2024 IECC – What Happened?

The International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) or “model code” establishes the minimum requirements for building energy efficiency. The code is updated every three years, and for 2024, a new consensus-driven development process brought together diverse stakeholders to determine those requirements.

However, the International Code Council’s Board of Directors recently voted to go against consensus and remove mandatory provisions relating to building decarbonization from the 2024 draft.

In this episode, host Robb Aldrich interviews Gayathri Vijayakumar, Principal Mechanical Engineer at Steven Winter Associates and a voting member of the 2024 IECC Residential Consensus Committee, to find out… what happened?


Choosing Electrification or Efficiency (When Both Aren’t Possible)

When is it the right call to improve the energy efficiency of existing building systems, or upgrade and electrify them?

Though electrification is important to reduce carbon emissions, electrifying buildings is not straightforward. Factors like cost, existing infrastructure, compliance needs (and we’ll say it again: cost!) can keep building owners from going all-electric.

In this episode, Buildings + Beyond co-host Robb Aldrich catches up with Ryan Merkin, Vice President of Business Development at BlocPower (and a SWA alum). They discuss the eight areas Ryan considers when deciding to focus on efficiency vs. electrification:

  • Building height
  • Planned capital expenditures (CapEx)
  • Current system condition and remaining useful life
  • Heating energy source: oil and electrical resistance
  • Existing systems: Individual/unitized vs. central
  • Packaged terminal ACs (PTACs) and through-wall sleeve ACs
  • Regulatory drivers (LL97, ESG, etc.) and incentives
  • Metering: who pays what now; who would pay in the future


Mind the Gap – Addressing the Skills Gap in the Sustainable Building Industry

Buildings are complicated. There’s a bigger learning curve than ever for the people who construct, operate, and manage high-performance buildings—and there’s more demand than ever for skilled workers across the sustainable building industry.

In this episode, Ellen Honigstock, Senior Director of Education at Urban Green Council, sits down with Kelly Westby, Managing Director of the Building Operations, Decarbonization, and Efficiency (BODE) team at Steven Winter Associates. They chat about what it takes to effectively educate the workforce to ensure occupant comfort, energy and carbon reductions, sustainability, and the overall performance of a building.

This is a crossover episode! Go to the Building Tomorrow: Conversations with Climate Solvers podcast feed to hear Ellen interview Kelly about all-things building commissioning.


To Your Health – What to Know About Cooking and Indoor Air Quality

There’s more to a healthy meal than what’s on your plate. Cooking inside a home or apartment produces contaminants—those of primary concern are PM2.5 and nitrogen dioxide (NO2)—and without an exhaust strategy, these pollutants will remain inside and diminish indoor air quality.

In addition, one of the biggest news stories of 2023 was the Canadian wildfires. These events had many on the East Coast thinking about outdoor air quality and how to keep their indoor air as healthy as possible. The primary pollutant of concern from smoke is PM2.5.

There are numerous ways to keep polluted outdoor air outside, but what about the additional exposure to PM2.5 that can happen indoors?

Homeowners and renters can create a ventilation strategy to maintain safe levels of PM2.5 in their living space—whether there are outdoor air quality warnings or not. Keep reading to find out how. (more…)

Healthy Materials 101 – A Realistic Approach to Creating Healthier Buildings with Jonsara Ruth

At the baseline, “healthy” materials should not have a negative impact on people living or working inside of a building. Beyond that, there are materials that have a low impact on people and the planet throughout their entire lifespan—and then there are materials that can have a net-positive impact, such as those that absorb carbon from our atmosphere.

Jonsara Ruth, Co-founder and Design Director of the Healthy Materials Lab at Parsons School of Design, joins this episode of the Buildings + Beyond podcast to discuss the spectrum of materials and resources available. Jonsara chats with guest host Sarah Nugent about how to phase out toxic ingredients and select materials that are healthy and affordable.


