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Solar Panels or Asthma? Equity and the Built Environment with Jeremy Hays

Social equity is key to the work that we do in the built environment. Far too often, marginalized communities receive more of the burdens and less of the benefits of 21st century living – especially when it comes to housing. As an industry, it is our responsibility to address these disparities and come up with solutions that are inclusive of all people. But first, we wanted to grow our own understanding of the issues and hear what others are doing to prioritize social equity in the built environment.

Our guest for this month’s episode of Buildings + Beyond is Jeremy Hays. Jeremy has a wealth of knowledge, experience, and perspective that stems from a combination of social and environmental justice. We learn about how cities are incorporating equity into their sustainability plans, why diversity of perspectives can create better solutions, and how actively thinking about equity can help the transition to a green economy.

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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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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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10 Ways to Enjoy a Festive AND Sustainable Holiday Season

Between gift shopping and trying to keep up the holiday spirit with decorations at home, it can be frustrating to try to remain sustainable. It may feel as though you’re forced to choose between enjoying the holidays and feeling guilty about putting up all those lights around your tree.

Here are 10 ways you can have a festive holiday and feel better about it too:

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Call to Action: Voting Open Until December 6th on the Changes Proposed to the 2021 IECC

ICYMI: The code change proposals for the 2021 IECC are open for voting by Governmental Member Voting Representatives (GMVR) from Monday, November 18th through Friday, December 6th, and your vote is instrumental in making buildings consume less energy! [Need a quick refresher on the code process? Check out our blog post here!]

Does your vote even matter?

Overall, there are not actually that many voters on a given proposal. In the energy proposals, last cycle, it ranged from about 200-400 voters per proposal, even though there were a total of 1,247 voters on the Group B codes, which includes the IECC.

IECC voting numbers

So a small handful of voters can entirely shape the future of the energy codes that dictate how energy efficient our buildings will be! If history repeats itself, while some online voters tend to align with the Committee, many online voters align their votes with those cast by their fellow ICC voters at the Public Comment Hearings. This happened 81% of the time in 2016. Unlike 2016, in this cycle all the electronic votes cast during the Public Comment Hearings will be rolled into the online vote tally (although those voters can still change their vote).

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New York City LL92 and LL94: Sustainable Rooftops

Image of solar panelsAs part of the Climate Mobilization Act, and in accordance with the its greater carbon emissions reduction goals, New York City passed Local Laws 92 and 94 in April 2019, mandating the installation of rooftop solar photovoltaic systems and/or green roofs on buildings across the city. The new requirements will go into effect on November 15, 2019 and will apply to all new buildings and any existing buildings completing a full roof deck or assembly replacement.

The Mayor’s Office estimates that the solar and green roof installations mandated by these bills will result in 300 MW of new solar capacity, 15 million gallons of new stormwater management capacity, 1 million tons of greenhouse gas reductions, and hundreds of green jobs. Based on these projections, this will account for close to 2.5% of the city’s overall emissions reduction goals.*

The laws require that solar and/or a green roof be installed on all available roof space. Areas deemed “not available” and excluded from the requirements include:

  • Areas obstructed by rooftop structures, mechanical equipment, towers, parapets, guardrails, solar thermal systems, cisterns, etc.;
  • Fire access pathways and zoning setbacks;
  • Recreational spaces that are recorded in the Certificate of Occupancy.

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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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Choosing Insulation for Carbon Value – Why More is Not Always Better Part 1

SWA’s Enclosure Group is acutely aware that insulation is the most important single material choice to maximize the enclosure’s thermal resistance over its operational life. Many of us in the building industry believe that, combined with a good continuous air seal, the highest insulation value makes the greenest enclosure, helping to reduce a structure’s carbon footprint and combat climate change. It may come as a surprise, then, that some of the most commonly used insulation materials are so carbon-heavy to manufacture and/or install, that for many decades they wipe away the carbon-energy savings they are supposed to provide.  The following is a detailed discussion of how and why this is, and what the industry is doing to change the equation.

Embodied vs. Operational Carbon

The built environment looms large in the climate picture, because almost 40% of the total carbon put into the planet’s atmosphere each year is attributed to buildings. Over the past 30 years of green building, we have overwhelmingly focused on operational carbon – the carbon that buildings emit as they are being used. Only recently have we begun to focus on embodied carbon – the carbon that goes into constructing buildings, which is typically far greater than the energy saved in the first decades of operation. Changes in energy codes are aimed at operational carbon, and even those organizations and standards that have been at the forefront of promoting sustainable building [LEED, PH] have not been quantifying or limiting embodied carbon, although they bring attention to it.

