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Integrating Social Equity into Green Building – Part 1: “Just Sustainability”

The causes of social inequity and injustice are deeply rooted within the systems that shape our society, including the built environment. The built environment represents the literal foundation of our society’s presence in the world – from the smallest rural community to the largest city. The way in which buildings are designed, constructed, and maintained has a tremendous influence on the equity (or inequity), and the justice (or injustice), of our society. The way we build and the strategies we employ can either continue to worsen social issues or can lay the groundwork for significant progress to be made on these issues in places around the world.

The building industry continues to make progress on reducing negative environmental impacts of the built environment. In fact, we’re increasingly seeing practices and strategies go beyond “sustainable” to “regenerative,” with such goals as net-positive energy, water, and waste. Now, the industry is reckoning with the urgent need to integrate social equity into its definition of sustainability in order to also reduce negative social impacts of the built environment. We might accelerate the process by framing the goal as “net-positive equity.” (more…)

The Making of the 2021 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC)

When I first started working at Steven Winter Associates, I didn’t know that one day I’d find myself involved in the development of codes and standards that impact how our buildings get built. I certainly don’t consider myself an expert, but I have learned a few things the hard way and thought they’d be worth sharing if you might be new to it.

So, here’s my very high-level summary of the code development process with respect to the 2021 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC), aka the “model” energy code. If you are looking for more detail, the ICC webpage has plenty of resources and a more detailed infographic than the one we’re showing and discussing here.

IECC Code Development Process Chart

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Whole Building Blower Door Testing – Big Buildings Passing the Test

The residential energy efficiency industry has been using blower door testing since the mid 1980’s to measure the air tightness of homes. Since then, we’ve evolved from testing single family homes, to testing entire apartment buildings. The Passive House standard requires whole-building testing, as will many local energy codes, along with assembly testing. While the concept of – taking a powerful fan, temporarily mounting it into the door frame of a building, and either pulling air out (depressurize) or pushing air into it (pressurize) – is the same for buildings both large and small, the execution is quite different for the latter.

Commonly called a whole-building blower door test, we use multiple blower doors to create a pressure difference on the exterior surfaces of the entire building. The amount of air moving through the fans is recorded in cubic feet per minute (CFM) along with the pressure difference from inside to out in pascals. Since the amount of air moving through the fans is equal to the amount of air moving through the gaps, cracks, and holes of the building’s enclosure, it is used to determine the buildings air tightness. Taking additional measurements at various pressure differences increases the measurement accuracy and is required in standards that govern infiltration testing. Larger buildings usually test at a higher-pressure difference and express the leakage rate as cubic feet per minute at 75 pascals or CFM75.

Image of SWA staff setting up blower door test

SWA staff at a project site setting up a blower door test

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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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The First Certified Passive House in Southeast Asia – Star Garments Innovation Center

Following up on our blog post in August 2018 – Just Your Typical Blower Door Test… in Sri Lanka – Star Garment Innovation Center – we have exciting news coming out of Sri Lanka. The Star Garments Innovation Center is now officially certified as a Pilot EnerPHit building, the building retrofit standard under the Passive House Institute (PHI).

EnerPHit logo with project details

EnerPHit certification for this project is a milestone achievement on many levels. The Innovation Center is now the first certified Passive House in Southeast Asia and one of only a handful of certified PH projects in tropical climates. PHI deemed the project “a milestone in industrial energy efficient retrofitting in a tropical monsoon climate.” Many of the passive measures employed at the Innovation Center, including continuous exterior insulation, highly efficienct windows, variable refrigerant flow heat pumps for cooling with wrap around heat pipe for enhanced dehumidification capacity, and balanced ventilation with heat recovery can be utilized across all future construction projects in tropical climates. The Passive House team here at SWA is excited to see the potential growth in tropical-climate Passive House construction as a result of the Innovation Center’s success.

But what good is certification if the building doesn’t perform as well as the energy model predicts? Well, we have exciting news on this front too!

At the very start of SWA’s involvement in the project back in the summer of 2016, SWA conducted a utility analysis of the base building prior to any renovations to predict and later verify the energy savings of the Innovation Center by designing to the PH standard. Once the energy model was developed, SWA predicted approximately 50% in energy savings when compared to the previous building’s energy bills.

Fast forward to Fall of 2018 and the building has now been occupied for a full year. The two inevitable questions are:

  1. How much energy is the Innovation Center saving as compared to the previous building?
  2. How does the modeled energy use for the Innovation Center compare to what it is actually using after a full year of occupancy?

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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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Pathways to Passive House Certification

Passive House logosDid you know that there are two pathways for earning Passive House certification? There’s Passive House International (PHI) and Passive House Institute US (PHIUS). Using an energy modeling software, both programs evaluate a building based on a variety of factors. Despite the misleading moniker, certification is not limited to just housing. In fact, building types from residential and commercial high-rises to industrial factories have earned Passive House certification around the globe. However, the two certification programs are run by separate institutions, using different energy modeling software and standards. However, both ultimately maintain the shared goal for high performance, low energy buildings.

Historically, around 2013, the PHIUS organization developed a new standard called PHIUS+ 2015 with a climate-specific approach and an alternate modeling software. Starting in March 2019, PHIUS projects will be held to updated requirements under the PHIUS+ 2018 program.

PHI also offers project and climate specific cooling demand thresholds, having previously begun offering alternate certification options in 2015. Additionally, PHI created a program called EnerPHit to provide more flexibility for retrofits. PHI recognizes buildings that exceed its standard certification by offering Plus and Premium certification, as well as a Low Energy Building certification pathway for projects that are near PH efficiency.

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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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