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‘Back to the Basics’ of Affordable Housing with Les Bluestone

In a city as crowded and expensive as New York City, there is a growing need for access to safe and affordable housing. With this demand comes great innovation, as well as roadblocks and challenges between construction, financing, and policy.

In this month’s Buildings + Beyond episode, Robb sits down with Les Bluestone, co-founder of Blue Sea Development. Les has been leading the way in affordable, green building in New York City since the 80’s. He gives us a brief history lesson on affordable housing in NYC, and provides us with his outlook of what development and construction will look like in 5 years and beyond.

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AeroBarrier: A New Tool for Gut Rehabs?

Image of AeroBarrier eventAeroBarrier is touted as the best route to never fail another blower door test. The technology, which involves pressurizing a space with a blower door fan while misting a water-based glue into the air from multiple points throughout the space, is most often being used on new multifamily buildings after drywall is installed. SWA first experimented with the technique on the Cornell Tech high-rise building. Back in March, I reached out to Yudah Schwartz at SuperSeal Insulation, Inc. about a personal project, the gut rehab of a 2,500 SF detached single family home. While renovations aren’t something they normally do, Yudah and his team agreed to try a demo. Here’s what happened.

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Interesting Elements: A Modeling View on Net Zero Homes

I recently performed some net zero energy modeling on a single-family home for work. Around the same time, I got to chatting with my neighbor (mindful of social distancing) and when I mentioned net zero,  he said, “Is that even possible?” AH! Get the word out. We have the means to offset our home energy use. What follows are the basics to consider when trying to fully offset home energy along with a breakdown of how different upgrades can affect energy use.

There are lots of resources available on how to reduce home energy use. You can look at program requirements and guidelines like the Zero Energy Ready Program or Passive House. Through modeling I will demonstrate how the energy use numbers change and describe what we have seen in real-world examples of net zero homes. Net zero is not new and we’ll be looking at some specific pieces of single family home modeling.

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Net Zero and Electrification

Net zero” can mean a lot of different things depending on what you choose to measure – zero energy usage, zero carbon emitted, zero lifecycle impact, etc.

At Steven Winter Associates, Inc. (SWA), we work with clients who are approaching net zero from different angles: driven by institutional goals, climate concerns, marketing campaigns, and connecting with municipal emissions targets. One thing we see over and over is that super high performance is difficult to achieve, but with a key simplification – there are not many ways to do it. All roads may lead to Rome but the closer you get, the fewer roads there are to take.

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Building Energy Performance Standards (BEPS) are Coming to D.C., Are You Ready?

In January of this year, the Clean Energy DC Omnibus Amendment Act of 2018 was signed into law, establishing minimum Building Energy Performance Standards (BEPS) for existing buildings. The law requires all private buildings over 50,000 square feet to benchmark energy use and demonstrate energy performance above a median baseline beginning January 1, 2021. If a building does not score above the median performance, it has five years to demonstrate improvement or face financial penalties.

While quite a few of the details on enforcement are still being worked out, the median scores will be based on 2019 building performance and there are actions you can take today to get ready for BEPS.

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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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Recent Developments in Off-Shore Wind Energy Production and Renewable Energy Storage

Image of off shore windmills

Block Island Wind Farm, courtesy of the US Department of Energy[1]

Overview

There have been several local and global developments recently with regards to off-shore wind turbines. Advancements in energy storage from both wind and solar energy, coupled with the increased rate of adoption of wind turbines could serve as a major step towards a more renewable-based energy grid and a more sustainable future.

Updates on Energy Production

First, let’s explore some recent news surrounding the adoption of off-shore wind turbines. On a global scale, Scotland’s Hywind project recently proved that technology developed for and by the oil drilling industry can be successfully applied to off-shore wind turbines.[2] The floating 30 MW wind farm, made up of five turbines off the Aberdeenshire coast, has been operational since October 2017. During a three-month period of stormy conditions from November 2018 to January 2019, the wind farm managed to continue energy production at 65% of their maximum capacity. Note that during this period, a North Atlantic hurricane produced swells up to 27 feet! Over the course of a year  “maximum capacity” is approximately 135 GWh of electricity- or enough to power 20,000 Scottish homes. To ensure that the turbines can withstand weather events on that scale, the floating turbines are ballasted by 5,000 tons of iron ore, and 1,323 tons of chain anchor it to the seafloor. This off-shore farm proves that wind turbines can be successfully deployed in deeper waters where it would be increasingly expensive to extend the physical structure of the turbine tower to the seafloor. Additionally, the US, UK, Ireland, Portugal, Spain, France, and South Korea all have started to piggyback off the success of the Hywind farm in various ways. For instance, South Korea partnered with the Equinor, the primary backer of Hywind, to conduct a feasibility study for a 200 MW farm that would be located off the coast of Ulsan.[3][4][5][6]

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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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Zero Energy Buildings – The Equation is Easier Than You Think!