The Time Value of Carbon

Assuming that a building stands for many decades, or even centuries, its operational carbon will eclipse its embodied carbon over its lifetime, and therefore when the building’s carbon Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) is calculated, operational carbon savings will be more important than embodied carbon saved/spent in the long run. Why does embodied carbon deserve equal weight with operational carbon? Because of the total global carbon emissions from buildings, 28% is pegged to embodied carbon. That’s already a large percentage, but when you consider the near term, the first 30 years of a building’s life, the percentage jumps to about 50%. In effect, every new building is in carbon debt upon completion due to the huge amount of carbon emitted  in order to construct it., And in order for the climate to benefit from the energy savings provided by a well-insulated and sealed enclosure and a high efficiency energy system, the building needs to last and be used for a very long time. The problem is that we may not have 30 years, let alone 60, to pay off that carbon debt.

In the first 30 years of a building’s operational life, 50% of its total carbon emissions are still due to embodied carbon (Source: Architecture 2030)

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Become a Carbon Hero with Five Easy Tactics

Before you can really dig deep into the advanced design concepts of embodied carbon analysis and whole building energy modeling, you must first perform some bare minimum prep work. An easy way to get the pre-schematic plan up on its legs quickly is to add qualitative performance measures to the architect’s program study or create an Owners Project Requirements (OPR) document. For this article, “qualitative performance measures” refer to the metrics that express embodied carbon, but can also include operational energy, water, and even healthy materials.

Integrated Design Process Image An integrated design process (IDP) anchors the architectural program to performance metrics such as carbon dioxide equivalents (CO2e), Energy Use Intensity (EUI), and zero Energy Performance Index (zEPI). So, by completing the IDP, you’re getting the basic tools to optimize embodied carbon and operational energy use in your design:

  1. Target the early phase of the project
  2. Prepare a Carbon Hotspot and Simple Box energy analysis to compare carbon sensitivity of different schemes not limited to wall and roof construction, massing, and solar exposure.
  3. Schedule a workshop with the design team and owner to discuss findings and recommendations.
  4. Establish performance targets such as total Carbon Dioxide equivalents as a basic program requirement.
  5. Choose a compliance pathway and verify design with Life Cycle Analysis and a Whole Building Energy model.

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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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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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Electrify Everything? Part 2.

Heat Pump Water Heaters in Multifamily Buildings

In Electrify Everything? Part 1 that I wrote several months ago, I mentioned that integrated tank heat pump water heaters (HPWHs) can work well in single family homes — even in colder climates. For example, we see quite a few installed successfully in basements in the Northeast. These devices remove heat from the surrounding air, so there needs to be enough heat in the basement air for them to work effectively. During the winter, a home’s space heating system probably needs to work harder to make up for the HPWH. In the summer, the HPWH provides a bit of extra cooling and dehumidification. We put together some guidelines a few years ago on how to get the most from these systems in single family homes.

Image of heat pump

Some places where I’ve seen problems:

  •   Installing a HPWH in a basement closet. Even if a closet has louvered doors, there’s not enough heat/air for a HPWH to work well.
  • HPWHs are relatively loud. If there’s a finished part of the basement (e.g., bedroom or office), the noise can be disruptive.
  • Sometimes there is trivial heat gain to the basement (from outdoors, mechanical equipment, etc.). When a HPWH removes heat from the air, such a basement can quickly become too cold for the water heater to work efficiently (and too cold for comfort if someone uses the basement).

But overall, HPWHs in single family basements can work effectively.

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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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20 Years of Wintergreen!

A lot has happened since the start of the WinterGreen newsletter, which was first distributed 20 years ago via fax machine. From the inception of LEED, to the Climate Mobilization Act, WinterGreen has covered it all.

In honor of its anniversary, we are looking back at the milestones that occurred along the way and making predictions for the future…WinterGreen Banner circa 1999

1999 – Steven Winter Becomes Chairman of the US Green Building Council

Image of Steven Winter as USGBC ChairmanAs Chairman of the U.S. Green Building Council from 1999 to 2003, Steven Winter helped guide the organization through a period of immense growth. This included the launch of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, also known as the LEED® Rating System, and Greenbuild, the nation’s largest green building conference and expo.

