cottage of old. But, dang, if it doesn’t scream summer and lake and relaxation!

Lakeside living.

Lakeside living.

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Energy and Water Use Study in DC Multifamily Buildings

Do you live in DC? Do you own, manage or reside in a multifamily building? If so, we would love to get your feedback!

The District of Columbia’s Department of Energy and Environment (DOEE) has engaged Steven Winter Associates to gain feedback from multifamily owners, managers and residents about their energy and water usage. To start off, we’re conducting brief surveys (10-minutes max), and hope this effort will have positive outcomes for future multifamily projects in DC by raising awareness of green/energy efficiency initiatives.

PURPOSE:
Survey responses will inform the potential development of a voluntary energy and water conservation program tailored exclusively for the multifamily rental sector in the District. This program will include a customized toolkit to engage residents and building managers in improving energy and water efficiency. It will also encourage participation in a peer-to-peer energy and water reduction competition.

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How to Get Started with LEED for Homes and Multifamily Midrise Certification

Step 1: Understand the LEED for Homes process

The U.S. Green Building Council developed the LEED® (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) for Homes™ and Multifamily Midrise™ Rating Systems to assess and validate residential green building practices.

The LEED for Homes and LEED for Homes Midrise certification process is outlined in this video provided by USGBC.

In addition to meeting the rating system requirements, every LEED Homes and Midrise project is inspected and tested during site inspections by credentialed LEED Homes Green Raters. Steven Winter maintains a team of 11 credentialed Green Raters serving 20 states including New York, Connecticut, Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey. Massachusetts, and more.

How Does LEED Homes Compare to Other LEED Rating Systems? (more…)

CT Zero Energy Challenge (Part 2) – An Alphabet Soup of Certifications

Earlier this week, we posted a video about the CT Zero Energy Challenge’s first-place winner, the Benker/Wegner Residence. Today we bring you the story of the third-place winner in this year’s challenge, the Taft School’s Residence. Aside from housing faculty members, the home is serving as a teaching aid for Taft students to study the design details of a high-performance home, and to understand the experience of living in one.

After installation of a 13kW photovoltaic (PV) system, the home achieved a HERS Index of -14! The SWA team is providing certification support for a slew of exciting green building programs including the stringent Passive House US™ Certification, LEED for Homes, Living Building Challenge™, and ENERGY STAR v3.1.

Check out the video featuring the project team members: Architect, Elizabeth DiSalvo from Trillium Architects; Builder, Chris Trolle from BPC Green Builders; and SWA’s Maureen Mahle.

Question? Comment? Submit it below; we would love to hear from you!

SWA’s Tips for Giving the Gift of Green

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! We asked a few of our green living gurus if they could share some tips on how we can reduce our environmental impact this holiday season:

Decorating:

  • Turn off your Christmas tree during the day. – Celeste M.
  • Use LED lights, and put them on timers. – Gayathri V.

Feasting:

  • Compost your leftovers from dinner. Celeste M.
  • Shop locally and bring your own tote bags to reduce packaging waste. I highly recommend local breweries and local farms. – Karla D.

Powering:

  • Make sure to unplug chargers, lamps, and other miscellaneous appliances when not in use. Always unplug electronics as soon as they are fully charged; never leave rechargeable electronics plugged into power when they are fully charged. Your brand new holiday gadgets as well as your electricity bill will thank you! – Carmel P.
  • Use rechargeable batteries in new toys. – Jordana V.

Giving:

  • Use recycled paper for wrapping. – Celeste M.
  • Recycle gift wrapping. – Jordana V.
  • Buy gifts without much packaging. – Jordana V.

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How are you going to make your holidays green? Do you have the ultimate green gift?