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Passive House Design for Multi Family Housing

Posted By Alex Wellman, Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Passive House design, a growing trend in the building world, seeks to achieve high levels of energy efficiency through design choices such as super insulation, solar exposure planning and natural ventilation. The first passive house concept was developed at the University of Lund in Sweden in 1988. Now, there are estimated 40,000 – 50,000 passive homes around the world, with the first one being built in the United States in 2003.

Although the return on investment for a passive home has been well documented, the increased costs associated with its design and construction has raised the barriers to entry. This means that most passive house buildings have mainly been single family homes built in affluent areas.

The tide is changing however as several multifamily passive house buildings have been built or are in the planning stages around the United States. One example is the recently completed Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Commons project in Washington, D.C. which according to the developers is the first time that Passive House criteria has been used to retrofit a multifamily building in the United States. This 36 unit housing development is intended for low income and homeless families.

At the recent ribbon cutting for Weinberg Commons a new resident spoke, saying:

“Before I was at Weinberg, I was staying with family and friends, and bouncing from hotel to hotel. At the time, I was finishing a job training program, starting a new job, and trying to raise my son. The added stress of staying with a lot of people and not knowing where I was going to stay was overwhelming and depressing. When I found out I was approved for Weinberg, I was overcome with an incredible feeling. It felt as though I had been holding my breath for years, and I now I could finally breathe. Now that I have a safe and secure home at Weinberg Commons, I can focus all my strength and energy on taking care of my son and furthering my education so that I can find a job in which I can help and inspire others. I would like to thank the Transitional Housing Corporation and Inner City Family Services for all their support.”

After rent or a mortgage, utility costs can be some of the largest expenses faced by a family. Passive House design allows people to redirect the money saved on utilities to other things such as education, food and family enrichment. The Weinberg Commons project, sponsored in part by PIMA and its members companies, is the first of its kind in Washington, D.C. and was awarded the First Annual Maryland Innovation & Entrepreneurship in Real Estate Awards by the University of Maryland’s Colvin Real Estate Institute.

A similar project recently completed in Philadelphia, the Belfield Avenue Townhomes, is another example of Passive House design being incorporated into a multi family, low and moderate income housing complex. According to an article published by Dwell, “like most Passive Houses, Belfield Avenue incorporates supercharged wall insulation (in this case, nearly eight inches of densely packed cellulose and Polyiso, a type of rigid foam board), triple-pane windows, and an energy-recovery ventilator, which draws fresh air into the house while expelling kitchen and bathroom exhaust.”

According to the U.S. based Passive House Institute, of the 121 passive homes in the United States that they have certified, 100 are private, single family residences. It’s encouraging to see this innovative design technique being used more and more in multifamily construction, especially in projects aimed at low income residents. When people can save money on energy costs, they have more to spend on other things that can greatly improve the quality of their lives. PIMA is proud to be a part of projects like the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Commons building in Washington, D.C. and will continue to support research for further applications of passive house and net zero energy design.

For more information on the Weinberg Commons project, please check out this press release from the Transitional Housing Corporation, this article from Passive to Positive, and this article from The Washington Post. A video discussing the project is also available on the THC website. 

Tags:  DC  Multifamily  Passive  Polyiso  Weinberg 

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New Study Shows 90% of Homes are Under Insulated

Posted By Alex Wellman, Thursday, October 15, 2015

According to a new study released by the North American Insulation Manufacturers Association (NAIMA) roughly 90% of homes in the United States are under insulated. The study drew on numbers derived from the 2009 Residential Energy Consumption Survey and other research completed by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and Boston University. Speaking about the study, Dr. Jonathan Levy, professor at the Boston University School of Public Health, said; “If all U.S. homes were fitted with insulation based on the 2012 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC), residential electricity use nationwide would drop by about 5 percent and natural gas use by more than 10 percent.”

According to the Department of Energy, heating and cooling costs comprise more than 44 percent of the energy consumed in a single family home. Homes containing adequate levels of insulation help consumers achieve lower energy costs and reduce the amount of harmful carbon emissions created as a result of electricity generation.