 

2000 – SWA Receives NYSERDA Pioneer Award

Image of Steven Winter with NYSERDA AwardAt a gala event celebrating the 25th anniversary of the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), Steven Winter Associates (SWA) was presented with the NYSERDA Pioneer Award for their extensive contributions to making buildings more energy efficient and sustainable.

 

2001 – Green Building Guidelines Book Published for Home Builders

Image of Green Building Guidelines bookIn conjunction with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL), and the Sustainable Buildings Industry Council (SBIC), SWA staff collaborated to create “Green Building Guidelines: Meeting the Demand for Low-Energy, Resource-Efficient Homes.” The book provided green building techniques and strategies for home builders and residential construction professionals.

 

2002 – SWA Helps DEC Become New York State’s First Ever LEED Certified Building

Image of New York DEC Headquarters in AlbanyWorking with NYSERDA, Picotte Companies and WCGS Architects, SWA provided certification support to the design team, earning the project LEED V2.0 Silver. SWA’s services included initial LEED tabulations and goal setting, detailed LEED V2.0 evaluation reporting, and completion of the final documentation package, which led to the certification of New York State’s first ever LEED building.

 

2003 – The Solaire Declared Nation’s First “Green” Residential High-rise

Image of The SolaireNew York Governor George Pataki dedicated The Solaire as the country’s first “green” residential high-rise building, calling it “a benchmark for urban sustainable development and for green buildings worldwide.” SWA supported the design team on this project from conceptual design phase through construction administration. The Solaire, located in New York’s Battery Park City, was the first residential building to be completed in downtown Manhattan after the terrorist attacks of September 2001, and was the first beneficiary of Governor Pataki’s green building tax credit.

 

2004 – SWA Joins Project Team for Oculus Terminal at World Trade Center

Image of World Trade Center PATH TerminalLed by the joint venture of DMJM+Harris and STV, as well as the internationally renowned architect, Santiago Calatrava, SWA was invited to join the project team to provide energy efficiency and sustainable design consulting services for the new World Trade Center station, also known as the the Oculus. The rebuilt PATH terminal is incorporated into the design.

 

2005 – USGBC Announces LEED for Homes Pilot Program

Image of home under constructionExcited to announce the first ever LEED program for residential construction, the USGBC immediately began seeking applicants to test the effectiveness of the all new LEED for Homes through a Pilot Program. LEED for Homes, which is considered a green building milestone, was made possible by a passionate committee of industry professionals co-chaired by Steven Winter.

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Environments for Aging: Designing Better Senior Housing

The 2019 Environments for Aging Conference took place last month in Salt Lake City, UT.

Last month, I had the opportunity to attend the Environments for Aging conference in Salt Lake City. Hundreds of professionals involved in the complex world of senior living gathered to learn from each other and to explore products and services that are designed for the senior population. It was not surprising to see the level of interest in the event; according to the US Census Bureau, 20 percent of the current US population will be 65 or older by 2029. The Baby Boomer generation, which accounts for the majority of that 20 percent, is moving into their 70s and are beginning to consider how and where they want to age. Some Boomers prefer to remain in their current homes in the communities that they helped build. Others want to move into smaller homes or prefer to transition to senior living communities. Many of these senior living communities are popping up both in suburbia and active urban centers in response to the current trend in senior housing preferences.

There are many senior housing typologies: among the most common are independent living, assisted living, and dementia care. Each type of living arrangement has specific needs that must be addressed from a design perspective.

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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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Here’s to Our Buildings, Our Health! SWA’s Top 10 Tips for a Healthier Indoor Environment – Part 1

How many of you out there would say you are happy at your place of work? Are you having a hard time concentrating? Now, take a pulse on your surroundings. Are the lights too bright? Are you too cold? Too hot? Do you hear constant humming from the HVAC equipment in the background? How much sleep are you getting at night? How many plants are in your view? Do you even have a view?

I’m sure many of you have heard the statistics that we spend nearly 90% of our days indoors. BUT, did you know that:

  • 75% of deaths are caused by chronic disease, up from 13% in 1800;
  • Today’s children are the first generation expected to have a shorter life expectancy than their parents;
  • 85% of the 82,000 chemicals in use are lacking in available health data.

