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Passive + Adaptive Resiliency: A Recipe for Sustainability

The need for sustainably designed buildings and infrastructure is critical as extreme weather patterns and natural disasters resulting from climate change persist. One of the truest measures of sustainability in this case is resiliency. How the site, the building, and the systems respond to an extreme weather event or other consequences of climate change can determine its livability. For green building, resiliency can be passive or adaptive, meaning reactive to these types of events or proactive in surviving them.

The recent events in Texas highlight the need at a national level for building and infrastructure resiliency.  Sudden freezing temperatures forced the grid to shut down and left millions of residents without power. The failure of uninsulated water pipes and lack of winterization throughout the energy supply could (and should) have been remediated decades ago.  In fact, a commissioned report released after similar blackouts 22 years ago recommended the incorporation of resilient designs into the system by “installing heating elements around pipes and increasing the amount of reserve power available before storms”. Michael Webber, an energy professor at the University of Texas said: “We need better insulation and weatherization at facilities and in homes.. There’s weaknesses in the system we [still] haven’t dealt with.”[1] Now, politicians and leaders are calling for more of these passive solutions that may be too little too late on such a massive scale.

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Designing for a Post-COVID World with Passive House

Passive House design for large multi-family buildings aligns with and builds upon industry guidance for mitigating the spread of infectious diseases.

As the world continues to be turned on its head by the impacts of COVID-19, the building industry has been scrambling to respond, encouraging designers and building operators to learn about how their buildings are being ventilated. Industry experts have produced an array of documents and reports outlining guidelines for reopening buildings safely while minimizing the risk of transferring infectious disease. Much of the focus of this guidance has been on using mechanical ventilation and proper air distribution to dilute contaminant levels in spaces and minimize the spread of viruses. The American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air-conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) has produced a significant amount of guidance for designers. One of their main documents, produced in April, is the “ASHRAE Position Document on Infectious Aerosols,” which provides useful information for how buildings should be designed and operated in response to a pandemic. However, it has prompted questions from design teams about how this might conflict with the goals of very low energy buildings, such as Passive House (PH). This blogpost is written as a response to some of these questions and to highlight the benefits of Passive House design in light of recent recommendations by groups like ASHRAE.

Benefits of Passive House for Mitigating COVID Transmission

The following are some of the benefits of Passive House design for multi-family buildings compared to code requirements as well as some additional guidance for how to design to mitigate virus transmission.

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The New HUD-approved FHA Safe Harbors

Houses in a rowEven though the Fair Housing Act (FHA) has been in effect for more than 30 years, owners, developers, architects and others are still cited for noncompliance with the FHA’s seven design and construction requirements. Based on our experience, a major contributing factor to this continued noncompliance is the common misconception that following the accessibility requirements of a building code (e.g., current editions of The International Building Code) will result in compliance with the FHA. To ensure compliance with the design and construction requirements of the FHA, it is important to incorporate one of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) approved safe harbors into the design of a multifamily development. The long-standing list of safe harbors has not been updated in nearly 14 years, when the 2003 edition of the ICC A117.1 Standard was approved by HUD. Before that, the 2006 edition of the International Building Code was the latest version of the code to be HUD- approved as meeting the design and construction requirements of the Act. As a result, while the building codes have continued to progress, HUD has lagged behind – until now.

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Electrification Nation with Laura Tajima

Cities across North America are paving the way for wide-spread building electrification. Although there are many benefits associated with going all-electric, there are also many barriers that stand in the way.

Building Electrification Institute acts as resource for cities in their equitable transition to building electrification through education, training, and program support. They work with 11 different cities, providing them with the necessary “tools in their toolbox” to ensure their buildings are as energy efficient, healthy, equitable, and cost effective as they need to be.

In this episode, our host Robb and guest Laura talk about electrification strategies, costs, and the importance of policy as it relates to building electrification and climate goals in cities.

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Comprehensive Heating Upgrades for Two-Pipe Steam Systems

Most people who have lived or worked in a steam-heated building are familiar with the typical occurrences of uneven heat (underheating/overheating), banging pipes, and having to open windows all winter long.  Not only are occupants uncomfortable, but the heating bills are high as well. Balancing these systems is a huge opportunity for energy savings. It is important to point out that the root of the issue is in the distribution system, and it’s that distribution system that needs to be fixed. The steam traps are the weakest –link and when they fail, residents lose the ability to control the amount of heat delivered. This in turn makes the space uncomfortable and results in the necessity to open windows and waste fuel. The steam traps are supposed to be replaced building-wide every three years to catch broken traps, but due to the expense and logistics of such a task, this is rarely actually done.

