Tag Archives: energy efficiency

Certifiably Green: Sustainable certifications for high-performance housing

High-performance housing is on the rise and, with it, an overwhelming number of green building certification programs designed to target specific standards and sustainability measures. In addition to the obvious environmental benefits, for the real estate community, the strategies outlined in these programs have more tangible advantages too. Commitments to green practices can differentiate properties from a design perspective and establish a market edge, resulting in less long-term investor risk. Beyond fulfilling code requirements, pursuing certification status substantiates mission and brand values, communicating an authentic culture to stakeholders. Finally, they deliver residents and tenants with a healthy interior environment, one that positively impacts their overall happiness and wellbeing – essential qualities in the post-pandemic marketplace.

So, whether it’s meeting local sustainability guidelines, reducing energy consumption (and cost), or prioritizing the health of occupants, there’s a program to meet your building’s needs. Here’s a rundown of the basics to get you started.

Run by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Department of Energy, the Energy Star certification program focuses on energy efficiency and reducing waste in buildings. The government-backed program offers consumers and building-owners a catalog of information on cost-effective products, services, and tools that help measure and improve building performance. Energy Star certified buildings feature high-efficiency heating and cooling systems, complete thermal enclosures, water protection systems, and efficient lighting and appliances that provide cost savings to building owners and residents alike.

Originally created by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention and U.S. General Services Administration, Fitwel is a leading certification system that integrates scientific and sustainable solutions into the design process to promote health and wellbeing in buildings and communities. The Fitwel Standard is a tailored scorecard that provides a path towards certification status for existing and new buildings and sites. Projects can achieve three levels of Fitwel status based on a point system addressing Fitwel’s Seven Health Impact Categories—including, Impacts Surrounding Community Health, Supports Social Equity for Vulnerable Populations, Enhances Access to Health Foods, etc. Points are awarded according to which Fitwel strategies are applied. Strategies coincide with the Health Impact Categories and are categorized into 12 sections from location and outdoor space to water supply and vending machines/snack bars. The program is designed to be user-friendly and customizable with all strategies voluntary and no prerequisites required for eligibility. 

Recognized worldwide, LEED is one of the most commonly used programs, providing a comprehensive framework for achieving healthy, highly efficient, and cost-saving green buildings. LEED places emphasis on the end-user and urges the building community to focus on their health and safety as much as improving construction practices, efficiency, and material use. A flexible set of metrics allow all building types and phases, including interior fit outs and core and shell, to target various levels of certification status depending on energy and water usage, waste, maintenance, air quality, and comfort. Additionally, LEED engages occupants to contribute and decrease consumption. For example, encouraging they take the stairs over using the elevator by placing them in a convenient location or accommodating bikers with storage options to reduce the number of residents commuting by car. Each LEED level – from certified to platinum – makes greater improvements to promote building, occupant, and environmental health.

The RELi rating system and leadership standard takes a proactive and holistic approach to resilient design, specifically in relation to the increased frequency of natural disasters and changes in weather as a result of climate change. Used by companies, developers, city planners, architects, bond insurers and more, RELi involves the entire community to assess and adapt vulnerable structures, taking preventative measures to ensure building’s can physically withstand natural disasters. In addition to mitigating hazards to buildings, the RELi system takes the preparedness of entire communities into account. Success is measured according to how quickly they can recover following unplanned events (including economic disruption and resource depletion). From preparing emergency supplies and acquiring back-up renewable-powered generators to thoughtful site selection and durability, RELi outlines the necessary steps building owners and leaders can take to future-proof communities and improve quality of life in a changing world.

WELL is a globally recognized performance-based system for measuring, certifying, and monitoring features of the built environment that impact human health and well-being. WELL identifies 100 performance metrics, design strategies, and policies that can be implemented by owners, designers, engineers, contractors, users, and operators of a building. Consisting of eight categories—air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort, and mind—the WELL Building Standard bridges the gap between human and environmental health, recognizing that a strategy benefiting one will likely benefit the other. For example, increasing access to natural sunlight reduces energy consumption while improving productivity, mood levels, and circadian rhythm. While similar to FitWel, WELL places greater emphasis on the built environment and how it impacts human quality of life. Unlike Fitwel, to be eligible for WELL certification, projects must fulfill a set of prerequisites including several addressing air quality and filtration, water quality, ergonomics, and accessibility. Additionally, the documentation process is more rigorous with several strategies requiring applicants meet target measurements and produce data to support claims. Finally, to achieve WELL certification, the space must undergo an on-site assessment and performance testing by a third party.