When we hear the term “high performance building,” many of us think about energy efficiency first. But, what factors contribute to human health in buildings? How do we design for and maintain efficient building performance without compromising occupant health and well-being? What benefits are associated with healthy homes and work spaces? These are the questions we should be asking ourselves.

Stok report breaking down the cost savings associated with healthy work spaces

Lots of research has been done. Pulling from the LEED, EGC, and WELL concepts, and supported by case studies (specifically Harvard’s School of Public Health’s 9 Foundations and Stok’s report on how workspaces that promote health and wellness), here are SWA’s Top 5 (of 10) tips to effectively address Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) in buildings:

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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…)

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…)

Multifamily Green Building Certification Program Comparison

If you’re designing and constructing multifamily buildings, chances are you’ve run into one of the many green building certification programs. Whether mandated by code, tax credits, your loan, or because you want to improve building performance, the differences between programs can be difficult to understand. One of the most frequent questions we help design teams answer is “which multifamily green building program should we choose?”

To help shed some light on the major green building standards, we’ve outlined some of the most important requirements for multifamily building performance that tend to differentiate the programs the most.

ENERGY STAR

Administered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, ENERGY STAR is a free program that includes envelope, mechanical, and moisture management requirements. There are two pathways to certification – ENERGY STAR Certified Homes and ENERGY STAR Multifamily High-rise – based on the height of the building. In the near future these programs will merge into one Multifamily New Construction standard.

Although it isn’t considered a full green building program (it doesn’t address materials, site or water), ENERGY STAR is included in this comparison because several programs and standards reference it as a base requirement.

Energy Star comparison chart (more…)

Solar PV – The Revolution Continues

By the end of 2050, solar energy is projected to be the world’s largest source of electricity. While utility-scale solar will comprise much of this capacity, there will also be significant growth in the commercial and residential sectors – particularly in cities.

On episode three of Buildings and Beyond, Kelly interviews SWA’s solar expert, Eric Wallace, to discuss the various factors affecting solar photovoltaic (PV) growth including changes in technology, policy, and financing. Tune in to learn about some of the barriers and opportunities that solar developers face in the height of a solar revolution.  (more…)

Our Buildings, Our Health

As we continue to uncover the human health impacts associated with buildings – a space in which we spend 87% of our lives – it is important that we find new and innovative methods of construction to improve overall health and quality of life for occupants.

On this episode of Buildings and Beyond, Robb sits down with SWA’s Managing Director of Sustainable Housing Services, Maureen Mahle, to shed light on the primary health issues found in buildings and discuss the various approaches, resources, and certifications designed to improve occupant health and well-being.  (more…)

Your Top 10 Passive House Questions, Answered

Extreme energy efficiency, superior thermal comfort, and ensured durability: these are the three major concepts behind the Passive House standard. First developed in Germany in the 1990’s, this building performance standard has evolved into a worldwide model for high performance construction which has been applied to a wide range of building typologies including residential, offices, hotels, schools, and industrial.

In this episode Robb is joined by Passive House guru, Lois Arena, as the two discuss some of the most frequently asked Passive House questions. They dive into the progression of the standard over the last 25 years, what types of projects can and have been certified, measures to reduce a building’s total energy demand to meet the Passive House standard, and many more related topics.  (more…)

Low-Carbon Concrete: Reducing the Embodied Energy of a Notorious Emitter

It is safe to say we are in a climate crisis. Of the last 17 years, 16 have been the hottest on record.[1] Sea level is expected to rise by as much as eight feet by the end of the century.[2] And by 2050, as many as 140 million people will have been displaced by climate change.[3] The time to act is now, and a major area of impact is buildings, which account for 40% of carbon emissions in the United States. Better envelopes, lighting, and mechanical systems are helping buildings become more efficient, which means an increasing proportion of carbon—up to 68% of a building’s lifetime emissions—is locked up in materials.[4] This “embodied” carbon gets released during a material’s extraction, manufacture, transport, maintenance, and, eventually, disposal.

If our industry is to meet the 2030 Challenge of carbon neutrality by the close of the decade, we will need to reevaluate building materials and select low-carbon alternatives.

