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Five Misconceptions about The Americans with Disabilities Act

This past summer, the country celebrated the 30th anniversary of the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Despite the progress of the past few decades, there are still misconceptions about what the law requires for buildings and facilities. Below are five of the most common misconceptions our consultants encounter.

Cover pages of the ADA Title III Regulations and the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design1.      All buildings that predate the ADA are exempt from accessibility requirements.

Unlike building codes, the ADA does not contemplate the concept of “grandfathering.” Included in the ADA regulation is the ongoing obligation for barrier removal, despite the age of a building. Specifically, if a barrier to access exists in a building that predates the ADA, then there is an obligation to remove the barrier if it is readily achievable to do so. Readily achievable means that fixing the barrier does not involve too much difficulty or expense. Such determinations must be made on a case-by-case basis and consider many factors, including financial resources.

2.      Following the accessibility requirements of the building code will satisfy the accessibility requirements of the ADA.

Even though the 2010 Standards for Accessible Design (the technical standard referenced by the ADA) is similar to the technical standards referenced by many building codes (e.g., A117.1 Standard for Accessible and Usable Buildings and Facilities), they are mutually exclusive. Compliance with the accessibility requirements of the building code does not satisfy compliance with the accessibility requirements of the ADA; and, vice versa. The general rule of thumb is to apply all applicable laws, codes, and standards and comply with the most stringent requirement.

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Five Misconceptions about Fair Housing Act Design and Construction Compliance

From “If I comply with the building code, then I comply with the Fair Housing Act” to “Everything is adaptable, so it doesn’t need to work day one, right?” – our accessibility consultants have heard it all. Here are five of the most common misconceptions about the Fair Housing Act that we come across on a regular basis…

1.  Following the accessibility requirements of the building code will satisfy the design and construction requirements of the Fair Housing Act.

Fair Housing Act Design and Construction CoverNot true. Following the accessibility requirements of the building code may not always satisfy the design and construction requirements of the Fair Housing Act. Building codes and federal laws are mutually exclusive; a building department or building official is responsible for ensuring compliance with the code – not the law. And, HUD is responsible for enforcement of the Fair Housing Act – not building codes. Meeting the requirements of one may not always satisfy the requirements of the other. There is only one code, i.e., the International Building Code (2000, 2003, and 2006 editions, with a few caveats) that are HUD-approved ‘safe harbors’ for compliance with the design and construction requirements of the Fair Housing Act. Later editions of the code are not approved by HUD as meeting the requirements of the FHA. And, any edition of the International Building Code adopted by a local jurisdiction and edited to fit the context of the local jurisdiction is not a safe harbor for compliance. The general rule of thumb is to apply the accessible design and construction requirements of the code and the law and comply with the most stringent provision.

2.  Meeting the design and construction requirements of the Fair Housing Act is not required at the time of design and construction. Because the Fair Housing Act permits adaptability, modifying a feature to accommodate a resident’s particular need is the best way to comply with the Fair Housing Act.

Not true. Meeting the design and construction requirements of the Fair Housing Act at the time of design and construction is required. To say that its permissible to meet the requirements by adapting features as needed and only upon request makes the design and construction requirements of the Act meaningless. Adaptability is permitted by the law, but only after the minimum design and construction requirements are met. And, what is permitted to be adapted post construction is included in the technical standards. For example, a forward or parallel approach is required to be provided at a kitchen sink in a dwelling unit. In order to accommodate the front approach, the base cabinet must be designed to be removable, i.e., adaptable. Adaptability in this case is contemplated by the requirements for usable kitchens. On the other hand, a light switch is required by the Fair Housing Act Accessibility Guidelines to be installed below 48 inches above the finished floor. The Act does not permit the light switch to be installed higher and modified as requested. To install a light switch higher than 48 inches above the finish floor is in violation of the design and construction requirements of the Fair Housing Act Accessibility Guidelines. Adaptability in this case is not contemplated or permitted by the requirements for usable kitchens.

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What the Climate Mobilization Act Means for Developers, Designers, and Construction Teams

 

Image of central park and New York City buildigns

The construction industry has been increasingly focused on meeting ever-tightening codes and achieving higher ratings in sustainability certification programs (e.g., LEED, Passive House, etc.). These standards do a good job of raising the bar, but there is a new bar in town and we’re not talking about whiskey.

Local Law 97

NYC’s Local Law 97 of 2019 establishes carbon emissions limits for buildings 25,000 square feet and larger. These emissions limits, which are based on current building performance data, will begin in 2024 and will rachet down in 2030 and beyond. While we continue to work with building owners and portfolio managers of existing buildings (“What Does the Climate Mobilization Act Mean for Building Owners?”), we need to make sure that new buildings and major renovations are set up for success. Developers, designers, and construction teams must take LL97 into account during design, construction and turnover to protect the value of these new assets.