The Passive House Institute US., Inc. (PHIUS) is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization committed to making high-performance passive building the mainstream market standard. Its certification program, PHIUS+ is the leading program in North America and the only one that combines a thorough passive house design verification protocol with a stringent Quality Assurance/Quality Control program performed onsite. The high-performance building standard challenges the industry to construct buildings that can maintain a comfortable indoor environment with very low operating energy. Certification indicates an energy efficient building design modeled using location-specific climate data and occupant behavior based on three pillars: limits on heating/cooling loads, limits on source energy use, required air-tightness and other prescriptive requirements. The latest version accounts for how occupant density and envelope-to-floor-area-ratio influence heating and cooling load limits. While the program is stringent and requires precertification review as well as third-party on-site quality assurance checks, PHIUS+ is considered a legitimate path to achieving net zero energy and offers tremendous long-term benefits to the occupant and owner.  Its air-tight construction reduces moisture and mold issues, while heat recovery ventilation systems improve indoor air quality, while no thermal bridges make for a comfortable interior environment.

Developed by the International Living Future Institute, the Living Building Challenge is a performance standard for buildings that uses a regenerative design framework focused on maximizing positive impacts specific to a project’s place, community, and culture. Described as regenerative and self-sufficient, the ideal living building is informed by its bioregion’s characteristics, generates all of its own energy through renewable sources, captures and treats all of its water, and operates efficiently while being aesthetically beautiful. The Living Building Standard is continuously informed by current realities and project work as Institute staff monitor and make adjustments based on changes in the field and market. The Challenge assumes typical best practices are currently instituted for a project to begin the certification process. To achieve certification, projects must address aspects of all seven performance categories, known as Petals, which are subdivided into twenty Imperatives, including energy and carbon reduction, net positive waste, education and inspiration, access to nature, etc. Alternatively, projects can achieve Petal Certification for completing all imperatives under a specific Petal or category. 

Developed by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), LEED Zero moves beyond LEED certification to provide a framework for high-performance buildings and spaces and reduced greenhouse gas emissions through a comprehensive set of strategies impacting land, waste, materials, and more. There are four categories of LEED Zero including Carbon, Energy, Water, and Waste. To pursue certification, projects must be LEED certified under a BD+C or O+M rating system. Under USGBC, LEED Zero Carbon certification recognizes buildings operating with net zero carbon emissions over the course of the past year. LEED Zero Energy recognizes buildings or spaces that achieve a source energy use balance of zero over a period of 12 months. LEED Zero Water recognizes buildings that achieve a potable water use balance of zero over a period of 12 months.LEED Zero Waste recognizes buildings that achieve GBCI’s TRUE Zero Waste certification at the Platinum level.

Interested in pursuing green building certification for your space? Contact Laura Roth, Director of Business Development to speak with our high performance design experts.

Mass Timber’s Moment: What’s Next for CLT?

The 80 M Street SE mass timber addition will be the first of its kind in Washington, DC.

Just last month, over 1,300 tons of mass timber arrived on site at 80 M Street in Washington, DC’s Capitol Riverfront district. Having completed its journey from the forests of the Pacific Northwest and Eastern Canada, the timber was hoisted atop the commercial office building and, over the course of a few short months, will result in 105,000-SF of additional leasable tenant and amenity space. The 80 M Street renovation, the District of Columbia’s first mass timber and glass vertical expansion project, is a triumph for a number of reasons, the most crucial of which is its signaling to the real estate industry the possibility for further development of its kind.

The culmination of extensive research and a lengthy entitlement process including the approval for code modifications and community review, 80 M Street came to fruition under the guidance of a client with vision and the collaboration of an invested project team who saw the sustainable material’s long-term potential. And the potential is endless, insists the senior designer behind 80 M Street, Tom Corrado, LEED AP, who, in partnership with John Lang, AIA, a senior associate at Hickok Cole, has been exploring the next opportunity for mass timber development in DC.

“We’re at a point where every conversation we have with a client begins with mass timber,” Tom stated. Having witnessed the rise in remote workers this past year, and well aware of the housing crisis in the District, Tom and John venture that timber could reconcile these issues.