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It’s Time to 86 Fossil Fuels in Commercial Kitchens with Chris Galarza

Imagine this: you’re a chef or cook in a high-stress commercial kitchen setting. You’re making split second decisions with little breathing room, and each quick decision can get you cut or burned. On top of that, you’re in over 100-degree heat, breathing in toxic air from your gas stovetop.

This is an experience Chris Galarza could relate to, from working as a professional chef in various commercial settings. After making the switch to an all-electric kitchen utilizing induction equipment at Chatham University’s Eden Hall campus (the World’s first fully self-sustained university campus), he witnessed the positive difference in the physical and mental health of himself and his staff. He now advocates for electric cooking being a much healthier, safer, cost-effective, and energy efficient option.

In this episode, Kelly and Chris talk through some electric-kitchen-myth-busting, and ultimately answer the question “is moving away from gas and fire in the kitchen really that radical an idea or does it just make perfect sense?”

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Integrating Social Equity Into Green Building – Part 3: Design, Construction, and Operations

In part one of this blog series, we established that buildings are only sustainable if they are equitable and accessible for all occupants. In part two, we detailed how to apply these principles to the planning stages and provided resources for improving social outcomes in your projects. In this post, part three, we will outline ways in which we can integrate principles of social equity into the design, construction, and operations phases.

Design Phase

Image of JUST label

JUST Label (https://living-future.org/just/case-studies/ilfi/)

Stakeholders

The earlier you commit to an inclusive and integrative design process, the better. The broader the group of stakeholders involved, the better. For example, consider including members from the following groups, among others, to participate in early visioning and planning discussions and workshops:

  • Leaders of local community groups;
  • Members of future user groups (occupants, tenants, staff, operations team, people with disabilities, etc.);
  • Public health professionals;
  • Local policymakers and government officials;
  • Representatives from local cultural organizations;
  • Specialists in the local natural and social history, ecology, economy, ethnography, building code, etc.;
  • Subject matter experts in sustainability, energy, accessibility, etc.

When possible, recruit project team members from companies that have committed to social responsibility by publishing a JUST Label or other social responsibility report. Companies can pursue a JUST Label and become a resource for others.

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Farm-to-Shelter Building with Andrew Linn

We’ve all heard of “farm-to-table” in the context of our food, but what about “farm-to-shelter” in the context of our homes? As we try to become more conscious about the food we eat and the clothes we wear, we must also consider the materials we use when constructing our homes. While many acknowledge the need for better materials in buildings, very few modern day designers have successfully completed a project that consists of healthy and sustainable materials from top to bottom.

Andrew Linn and his partner Jack Becker of bld.us are doing just that. They started by building their own sustainable (and compostable) structure – the Grass House – located in Washington, DC. This project holds a special place in our hearts, because we worked as the sustainability consultants for the house. In this episode, Robb talks with Andrew about the materials he employs in his projects, and their positive sustainability and health impacts.

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It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like …. Cold Season

Imagine it’s Christmas morning. You wake up from a nice sleep eager to spend time with family and open presents. You can’t wait to get out of bed but know that the warmth you have under the covers will soon escape into your cold, drafty apartment. The window doesn’t close that well, and the baseboard heater can never quite get up to the desired temperature. Now you’re cold. Your body is working harder to warm you, so now you’re tired too. Your only comfort is the idea of sitting by a fire soon with a cup of hot cocoa… except it’s not actually Christmas. It’s just a normal day, and you’re cold…again.

For most of us, feeling cold is simply just uncomfortable and may decrease our productivity. However, for the elderly being cold can lead to health problems, organ failure, and even hypothermia. Seniors who are chronically cold during the winter may not even know the toll their discomfort is causing to their health, and they may require a more adequate living environment to keep them safe.

When preparing for the development of a new senior residence, it is important to take into consideration the needs of the senior demographic during the design phase. Keeping our seniors safe is one of the biggest priorities for senior living facilities, not only when it comes to ADA compliant and accessible living conditions, but also regarding tenant comfort and health.

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Designing for Inclusion with Victoria Lanteigne

Disability inclusion in the built environment is extremely important. But, it shouldn’t end there. How do we ensure that we are being truly inclusive of all types of people, taking into account a wider diversity of backgrounds, orientations, and abilities? The answer is Universal Design.

On this episode of Building’s + Beyond, Robb chats with former SWA employee and Universal Design expert, Victoria Lanteigne. Victoria has devoted her career to the advancement of Universal Design, educating herself and others on the concept and its limitless applications. In her interview, she discusses trends, tactics, and examples from the field, and challenges practitioners to re-think their definition of the word, design.

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