Mainstream demand for highly efficient, resilient, and cost-effective buildings is greater than ever before. More people are looking to integrate zero energy design and construction strategies without having to sacrifice modern conveniences and amenities. So, how do we implement solutions that enable us to use less energy… without feeling like we’re using less energy?

To answer this question, we sit down with SWA sustainability experts, Paula Zimin and Karla Butterfield, to discuss what it means to achieve zero energy status and learn how we can accomplish this among various building typologies and sectors. Join us for this exciting and in-depth look at zero energy buildings!  (more…)

Passive House: At the Crossroads of Sustainability and Affordability

GreenEnergyTimes_Banner Green Energy Times is a bi-monthly publication chronicling the latest sustainability news in New England and New York (and beyond!). In 2016, SWA will be contributing a column for each issue. To start the year, SWA’s Heather Breslin discusses how and why the affordable housing market is beginning to embrace the Passive House Standard. The full article is featured below, or on page 27 of the February edition of Green Energy Times.  (more…)

Game Changers in Building Science

Thank you to everyone who stopped by our booth last week at Greenbuild 2015 in Washington, D.C.! By all accounts, this year’s event was a great success. In case you missed it, our fearless leader, Steven Winter, spoke at the GAF booth on Wednesday. As an architect who has been practicing building science for the past 50 years, he shared insights about some building science innovations that he thinks have been “game changers” and have intrigued him: they are changing the way we design, build and operate buildings.

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Here are the highlights:

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When Did Building Science Become Energy Efficiency?

If nothing else, people are adaptable. While something might be an annoyance at first, we often figure out a way to manage it and move on. Unfortunately, we all too often do this when it comes to our greatest life investment…our homes. Whether an existing or new home, we almost always are not comfortable in our home or at least portions of our home. One, several, or even the entire home may never be at desirable conditions, but we learn to cope with it by putting on layers of clothing or adding small electric heaters to cold spaces, or supplemental fans in hot ones. So we are not comfortable as we allow our conditioned air to easily escape our homes and our utility bills continue to be high. The simple question is…why?

Mike Trolle

“People have all sorts of misconceptions about the sacrifices that they feel they have to make in high performance homes and it is completely untrue. It is exactly the opposite. The even temperatures, the lack of drafts, the feeling of warmth, comfort, and right levels of humidity and fresh air…they are unrivaled. Comfort is something you have never experienced properly in a home until you have a high performance home.” – Michael Trolle, BPC Green Builders
(Source: CT Zero Energy Challenge 2012)

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CT Zero Energy Challenge (Part 1) – How Low Can You Go?

There were 11 projects entered into this year’s CT Zero Energy Challenge, sponsored by EnergizeCT.  The single- and multi-family homes taking part in this competition are designed and constructed utilizing innovative techniques in order to try and reach the illustrious goal of net-zero energy-use.

I’m excited to report that SWA worked with 4 of the homes entered into this year’s competition, including the first- and third-place winners! For each of the three winning projects, EnergizeCT has created a video to showcase the story behind the homes, and to highlight some of the most notable features.

Today’s video is about the first-place winner, a single-family home in South Glastonbury, CT, constructed by Glastonbury Housesmith. The owners, Carl Benker and Elizabeth Wegner are first-time homebuyers who wanted to be able to live as close to “off the grid” as possible. Check out SWA’s HERS-rater extraordinaire, Karla Donnelly, discussing the competition, and how this home came to achieve an amazing HERS Index Rating of a -23!

(Right-click and select “run this plug-in” if you cannot see the video below)

 

The project also won the 2015 RESNET Cross Border Challenge for lowest HERS score with photovoltaics (PV)!

You can read more information on SWA’s project here.