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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.

Not 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 labeled

Source: http://michaelhannan.co/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/diagram-of-digestive-system-in-hindi-toilet-bowl-parts-tank-repair.jpg

While 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…)

Moderate Rehabs in Pre-War Buildings: Practical Limits to Hydronic Building Energy Savings

New York City has established high goals for CO2 reductions as part of the 80 x 50 plan enacted under Mayor de Blasio’s administration. In short, NYC aims to reduce its CO2 production by at least 80% by 2050 (from a 2005 baseline). This requires vast energy conservation and renewable energy production proliferation across the city’s energy, transportation, waste management, and building sectors. Buildings themselves account for 68% of current CO2 production in the City, and as such have the largest reduction targets1. Goals can only be met by implementing repeatable and scalable scopes of work in coordination with policy updates and improvements in other energy sectors. To better understand the efficacy of these moderate improvements on overall energy consumption, we’ve analyzed the results from a recent portfolio rehabilitation. These findings help us to create a map of where we need to go in order to approach 80 X 50.

Figure 1: 80 x 50 NYC Buildings CO2 Reduction Goals, NYC Mayors Office of Sustainability, Roadmap to 80 x 50 Report

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Laundry Rooms are Complicated: Integrating Vented Clothes Dryers in Multifamily Passive House Projects

 

Common laundry rooms are typically provided in market rate and affordable multifamily buildings. Because there are no ventless clothes dryers available for commercial use in North America (such as condensing or heat pump dryers), Passive House (PH) projects must make do with standard coin-operated, conventional vented clothes dryers. With a conventional electric or gas vented dryer, ambient air from the laundry room is heated and blown into the dryer’s drum as it tumbles. This air picks up the moisture from the laundry and is exhausted – sending hot moist air and lint particles to the outside. For any dryer that exhausts more than 200 cfm and in common laundries that have several dryers, make-up air must be supplied to the room so the dryers have enough air to operate properly. This make-up air must then be heated or cooled and therefore, increases the building’s energy demand.

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Why the Whole Building Approach Matters

At Steven Winter Associates, Inc., we support the whole building approach to design and construction by doing our best to ensure that projects meet sustainability, energy efficiency, and accessibility requirements, among other design strategies and goals. From our perspective, accessibility compliance is a key factor in determining whether a project is truly sustainable and efficient.

The Whole Building Approach to Design (from the Whole Building Design Guide, “Design Objectives”)

As an example, I was recently contacted by a New York City-based housing developer. They received a letter from an attorney stating that three of their recently constructed projects in New York City were “tested” and found to be noncompliant with the accessible design and construction requirements of the Fair Housing Amendments Act and the New York City Building Code. SWA toured the buildings and confirmed that the allegations were in fact true. We identified issues such as excessive cross slopes along the concrete entrance walk, the presence of steps between dwelling units and their associated terraces, the lack of properly sized kitchens and bathrooms, the lack of compliant clear width provided by all user passage doors, etc. It quickly became apparent to us and to the developer that the cost of the remediation required to bring the projects into full compliance would be astronomical.

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The Value of Commissioning

Written by Jenny Powell, Energy Engineer

What is Commissioning?

Many energy and sustainability programs, standards, and codes require commissioning, including LEED, ASHRAE 90.1, NGBS, IECC, IGCC, the PSEG and NYSERDA’s commercial performance-based incentive programs (see glossary below). As states embrace these codes and enforce commissioning requirements you may ask yourself: what is commissioning and why is it beneficial?

Commissioning agents provide third-party quality assurance throughout the construction process. They review design drawings and submittals, periodically inspect construction progress, witness functional performance testing of mechanical equipment, and ensure that the building staff is trained and ready to operate the equipment after it’s turned over. Commissioning agents work on behalf of the owner to ensure that the owner’s project requirements are met. Most importantly, commissioning improves construction quality and reduces maintenance and energy costs.

The benefits of commissioning are never more apparent than during a retro-commissioning project. While commissioning involves a third-party review of operation during the construction process, retro-commissioning is a third-party review of operations well after construction is complete. Some difficult retro-commissioning projects have shown us how valuable it is to resolve issues when the design intent is still clear (or clearer) – and while the construction team is still onsite!

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2016 New York Energy Code Blower Door Testing – How Does it Measure Up?