A developer or asset manager’s least favorite word is probably uncertainty, and now there’s a whole new host of uncertainties to think about:

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Benefits of Water Metering and Water Monitoring

Water monitoring can quickly become a building owner’s best friend. The high cost of water bills can often overshadow the cost of fuel and electricity bills, but ownership and management often believe that the price of their water bill is simply something to deal with. Many building owners pay the water bill for the entire building directly to their local utility without being aware of what’s going on inside their building or what they’re actually paying for. After all, without water monitoring, how would they know?

Water monitoring can impact an owner’s bottom line due to the high costs of leaks, which are more pervasive than you’d think.

Types of Leaks

Image of toilet with components labeledWhile any water fixture can contribute to leaks and high water bills, toilets are typically the worst offenders. In toilets, rubber flappers can wear out, a flapper connected to the flush handle can have an incorrectly sized chain interfering with the seal, float mechanisms on the flush valve can be set too high causing the water level to go just above the overflow tube, or there can be tenant tampering.

Showers and sinks can also start leaking at any time. While typically at much lower capacities, these leaks can actually be easier to detect. By monitoring the water consumption in a building and observing hourly usage overnight, you can identify patterns that can quickly indicate a leak, eliminating the need to visually inspect all water fixtures in a building to determine the cause.

Cost of Leaks

The idea that a single leak can last for an entire year may seem unreasonable, though the sad truth is many leaks can go undetected and/or unreported. To put water leaks into perspective, the chart below from the NYC DEP details the potential extent of leaks and their costs on a daily and yearly basis:

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Establishing Moisture Control in Multifamily Buildings

Most of us are familiar with the feeling of a humid apartment after taking a hot shower. Some of us kick on an exhaust fan, perhaps un-fog the bathroom mirror, or even open a window to get the moisture out. Domestic moisture generation—moisture from human activity—is a major factor driving the humidity levels in our residential buildings, especially in super air-tight, Passive House construction. Before diving into just how much of an impact domestic moisture has in our buildings, let’s first look at average daily moisture generation rates of a typical family of three[1]:

  • breathing and transpiration—6 to 9 pounds of water vapor/day;
  • 10-minute shower in the morning for each individual—3.6 pounds of water vapor;
  • cooking fried eggs and bacon for breakfast—0.5 pounds of water vapor;
  • cooking steamed vegetables with pasta for dinner—0.5 to 1.0 pounds of water vapor; and
  • one small dog and a few plants around the house—0.5 pounds of water vapor/day

This brings the daily total to 11.1 to 14.6 pounds of moisture generation per day, or about 1.5 gallons of liquid water.

Where does all of this moisture go? In a typical code-level apartment building with moderate to high-levels of air leakage, water vapor has two year-round exit pathways: exfiltration through the façade and dedicated kitchen or bathroom mechanical exhaust. Additionally, in the summer, moisture is removed via condensate from the cooling system.

Let’s now put this in the context of a highly energy-efficient apartment with very low levels of air leakage (about 5 to 10 times less than the code-compliant unit), and balanced ventilation with energy recovery. The first means of moisture removal, façade exfiltration, is virtually non-existent given the building’s superior air-tight design. Next is mechanical exhaust ventilation in the kitchens and bathrooms. Because the unit has balanced ventilation and energy recovery, the exhaust air stream in a Passive House project typically passes through the energy recovery core. Depending on the core selection, a large percentage of the interior moisture may be retained in the apartment air despite the constant mechanical air exchange.

There are two basic types of cores:

  • Heat recovery ventilator (HRV) in which a certain percentage of sensible heat is recovered (transferred from the exhaust air stream to the supply air stream) while no moisture is recovered.
  • Energy recovery ventilator (ERV) in which a certain percentage of sensible heat and a certain percentage of moisture in the air is recovered.

To fully understand this issue, Figure 1 breaks break down the moisture-related pros and cons of ERVs and HRVs in the context of a high-density, Passive House building.

  ERV HRV
Pros Summer – prevents high exterior air moisture load from being supplied to interior air; cooling loads are minimized Winter – flushes high internal moisture load out of building; humidity levels reduced
Cons Winter – if internal moisture generation is high, interior moisture load is not flushed out of apartment; humidity levels increase Summer – allows exterior air moisture load to be supplied to interior air: cooling loads increase

Figure 1. Moisture related pros and cons with ERVs and HRVs in high efficiency, airtight construction

 

Traditionally, the key factor in deciding between an ERV or HRV for a high-efficiency building has been the project’s climate. However, as internal moisture loads begin to exceed exterior moisture loads in high-density projects, the decision between ERV or HRV must be looked at more closely for each project regardless of climate.

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The Top 10 Party Walls Posts of 2018!