While Polyiso foam insulation is the market leader for commercial roofing applications, it can also be used in residential wall applications. When properly specified and installed, Polyiso sheathing insulation offers one of the best values available for residential construction. Benefits include:

  • A residential wall system with a high R-value increases the energy efficiency of the home and significantly reduces heat loss.
  • A reduction in air infiltration and exfiltration, which increases the overall performance of the wall and reduces heat loss.
  • A reduction in the risk of water condensation/intrusion, which increases thermal and structural performance and reduces builder call backs.
  • Insulation over the entire framing members, known as a continuous insulation system, which reduces the overall home energy loss.
  • Increased confidence with an assurance the home builder is providing a quality product.
  • More confidence that your home was built with state-of-the-art energy-efficient techniques.

PIMA has also recently published a “Wall Insulation Knowledge Base” that includes dozens of technical bulletins and articles on topics such as code compliance and environmental performance regarding Polyiso insulation wall assemblies. The knowledge base can be accessed on the PIMA website here

Tags:  polyiso  residential  wall 

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Funding Innovations for Energy Efficiency

Posted By Alex Wellman, Friday, August 28, 2015

On Monday morning, the Dow Jones Industrial Average took a sudden 1000 point drop before recovering for a loss of 588 points at market close.  This was a reaction to the news that Chinese markets suffered significant losses after years of sustained growth. Many people had flashbacks to the 2008 financial crisis and wondered if they should place their retirement funds in something safer. Despite some uncertainty in the stock market, investing in energy efficiency is almost always a safe bet.

Even with a demonstrated return on investment, it can sometimes be difficult to convince a building owner or manager that they will benefit from making energy efficiency upgrades to their building. Here are a few innovative ways to finance energy efficiency in a new or existing building.

1. ESPCS:    Energy service performance contracts allow building owners and managers to make energy efficiency upgrades to their buildings with little to no upfront costs. Energy Service Companies (ESCOs) pay for the initial costs to install energy efficiency upgrades and are paid back over time by the savings generated by the upgrades. At the end of the contract, building owners are free to keep the upgrades and can begin reaping the benefits for themselves. The federal government was a pioneer in this type of financing arrangement but the private sector is beginning to embrace these contracts.

2. PACE:  Property assessed clean energy financing uses money raised through the levying of municipal bonds to loan money to owners of homes and businesses to pay for energy retrofits. The money loaned is attached to the property taxes of the building and not tied directly to the individual. This allows individuals to make investments to the building even if they plan on selling it before the payback period.

2. Crowd funding: Crowd funding sites such as Kickstarter, GoFundMe, and Fundly have revolutionized the way we finance all kinds of projects. Crowd funding can also be useful for funding energy efficiency upgrades by allowing individuals to contribute to the goal of a non-profit or public sector entity retrofitting their building. It also allows people to invest in innovative energy efficiency technology companies that are working to improve the quality and comfort of our built environment.

No matter how you pay for upgrades like increased insulation, LED lighting, and low flow toilets, investing in energy efficiency will almost always pay dividends. You can’t say that about the stock market.  

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Energy Modernization Act 2015

Posted By Alex Wellman, Wednesday, August 5, 2015
Updated: Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Last Week, Chairman of the US Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Ranking Member Maria Cantwell (D-WA) unveiled a new bi-partisan energy bill known as the Energy Modernization Act of 2015. The bill seeks to utilize recent technological breakthroughs in the energy sector to modernize energy policy in the United States in a cost effective and fiscally responsible manner.  The language of the bill can be divided into 5 topics as follows:

Title I – Efficiency: Directs the Secretary of Energy to promote building energy codes, including the ASHRAE 90.1 standard for commercial buildings. The bill also expands current building bench marking programs for federal buildings.

Title II – Infrastructure: Addresses the grid modernization issues, cyber security, and reauthorized the strategic petroleum reserve.

Title III – Supply: Seeks to ensure that the United States has access to a stable supply of energy from a variety of sources both renewable and fossil based. It also authorizes additional research on geothermal energy and improves regulations on hydro power plants.

Title IV – Accountability: Addresses accountability for taxpayer dollars used for energy research programs, supports access to National Laboratory data for small businesses, and establishes a Quadrennial Energy Review Task Force.

Title V – Conservation Re-authorization: re-authorizes the Land and Water Conservation Fund and the Historic Preservation Fund which are both set to expire this year. It also creates a new National Park Maintenance and Revitalization Fund to address maintenance issues at historic sites around the United States.