Due to its pre-fabricated nature, timber construction takes approximately 25% less time to build, resulting in faster lead times and improved quality control.

“Residential construction is primed for timber, especially when you need housing fast,” comments John. Having specialized in residential design throughout his tenure at Hickok Cole, John is an advocate for affordable and attainable housing and sees it as timber’s next step. “The module for housing is smaller than office and timber construction excels on shorter structural systems. Better still, mass timber comes in pre-fabricated panels that speed up construction and reduce the amount of labor on-site. Consequently, that usually means improved quality control.” With labor costs skyrocketing and skilled labor dwindling, this could ultimately help drive down or at least steady rent prices, he pointed out.

“Not to mention the biophilic element and connection to nature these residences would provide,” adds Tom. “Humans are not meant to live in these 600-SF boxes. We need access to greenery and sunlight. And just being surrounded by wood accomplishes that – it’s definitely better for you than concrete and dry wall.”

With the increased attention to health and wellness due to the pandemic, John explains, it’s obvious that the housing industry will require a shift as well. “That includes everything from better HVAC systems and ventilation to availability of outdoor amenities and remote work accommodations. But, we’ve also seen how drastically our presence impacts the planet. With nowhere to go this past year, the roads were clearer and so were the skies – we can’t ignore that.”

Studies show exposed wood has resulted in improved mood and productivity levels for building occupants.

It’s true that our definition of a healthy lifestyle has expanded to include a focus on climate change and reducing our carbon footprint – and that of buildings. It’s especially true when you consider that the construction and building industry accounts for nearly 40% of global carbon emissions annually. Not only is wood the only building material that is 100% renewable but as they grow, forests actually sequester nearly 13% of total U.S. carbon dioxide emissions per year. As a result, buildings made from wood store that carbon throughout their lifespans.  

The case for timber is clear and has been made countless times. So, if it seems so obvious, then why has it been so challenging convincing developers and building owners to pursue mass timber construction? As is usual with the early stages of any new technology, the biggest hurdles are cost and the associated risks (including a decent learning curve in this case) with being the first. But, as Tom points out, we’re not the first. We’re not even close – at least not globally. In fact, most of Europe and Canada, and even parts of Asia, including China despite its robust steel economy, have been investing in the material for some time now. In West Coast states like California and Washington, where timber is easily accessible and often cheaper, experimenting with timber in a variety of project types including schools, hotels, and even entertainment venues began almost a decade ago.

“We’re looking into medical office buildings as well,” Tom added. “There’s been a shift in the medical community away from single practitioners occupying a portion of a larger building towards several providing care under one roof. We predict folks will be going to a single location for all their health and wellness needs in the future so why not create a better environment and improve the user experience holistically?” Mass timber can improve air quality and acoustics, and has been proven to elicit a positive human response from occupants.

The current premium on mass timber is driven by a lack of readily available resources on the East Coast and subsequent low demand. One solution is for jurisdictions to alleviate costs by offering incentives like tax credits.

Now that timber has made it to the nation’s capital, the question remains: how can we propel the timber movement forward? Cutting down costs is one way – but that comes with increased supply. One of the biggest factors contributing to the premium on wood is limited resources on the East Coast. “We need to make the case for forests on this side of the country. Areas in the northeast like Maine and Vermont are well suited for it,” says John.

The next step is understanding the International Building Code and navigating jurisdictional zoning laws and safety regulations. “Form your project team early on, involve local representatives and jurisdictions right away, and educate the community,” Tom suggests. “Every project is different, but it only takes a few early adopters to remove uncertainty from the equation.” From there, he says, the knowledge is public, and you now have a pool of experts who can take the lead on the entitlement process or negotiating code modifications, as needed.

“It’s true that sustainability alone isn’t enough of a motive for development to occur, especially if the dollars don’t lean in your favor,” says John. “And developers shouldn’t have to bear the brunt of these costs. That’s why it’s crucial to have an open dialogue with your jurisdiction.”  Putting your cards on the table and seeing how your goals align can prompt the introduction of sustainable incentive programs, tax credits, grants, and other forms of government support.

“The results are in on timber. We should no longer be concerned with early adoption,” Tom contended. “In fact, our biggest risk is being last to get on board.”

80 M is scheduled to deliver in the fall of 2021, just a few months after construction launched in March.

Want to explore mass timber for your next project? Contact Laura Roth, Director of Business Development, to schedule a conversation with the team.