Written by Sunitha Sarveswaran, Energy Engineer

Welcome to part three of the air sealing blog post series! In previous posts, we have reviewed the substantive changes in 2016 New York Residential and Commercial Energy Code, focusing specifically on the new blower door testing requirements. In this blog post, we’ll examine how these requirements stack up in comparison to green building certifications that we are already familiar with: LEED for Homes, LEED BD+C, ENERGY STAR® Certified Homes, ENERGY STAR® Multifamily High-Rise (ES MFHR) and Passive House (PH).

To make this easier to digest, we’ve divided this comparison into two parts – compartmentalization and building envelope. If you need a refresher on the difference between these two types of blower door tests, we recommend referring to the article “Testing Air Leakage in Multifamily Buildings” by SWA alumnus Sean Maxwell.

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2016 New York Energy Codes: Commercial Edition

By Sunitha Sarveswaran, Energy Engineer

Multifmily Buildings

Multifamily buildings greater than three stories follow the commercial section

It has now officially been over one month since the 2016 NYS energy code went into effect. In a recent blog post, we covered some of the significant changes for residential buildings in New York. In this post, we will explore the substantive changes made in the commercial code section, particularly with respect to envelope and air barrier requirements.

As a reminder, in this post, we are referring to retail, commercial, or larger than three-story R-2, R-3, or R-4 buildings. New York buildings can choose between one of two compliance pathways: ASHRAE 90.1 2013 or IECC 2015, by applying the appropriate state and city amendments. Prescriptive as well as performance options are available, depending on the chosen pathway. (more…)

Popular Multifamily Retrofits, Pt III

SWA_MF_energy_storage_systems

In the first two entries of this series (Part One | Part Two), we explored advanced controls for electrically heated buildings; combined heat and power systems; upgraded atmospheric boilers and ventilation systems. For the final installment of SWA’s Favorite Multifamily Retrofits, we’ll examine the ins-and-outs of stand-alone energy storage. (more…)

It Can Take Years – A Market Adoption Story

Earlier this year, at the AHR Expo in Orlando, the biggest trade show for HVAC professionals, Aeroseal’s duct sealing technology was declared the Product of the Year, the top honor of the Innovation Awards. Aeroseal was recognized as “a groundbreaking solution to an industry-wide problem.”

The unique appeal of the Aeroseal technology is that it seals ducts from the inside. Walls and ceilings do not need to be removed or damaged to gain access for traditional mastic sealing. Aerosolized vinyl polymer particles from 2 to 20 micrometers are injected into a pressurized duct system. The particles stay suspended in the air stream until they reach the leaks, where they are deposited and built up at the leak edges until the leaks are sealed.

The Aeroseal technology has been around for more than two decades. It was developed at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in the early nineties and patented in 1997. It has received many awards over the years including the Best of What’s New award from Popular Science magazine in 1996 and the Energy 100 award from the U.S. Department of Energy.

So what’s the big deal?

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Popular Multifamily Retrofits, Part II

SWA_PWpopMFRx2

In our first entry of this three-part series, we described advanced controls for electrically heated buildings, combined heat and power systems, and upgraded atmospheric boilers. This time around, we’ll examine the ins-and-outs of exhaust ventilation in multifamily buildings. (more…)

Popular Multifamily Retrofits, Part I

SWA_Multifamily_Retrofits

There is no single retrofit that is a panacea for all multifamily buildings. There are myriad options and permutations for upgrades, the efficacy of which is defined by the operational needs, budget, and goals set by the owner. With that in mind, we will examine six retrofits popular with SWA clients in this three-part blog series. (more…)

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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Fannie Mae Favors Green Multifamily

Fannie Mae recently reinforced their commitment to growing the green multifamily sector with the announcement of a reduction in interest rates for mortgage loans used to finance properties certified through a recognized green building rating system. There’s detailed information available on their website, but here’s a simple breakdown of the initiative using the 5 W’s:

Who: Fannie Mae Multifamily borrowers, developers, designers, and occupants

What: 10 basis point reduction in mortgage loans for multifamily properties certified through a recognized green building rating system (LEED, ENERGY STAR®, Enterprise Green Communities, etc.)

Where: Multifamily projects nationwide

When: Immediate implementation. Through existing green initiatives, Fannie Mae has already financed $130 million in Green Loans to properties with a Green Building certification

Why: Strengthens market for high-performance building design; Reduces financial risk for property owners; Raises property value with high performance upgrades

Visit the overview page for detailed information on Fannie Mae’s entire portfolio of Green Initiatives