This bi-partisan legislation was the culmination of 114 individual bills submitted with input from stake holders across the board. It is no coincidence that Title I of the bill focuses on one of the most important issues in the world of energy policy -  energy efficiency. PIMA will continue to support common sense legislation seeking to improve the quality and comfort of the built environment.

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Three Building Competitions Working to Promote Energy Efficiency

Posted By Alex Wellman, Tuesday, July 21, 2015
Updated: Thursday, July 23, 2015

Building challenges and competitions are a great way to promote and encourage the design of energy efficient buildings and improve the quality of the built environment. When financial incentives are in place to design the best buildings, teams are encouraged to innovate and expand upon existing design practices. Here are some of the building competitions being held this year around the United States.


1. Solar Decathlon

Sponsored by United States Department of Energy, the Solar Decathlon challenges teams from 20 universities around the world to design and build energy efficient homes powered by solar. Teams are judged on a number of factors including architecture, market appeal, and efficiency. The competition occurs biennially in the United States and a complimentary competition known as Solar Decathlon Europe occurs on the off years across the pond. In 2014, PIMA was proud to sponsor the team representing Appalachian State University, the top American team in the Solar Decathlon Europe. The 2015 edition of the Solar Decathlon will take place October 8-18 in Irvine, California.


2. Battle of the Buildings

The Energy Star Battle of the Buildings is an annual competition that encourages managers of existing buildings to reduce energy and water usage over a one year period. Teams entering the challenge can win in one of three categories:

  • “Top Team. The team that reduced its energy or water use the most on a percentage basis over the course of the competition.”
  • “Top Building. The building that reduced its energy or water use the most on a percentage basis over the course of the competition.”
  • “Top Building by Category. The building in each category that reduced its energy or water use the most on a percentage basis over the course of the competition.”

The top team for the 2014 competition came from The Town of Woodville Alabama which reduced energy use in their municipal buildings portfolio by 24.8%.

 

3. Architecture Zero Competition

Started in 2010, the Architecture at Zero competition is an annual design competition for net zero energy buildings in California. Sponsored by Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E), the competition is open to students, architects, urban planners, and other design professionals interested in promoting net zero energy buildings. This year, entrants are contributing designs for family-style student residential units at the University of San Francisco.  Awards are given in several categories with a total of $25,000 in prize money available. 

 

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PIMA Celebrates Successful Mid-Year Meeting in the Big Easy

Posted By Alex Wellman, Friday, July 10, 2015
Updated: Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Last month, PIMA members gathered in New Orleans, Louisiana for the Association’s 2015 Mid-Year Meeting sponsored by BASF. With record attendance of over 115 people, the meeting focused on the theme of “Resiliency and Innovation in the Built Environment.”

Members heard from a variety of speakers such as:

Rick Davenport, Director of Sustainable Construction, BASF: Rick spoke about the evolution of building science necessitated by advances and innovation in high performance building products. He also discussed his 51 years of industry experience and the work being done at the BASF Center for Building Excellence to improve the quality of the built environment.

Katie Weeks, LEED Green Associate, Director of Communications, Institute for Market Transformation: Katie discussed initiatives being undertaken at IMT such as the City Energy Project, which seeks to improve the energy efficiency of buildings in 10 major US cities by working closely with local governments to promote building energy codes. Katie discussed the importance of using building energy codes to reduce carbon emissions, and offered ways for PIMA members to become involved.

Fred Neal Jr., Senior Planner, Villavaso & Associates LLC: Fred provided a local perspective of the issues facing the city of New Orleans. Because of its location on the mouth of the Mississippi River, New Orleans creates special logistical challenges for local planners. Fred discussed the steps New Orleans has taken to improve its infrastructure after Hurricane Katrina and his vision for achieving a sustainable city through policies such as prudent building energy codes

Members also met in issue specific task groups to discuss important issues related to polyiso insulation.

PIMA’s Annual Meeting will be held November 3-5, 2015 in Washington, DC.

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US Energy Information Agency Analysis of “Clean Power Plan” Predicts Emissions to Decrease 35% by 2025

Posted By Alex Wellman, Monday, June 22, 2015

In August 2014, as part of the ongoing debate on the implementation of the EPA’s proposed “Clean Power Plan,” Representative Lamar Smith, Chairman of the House Committee on Space, Science, and Technology, requested that the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) conduct an analysis of the impacts of the proposed plan.  The EIA has completed the analysis and released it to the public last month.

