Making Buildings Better
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After decades of tremendous growth in suburbia, we are now seeing a population shift back towards urban cores. A recent study from The George Washington University School of Business found that in Atlanta more than 60% of income-producing property in the region was developed in Established or Emerging Walkable Urban Places (WalkUPs), which account represent less than 1% of the region’s land mass. WalkUPs are more densely developed, provide a range of transportation options and building uses.
Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the cyclical nature of trends. Clothing, household goods, and other designs are frequently recycled, but what about construction and homebuilding? A current trend in architecture is the “New Old House,” a classically detailed home that creates a sense of history. New Old Homes use vernacular, or regionally appropriate, architecture. Vernacular architecture typically includes traditional, regional design features such as roof slope, window overhangs, and foundation type that were developed over time in response to local climates. For example, the high ceilings and deep porches in southern plantation homes kept them relatively cool in the days before air conditioning. With the advent of central HVAC systems we have lost much vernacular architecture, instead using energy and technology to keep climate inappropriate homes comfortable.
I think it’s safe to say last week’s RESNET Building Performance Conference was a success. There were over 1,000 attendees from around the country representing all facets of the construction industry. This year Abe Kruger, SK Collaborative Principal, presented 5 sessions covering multifamily certifications and quality assurance within the industry. Abe is a member of the RESNET Multifamily Working Group and helped draft the new guidelines for performing HERS ratings on multifamily buildings. Abe works directly with RESNET assisting in performing annual quality assurance reviews of Providers.
Atlanta, like many cities across the country, is experiencing an urban revival. New homes and businesses are sprouting daily. The city’s population and economy are growing. Despite this tremendous economic activity, not all communities are benefiting equally and there is concern about a growing deficit of affordable housing. The Pittsburgh neighborhood was once the poster child for “left behind” communities, but today it seems finally poised for a resurgens of it's own.
Congratulations, you’ve landed a big multifamily project! Now the only thing you have to do is figure out the HERS Rating. Even for experienced HERS Raters the first multifamily Rating can be an intimidating endeavor. SK Collaborative is proud to partnering with EnergyLogic Academy to present "Performing Multifamily HERS Ratings" at the 2014 RESNET Conference in Atlanta, GA. This session will cover the ins and outs of multifamily building level and unit level HERS Ratings. During the session we will rate a sample project from plans as a group and go through the process of selecting the “worse case” units. We’ll cover how to address common areas, elevator shafts, commercial spaces, adjacent structures, party walls, duct leakage testing, and numerous others.
When people learn that I am a green building consultant, almost without exception, they ask me if I do a lot of work with solar power, which I don’t. I don’t install many solar power systems, either photovoltaic (the kind that creates electricity) or rhermal (the kind that creates hot water). I have been accused of being anti-solar because I often discourage people from focusing on PV on their homes, at least until they have done everything else to save energy, which they rarely bother to do.
PV makes a lot of sense in underdeveloped countries where there are unreliable or non-existent electrical power grids or for the rare person in a developed country who wants to live completely off the grid. In both cases, the key to taking advantage of solar power is to not use much energy in the first place. This also applies to anyone who wants to put panels on their home out of a desire to be “green.”
When most people think about energy efficiency, once they stop talking about solar panels, they usually get to windows. “My windows are so old,” or “They’re only single pane glass,” or “I need to replace them,” and so on, much if it fueled by the replacement window industry selling the energy savings. Unfortunately, in most cases, those savings just aren’t there, at least not at the level at which they sell them.
There’s a joke about window replacementthat goes something like this: After her windows were replaced, a woman had yet to pay the bills she kept getting from the contractorwho did the work. Finally, a year later, the contractor got her on the phone and asked her why she had not paid for them. Her response: “Do you think I’m stupid? Your salesman told me that in one year the windows would pay for themselves. It’s been a year, ask them for payment!”
Some days I like my work, and some days I don’t, but I guess that’s just the way the world is. This love/hate relationship really rears its ugly head when I have to go out and do blower door andtesting on homes. It’s not one of my favorite things to do, but if the weather’s nice and the drive’s not to far, it can end up being a good, and reasonably profitable, day.