Embodied carbon life-cycle

Figure 1: Courtesy of Faithful+Gould

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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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Bridgeport, CT – A Model for Resiliency

The pattern along the water’s edge in Bridgeport, Connecticut presents a familiar scene to New Englanders: active harbors and historic homes interspersed with blighted buildings and weathered infrastructure. The city’s architecture suggests a prosperous past and a difficult present. But this city—prone to acute and chronic flooding, and facing the ills of climate change and sea level rise—will not leave its future to chance. The City of Bridgeport has a plan to survive and even thrive in the next decades of environmental change, and may position itself as a national leader in resiliency.

Map of the study area showing proposed floor barriers and low impact development

Map of the study area showing proposed flood barriers and low impact development

In this context, “resiliency” refers to adaptation to the wide range of regional and localized impacts that are expected with a warming planet. Last fall, David Kooris, former Connecticut Director of Housing, visited SWA’s Norwalk office and presented Bridgeport’s vision: Resilient Bridgeport. The project began in 2014 when the City assembled a multidisciplinary design team, led by New Orleans-based Waggonner and Ball, to prepare an integrated resilience framework for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Rebuild by Design Competition. The following year, Connecticut was awarded a HUD grant of $10,000,000 to develop a plan for reducing flood risk, improving resilience for the South End and Black Rock Harbor areas, and building an ambitious pilot project in the South End that combines physical barriers and low impact development.

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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.

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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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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…)

Designing Solar for High Density Areas

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Humans have been trying to harness the power of the sun for millennia. The advent and popularization of photovoltaics in the latter half of the twentieth century made doing so accessible to the masses. Today, solar arrays are commonly seen adorning the roofs of suburban homes and “big-box” retailers, as well as on other landscapes including expansive solar farms and capped landfills. Until recently, the common thread amongst these locations has been the employment of open space. Solar applications have historically been reserved for use in areas of low-to-moderate building density.

By the end of 2050, solar energy is projected to be the world’s largest source of electricity. While utility-scale solar will comprise the majority of this capacity, there will also be significant growth in the commercial and residential sectors – particularly in cities. Industry influencers are increasingly focused on creating opportunities for solar applications in high-density areas, where much of the demand lies.

In their 2014 Technological Roadmaps for solar PV and solar thermal electricity (STE), the International Energy Agency (IEA) predicts Solar PV and STE to represent over 25% of global electricity generation by 2050In their 2014 Technological Roadmaps for solar PV and solar thermal electricity (STE), the International Energy Agency (IEA) predicts Solar PV and STE to represent over 25% of global electricity generation by 2050.

 

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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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High Performance Walls

Written by Joanna Grab, Senior Sustainability Consultant

Groggy and sleepy-eyed, I swung my feet out of bed this morning. Still waking up, I began the trek to my coffee pot, but was thrown off track when my bare feet stumbled (literally) upon a freezing patch of floor beside the door to my balcony. Suddenly wide-eyed, I ducked into the bathroom to rub my toes against my fuzzy bath mat. Outside, the city seemed to have surrendered itself to a single shade of gray, and though my feet were warming, I could feel the monochromatic January cold pressing its way through the metal window. I put on my architect’s (hard) hat and thought, “these are textbook examples of thermal bridging.” But aside from a chill or a draft here and there what’s the big deal? Well, let me provide a little insight.

Thermal bridging occurs when heat is lost through a less-insulated or more-conductive portion of a building’s exterior. On a frigid winter day, this means heat is lost where insulation is lacking, such as through a metal window frame or the floor slab in my apartment building. Ultimately, thermal bridging results in a less comfortable home that is more expensive to heat and cool.

Another hidden concern is condensation, which can be a consequence of thermal bridging. When warm air comes into contact with a cold spot on the floor or wall, water vapor in the air cools and collects as droplets on the colder surface. This can result in durability problems, as well as poor indoor air quality.

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Don’t Be Scared of LEED v4

Written by Marina Dimitriadis, Sustainability Consultant

LEED v4 Changes and Updates

leedv4picleedarticleghostpicWe all knew the time was creeping up on us when LEED v2009, known as LEED v3,would no longer be an option. There are plenty of Halloween ghouls about, but LEED v4 shouldn’t give you a scare! We have a few key resources to help you understand the new rating systems and ensure a smooth transition.