The main goal of the EPA Clean Power Plan is to reduce emissions from existing power plants. In this regard, the analysis found emissions would decrease up to 35 percent below 2005 levels by 2025, exceeding the stated CPP goal of a 30 percent reduction by 2030. 

One of the major concerns of the EPA clean power plan is rising energy costs, due to a shift from fossil fuel based generation to renewables.  This can be offset however through compliance pathways that rely on energy efficiency and improving building energy codes.  In fact, energy efficiency is considered one of the 4 main “building blocks” that states can use to comply with the rule.

According to the analysis issued by the EIA:

“Electricity expenditures also generally rise with Clean Power Plan implementation, but expenditure changes are smaller in percentage terms than price changes as the combination of energy-efficiency programs pursued for compliance purposes and higher electricity prices tends to reduce electricity consumption relative to baseline.

PIMA will continue to advocate for common sense policy that promotes the use of energy efficiency to save consumers money while also reducing carbon emissions. We are confident that as states look to comply with the rules under the EPA Clean Power Plan, they will see the importance of improving building energy codes and other policies that deal with energy efficiency.

The entire report from the Energy Information Administration titled “Analysis of the Impacts of the Clean Power Plan” can be found here.

 

 

 

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Passive House Design Takes Off for Multi Family Housing

Posted By Alex Wellman, Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Passive house design is a growing trend in the building design world that seeks to achieve high levels of energy efficiency through design choices such as super insulation, solar exposure planning, and natural ventilation. The first passive house concept was developed at the University of Lund in Sweden in 1988. Now, there are estimated 40,000 – 50,000 passive homes around the world, with the first one being built in the United States in 2003.

Although the return on investment for a passive home has been well documented, the increased costs associated with their design and construction has raised the barriers to entry. This means that most passive house buildings have mainly been single family homes built in affluent areas.

The tide is changing however as several multifamily passive house buildings have been built or are in the planning stages around the United States. One example of this is the soon to be completed Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Commons project in Washington, D.C. When finished, the multi unit passive house design building will provide homes for 36 low and moderate income families, including 12 families who were previously in the D.C. homeless shelter system. Because utility costs can be some of the largest expenses faced by a family, passive house design allows people to better budget their money for other things such as education, food, and family enrichment. The project, sponsored in part by PIMA and its members companies, is the first of its kind in Washington, D.C. and was recently awarded the First Annual Maryland Innovation & Entrepreneurship in Real Estate Awards by the University of Maryland’s Colvin Real Estate Institute.

A similar project recently completed in Philadelphia, the Belfield Avenue Townhomes, is another example of passive house design being incorporated into a multi family, low and moderate income housing complex. According to an article published by Dwell, “like most Passive Houses, Belfield Avenue incorporates supercharged wall insulation (in this case, nearly eight inches of densely packed cellulose and Polyiso, a type of rigid foam board), triple-pane windows, and an energy-recovery ventilator, which draws fresh air into the house while expelling kitchen and bathroom exhaust.”

According to the U.S. based Passive House Institute, of the 121 passive homes in the United States that they have certified, 100 are private, single family residences. It’s encouraging to see this innovative design technique being used more and more in multifamily construction, especially in projects aimed at low income residents. When people can save money on energy costs, they have more to spend on other things that can greatly improve the quality of their lives. PIMA is proud to be a part of projects like the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Commons building in Washington, D.C. and will continue to support research for further applications of passive house and net zero energy design. 

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Carbon Taxes: A Viable Alternative to the Emissions Caps?

Posted By Alex Wellman, Monday, April 27, 2015

According to a recent poll conducted by Stanford University, 78% of Americans believe that the federal government should regulate green house gas emissions. While the majority can agree that limiting and regulating these emissions is good thing, the policy prescriptions are often more controversial.

The current strategy by the EPA and other federal agencies involves simply capping the amount of green house gas emissions. This is evident by the so called Clean Power Plan which would set designated carbon emission reduction targets on power plants in the states. The idea here is that states would have some flexibility in designing plans to meet these goals through a combination of renewable energy and energy efficiency mandates.  This plan has some positive benefits such as allowing states to design plans that fit their needs, and not rigidly managing them based on a one size fits all regulatory regime. 