2018 has been a year to remember for SWA’s Party Walls blog. Our consultants have shared their passion for high performance buildings by recounting stories from the field and providing information, new findings, and best practices to improve the built environment.

Whether discussing topics based in New York City or Southeast Asia, here are our fan favorites from 2018…

Collage of blog images

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Reducing Air Leaks in Multifamily Buildings (and why you should care)

If there was ever a silver bullet when it comes to best practices in multifamily buildings, air sealing would be it. Compartmentalization – or air sealing each unit to prevent infiltration between units and to the exterior – addresses many major issues we see in buildings.

Better HEALTH

  • Air sealing is the best strategy to keep pests out and limit their movement within a building.
  • Air carries a lot of moisture, so eliminating air leaks helps keep buildings dry and reduces the risks of mold and water damage.
  • Compartmentalization prevents contaminated air from garages, basements, attics, and other undesirable sources from entering living spaces.

Improves COMFORT

  • Air sealing reduces drafts and eliminates hot and cold spots.
  • Limiting air transfer from one unit to the next reduces transmission of noise, smoke, and odor between units.

Wastes less ENERGY

  • Air sealing lowers heating and cooling bills maintaining a more consistent indoor temperature.
  • Compartmentalization improves the performance of ventilation and mechanical systems by limiting pathways for stack effect – the force of warm air from low to high – to occur in larger buildings.

How to Air Seal Multifamily Units

It’s important to remember to create a complete air barrier around the entire cube of a multifamily unit, not just to the exterior – any and all penetrations need to be sealed.

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ENERGY STAR New Construction Certification Programs for Multifamily to be Combined

ENERGY STAR MF LogoCurrently, to receive ENERGY STAR® certification for multifamily new construction, you would get your certification through the ENERGY STAR Certified Homes program or the ENERGY STAR Multifamily High Rise program. This may change by early 2020. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in a recent statement, multifamily will soon have a single program, rather than splitting them across the Certified Homes program and the Multifamily High Rise program.

“To better serve the multifamily sector, EPA is in the process of creating a single ENERGY STAR multifamily program by merging the current requirements and adopting the most appropriate from each.”

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Can you do a HERS Rating on an apartment in a 30-story building? Not now, but maybe in 2019!

ANSI/RESNET/ICC 301-2014 is the Standard for the Calculation and Labeling of the Energy Performance of Low-Rise Residential Buildings using an Energy Rating Index. It is the basis of the most common Energy Rating Index, RESNET’s HERS Index, which is utilized by utilities and building programs like LEED© and ENERGY STAR®, which require a consistent index to evaluate performance.

ANSI RESNET ICC 301-2014 imageOn March 2, 2018, RESNET released a draft of the 2019 version of ANSI/RESNET/ICC 301, where the most significant change will be the expansion of its scope to include Dwelling Units and Sleeping Units in ANY height building, whether that building is defined by IECC as “Residential” or “Commercial”. Other changes will include those developed by the RESNET Multifamily Sub-Committee, to better address shared systems like HVAC, hot water, solar PV, and laundry, and other scenarios specific to multifamily buildings that have largely been unaddressed until now.  The 1st preliminary draft standard of the 2019 version (dubbed PDS-01) includes these important improvements, along with all addenda to Standard ANSI/RESNET/ICC 301-2014 that were approved prior to March 2.

How Does the Revision Process Work?

The ANSI/RESNET/ICC Standards 301 (and 380) are under “continuous maintenance”. What does this mean? As revisions are needed to improve the standards, they are accomplished via “addenda”. Each addenda has to go through a “public comment” period to ensure that all stakeholders get to provide their opinions or objections to the proposed change before it becomes part of the standard. Rather than re-publishing a new edition of the standard each time a revision is approved, these standards are instead updated every 3 to 5 years to integrate any approved addenda into the body of the standard (instead of as separate addenda), along with any other necessary revisions into a new edition. This is similar to other standards like IECC, ASHRAE 62.2, or ASHRAE 90.1, which typically release a new version every 3 years. (more…)

It’s all in the Details: Designing for Passive House & Accessibility Compliance

The number of multifamily residential projects targeting Passive House certification has been rising steadily over the past several years, bringing along many exciting challenges. This has been especially prevalent in New York City, where increasingly stringent energy standards and a desire for innovation have made designing to Passive House standards an attractive goal. As the number of these projects passing through our office continues to grow, we have discovered some important overlaps with one of our other consulting services – Accessibility Compliance.

In the United States, multifamily new construction projects consisting of four or more dwelling units are subject to the Fair Housing Act, as well as state, city, and local accessibility laws and codes. For the purposes of this blog we will focus on projects in NYC, although the majority of newly constructed residential projects across the country will be subject to some variation of the criteria discussed below, for both Passive House and Accessibility standards. With this in mind, we have chosen a couple of common problem areas that require particularly close attention. (more…)