LEED v3 Sunset and Registration Dates

All projects that wish to pursue LEED v3 must register  by October 31, 2016. Additionally, LEED v3 projects must certify by June 30, 2021. Projects that register now under LEED v3 can always transition to LEED v4 at no cost, but you can’t switch back to v3 after 10/31/16.

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The POWER of Partnership!

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In partnership with the District of Columbia’s Department of Energy & Environment (DOEE) and the Institute for Better Communities (IFBC), SWA is implementing DC’s first multifamily housing energy and water challenge.

What is the POWER DOWN DC Challenge?

POWER DOWN DC is a 4 month building-to-building, education focused competition in Washington, DC with a goal of empowering  building residents and staff to change behavior and reduce overall energy and water usage. Residents compete as a building team against  other apartment buildings to hit a reduction target and strive to make the greatest overall  reduction. 

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Driving Savings through Friendly Competition

The basic concept is simple: bringing people together for friendly competition is more likely to encourage meaningful action than simply providing information about energy and water efficiency alone. By joining the competition, participants try to reduce their own energy and water use and help members of their apartment community  do the same. Residents will be encouraged to make a commitment to efficiency and take simple steps every day that collectively will have a big payoff. Actions like turning off lights, fixing a leak, and taking shorter showers, multiplied across dozens of apartment units will have quick results. In DC, residential buildings make up 20% of total energy use and 23% of total water use.  If all multi-family residents take action, we can save 83,000,000 kilowatt hours (KWH)  of energy, 96,000,000 gallons of water, and $31, 400,000 dollars annually. Small steps = big savings. 

Power Down DC

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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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California: Three Hours Behind the East Coast, but Years Ahead in Sustainability?!

Solar Panels San Francisco

Image source: www.greentechgazette.com

As a native Californian, I often marvel at my home state’s progressive attitude towards environmental conservation. In 1988, we were the first state to adopt air quality standards, which the federal Clean Air Act would later be amended to resemble. More recently, landmark legislation such as A.B. 32, or California’s Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, set the first statewide requirements for GHG emissions reductions in the country. Today, cities like San Francisco have plastic bag bans and zero-waste initiatives. However, our culture is one of sustainability partly out of necessity—in January 2014, Governor Brown declared California’s severe and sustained drought situation a state of emergency. Despite our already resource-constrained present, California’s population is anticipated to increase by 14% over the next fifteen years to 44 million people. The good news is, we’ve made some big strides recently in planning for the future demands of an ever-growing population.

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A Tour of DURA, New York City College of Technology’s Urban and Resilient Solar Decathlon Home

Last week, I had the opportunity to visit the DURAhome, New York City College of Technology’s entry for the 2015 Solar Decathlon. This project is currently nearing completion at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Over the past 3 months, more than sixty students have toiled around the clock to finish construction in time for the contest, which will take place October 8-18 in Irvine, California. The Solar Decathlon is the U.S. Department of Energy’s biennial competition that challenges college and university student-led teams to design and build solar-powered net-zero homes that are affordable, energy-efficient, and aesthetically appealing.

TeamDURA’s focus was to create a prototype of post-disaster housing that is suited for New York City’s high-density urban environment, and could serve as a shelter in the aftermath of a catastrophic storm. As such, multifamily, multistory solutions were preferable to traditional single-family trailers, which have larger footprints. DURAhome consists of several prefabricated modules that can be packaged and shipped on standard-sized tractor trailers for quick response at low cost. These flexible modules can then be joined in standalone configurations or stacked for multifamily uses. Like the city, the DURAhome is diverse, urban, resilient, and adaptable.

NY City Tech Freshman Langston Clark continues work on DURA into the early evening.

NY City Tech Freshman Langston Clark continues work on DURA into the early evening.

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Beyond Earth Day

At SWA we do A LOT to improve the sustainability of the built environment. Sustainability is at the heart of what we do. Culturally, SWA is comprised of a group of people who are committed to upholding a lifestyle that is socially and environmentally responsible both at home and at the office.

In honor of Earth Day 2015 we surveyed the SWA team about their personal consumption habits to generate a baseline understanding from which we hope to improve upon each year. We hope through having a greater understanding of SWA lifestyles, we can continue to inspire and cultivate sustainable behaviors throughout our community.

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SWA Earth Day 2015

 

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What actions do you take to live a more sustainable life? Let us know in the comments or tweet us @_SWinter.

SWA 2014: “By the Numbers” Infographic

Green Building Infographic