What Can Go Wrong with Passive House Ventilation Systems—and How to Prevent It

The envelope of a Passive House building is designed to be significantly airtight. Mechanical ventilation systems introduce fresh, filtered air and exhaust stale, contaminated air 24 hours a day—which is extremely important in maintaining optimal indoor air quality and occupant comfort.

As the saying goes, build tight and ventilate right.

When ventilation systems are designed correctly, but installed, commissioned, or operated incorrectly, the system ends up being leaky and inefficient and uses more energy than expected.

Project teams for Passive House buildings must find solutions for these implementation and commissioning hurdles, or the potential energy penalty can adversely effect the building’s high-performance design intent.

What happens when a Passive House construction expert and a commissioning engineer collaborate to find a solution to common ventilation system issues that cause excess energy use? We, the authors of this blog post, did just that!

Keep reading to learn about common construction issues with Passive House ventilation systems and five lessons learned based on our experiences in the field. (more…)

The Real Secret to Energy-Efficient Buildings? Operations & Maintenance Training

Over the lifespan of a building, operations and maintenance staff arguably have the biggest impact on system performance and energy efficiency. With the right training, staff can keep a building running as it was designed to run and “create the change” to reduce energy usage, reduce repairs, and upgrade vs. replace equipment.

So how do project teams create O&M training programs that achieve all this?

In this episode, producer and guest host Dylan Martello chats with Luis Aragon and Heather Nolen—two O&M training experts at SWA—about balancing in-person and digital education, accounting for every learning style, breaking down language barriers, sustaining the training for the long term, and much more.


5 Strategies to Create Sustainable and Affordable Housing with Enterprise Green Communities (EGC)

Access to sustainable and healthy buildings should be a universal right. Unfortunately, underserved communities and low-income families often face significant barriers to living in buildings that are efficient, supportive, and resilient.

The Enterprise Green Communities (EGC) certification program provides criteria to create sustainable, healthy, and affordable housing and offers a pathway our industry can use to advance equity in the built environment.

U.S. map showing 31 states, plus DC, that promote Enterprise Green Communities through their Low-Income Housing Tax Credit program.

Source: Enterprise

Thirty-one states, plus Washington, DC, require or encourage developers seeking affordable housing funding to follow the Enterprise Green Communities Criteria.

However, any housing development in the U.S. with affordable homes can earn the Enterprise Green Communities certification. (Projects that achieve the 2020 EGC certification also receive WELL certification.)

In this blog post, we’re sharing the strategies we use most often as EGC consultants, along with a common challenge and solution, to achieve certification and create more sustainable communities. (more…)

5 Misconceptions About the Americans with Disabilities Act & 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law on July 26, 1990. This federal civil rights law prohibits discrimination based on disability and declares that people with disabilities must have equal access to all areas of public life, including employment, public services, public accommodations, and telecommunications.

Cover pages of the ADA Title III Regulations and the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible DesignOne year later, on July 26, 1991, the Department of Justice released the 1991 ADA Standards for Accessible Design to be used in the design and construction of new and altered buildings. These technical standards have since been replaced with the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design that we use today.

Despite the importance of the ADA and its enforcement over the past three decades, there are still misconceptions about what the law requires for buildings and facilities.

Below are five of the most common misconceptions that SWA’s accessibility consultants encounter when working with building designers, developers, and owners on ADA compliance. (more…)

Answering the Tough Questions About Energy Codes

What happens when you put four sustainable building experts involved in energy code development in a room and ask them to bring their favorite—and sometimes, most controversial—topics for discussion? You end up with more questions than answers!

In this roundtable episode hosted by Robb Aldrich, our guests ask each other these tough questions related to our nation’s energy codes:

  • Performance Metrics: How can energy codes be simplified? Is energy use intensity (EUI) a viable alternate metric?
  • Gas Bans: If jurisdictions cannot ban gas, how can we put electrification in the energy code?
  • Embodied Carbon: How should embodied carbon accounting be incorporated into energy codes?
  • Robb’s Bonus Question #1: How are building inspectors dealing with complicated energy codes?
  • Robb’s Bonus Question #2: Should there be electric vehicle (EV) charging requirements in energy codes?


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