 While capping carbon emissions is the obvious plan of action when looking to reduce green house gas emissions, there can be some unintended consequences. For example, states that are heavily reliant on carbon based electricity generation due to the presence of abundant natural carbon resources may be unfairly punished under this plan. Also, states which have already taken steps to reduce carbon emissions may need to implement more drastic and anti-competitive policy choices to meet the cap.

As an alternative to the simple capping of carbon emissions, carbon taxes have emerged as a potential solution. A carbon tax in its most basic form would tax producers of carbon emissions using a calculated price per pound of CO2.

Carbon taxes have a number of advantages over emissions caps. When carbon has a price, companies will be incentivized to lower their emission rates through innovation. For example, if wasn’t feasible to convert a manufacturing facility over to renewable energy in the past, the price signal may now allow for that under the carbon tax regime. 

Another benefit over a simple cap would be the revenue raised from the tax. Most carbon tax plans are designed to be revenue neutral, with all revenues raised by the tax used to offset other taxes such as the corporate income tax. Using income from a carbon tax to lower the corporate income tax also has a practical political benefit, and can be something lawmakers on both sides of the aisle can appreciate.

Despite these positive qualities, carbon taxes are not without their flaws. As the price of carbon cannot be calculated using the free market, it is hard to get it right. Jurisdictions that have already implemented a carbon tax have found that often times the price they set is either too high or too low, and doesn’t provide the intended effects. Also, once a tax is in place, it is virtually impossible for one Congress to tie the hands of the next in regards to how the revenues are allocated, thus negating the revenue neutrality of the tax.

While both of the plans have negative consequences , most people agree that something must be done to reduce carbon emissions in the United States. Under either of these plans, improving the energy efficiency of commercial buildings will be an integral part of the solution. Commercial buildings are responsible for roughly 45% of green house gas emissions in the nation. Making choices such as including polyisocyanurate foam insulation in the design of a building is an excellent way to improve the energy efficiency of your building and reduce harmful green house gas emissions.  The road to reducing emissions will not be easy, but is something that can be accomplished through innovative public policy decisions and education.

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Nation’s Capital Tops Energy Star Building List

Posted By Alex Wellman, Friday, April 10, 2015

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has released its annual list of the top 25 cities with the most Energy Star certified buildings.  This year, Washington, D.C. has topped the list with 480 certified buildings. Washington, DC is no stranger to the list, and has come in second place for the last 5 years behind Los Angeles.

Rank     Metro Area                  2014 Building Count

1          Washington, DC             480
2          Los Angeles                   475
3          Atlanta                            328
4          New York                        299
5          San Francisco                292
6          Chicago                          251
7          Dallas-Fort Worth           248
8          Houston                          235
9          Denver                            195
10        Boston                            176

Home to a diverse building portfolio, Washington, D.C. is quickly becoming a leader in the world of energy efficient and green building. It was the first jurisdiction in the country to require large private buildings to measure their energy and water usage, and to require that data to be publicly available for benchmarking purposes using the Energy Star Portfolio Manager tool. As a result of this law, Washington, D.C. has seen a large uptick in the number of Energy Star certified buildings.

Commercial buildings are responsible for around 17 percent of green house gas emissions in the nation. Energy Star buildings perform 75 percent better than similar buildings, and are responsible for 35 percent fewer emissions. Increasing the number of Energy Star buildings will inevitably improve the quality of the built environment and reduce the amount of climate change causing carbon emissions. According to the EPA, “more than 25,000 buildings across America have earned EPA’s Energy Star certification since 1999. The buildings have saved nearly $3.4 billion on utility bills and prevented greenhouse gas emissions equal to the emissions from the annual electricity use of nearly 2.4 million homes.”

Many commercial buildings rely on the high R-value of polyisocyanurate foam insulation to achieve the energy efficiency necessary to be certified as an Energy Star building. PIMA and its member manufacturers are proud to work with the EPA and the Energy Star program to help achieve the goals of improving the quality of our built environment and reducing carbon emissions.   For a complete list of the top 25 Energy Star cities, please visit the EPA website here.

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