Sustainable Building Consulting

One of our biggest goals is making sustainable design a viable opportunity for everyone. These consulting services can be as simple as an afternoon overview of your project or they can include all or just some of the services below – you can choose. The basic categories are as follows:

  1. Climate Assessment

  2. Site Assessment

  3. Building Assessment

  4. Mechanical and Alternative Energy Systems Assessment

  5. Durability Assessment

  6. Energy Modeling

Sustainable design is a term that encompasses a broader understanding of how we design and build living and working environments.  It suggests a harmonious balance that enhances the health and well being of a building’s inhabitants while at the same time respects and utilizes the natural resources provided by the earth. Some dictionaries define it as “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” 

Professional Services:

Climate Assessment

Climate assessments are the inventory of readily available information from resources such as local government, agricultural extensions, airport climate data, climate data websites, local climate action plans, etc. The elements of the assessment include but are not limited to location, historic setting, neighborhood context, zoning, infrastructure, natural physical features, flora, fauna climate, man-made features, circulation, utilities, human, and cultural. Climate information gives the design team necessary information to design a truly climate driven design with minimal impact to the site ecosystem and develop biomimicry concepts.

Site Assessment

When designing a sustainable building there are many items that must be addressed. In our opinion Site-specific design is the starting point for all responsible developments.  One must fully appreciate the complexity of natural cycles and existing relationships on the site to understand the full impact of introducing a new building to an existing ecosystem.  For a building to be successfully integrated with the site, an initial site analysis should take into consideration the following: 

  • The duration and angle of the sun.  Siting a building to accommodate solar access is of paramount importance when considering the comfort of the building’s inhabitants as well as lightening the load on heating and cooling systems. This not only creates a comfortable living environment, but can also result in a significant savings on heating and cooling bills.

  • Existing site topography.  Desirable features located on the site, such as a clustering of trees, should be preserved and protected. Green spaces filter and condition air as well as moderate harsh climate conditions and should be encouraged. Clear cutting and site leveling destroys the natural microclimate and should be avoided.  This will create a healthier living environment and will also contribute to a cost savings on energy bills.

  • Existing drainage patterns. Integrated landscape techniques, such as permaculture, should be used to impede water runoff and create a low maintenance landscape. Natural drainage patterns of the site shall be respected, maintained, and enhanced and on site water retainage and/or reuse should be encouraged. Utilizing plants that are accustomed to local climate conditions and replenishing them with water that is naturally collected on the site will conserve water thus leading to lower water bills.

 

Building Assessment

The next items that should be addressed when designing a sustainable building are the building layout and components. All of these components affect the energy efficiency of the building. The following should be taken into consideration when designing a green building:

  • Building orientation. A building should be oriented on the site to maximize solar access and minimize site impact. 

  • Building size and shape.  Design to fit the site.  Do not be excessive with building size.  Smaller buildings require less material, less land, and less energy.

  • Building shell and Building Enclosure Assessment.  The most efficient building will have the least amount of surface area exposed to the elements. This will diminish heat transfer, which will result in an increase in cost savings on utility bills. The wall and roof structure can be made of many different materials. These structural systems are reviewed using the following green building science concepts:  thermal mass (conduction), air barriers (air sealing), insulation, vapor barriers, thermal bypass, vented vs unvented, drainage planes, etc.

  • Location of windows. The location, amount, and size of windows will also play a significant role in heat gain and loss.  Windows should be a balance between the need for daylight and the effect for heat gain and loss.  It is also suggested that each room have at least one operable window to allow for fresh air exchange and air circulation, which will enhance passive cooling which in turn decreases the desire to turn to an artificial cooling system to stay comfortable.

  • Room layout. The location of rooms should optimize energy performance while enhancing the beauty of the space and the needs of the building occupants.

  • Appropriate materials. Encourage the use of recycled, local materials and materials whose manufacturing process uses low embodied energy.  Materials should also be analyzed for level of toxicity.  A knowledgeable green architect or builder will be able to specify healthy alternatives that are cost competitive with traditional building materials and that will not compromise the health of the building’s inhabitants.

  • Controlling Pests: asses the risks associated with different pests. Define proper placement and installation of physical barriers to protect your project from termites, ants, mice, rats and other pests

 

Mechanical and Alternative Energy Systems Assessment

The systems that we address after the envelope has been determined are the HVAC systems and then lastly the required alternative energy systems that are required to reduce the energy bill down to the homeowners determined yearly energy bill. From our experience on previous projects we give alternates and options to achieve the desired energy goals:

  • Cooling Systems: Different mechanical systems such as typical split, mini-split, water and earth coupled geothermal, etc systems are evaluated for project effectiveness and appropriateness. Furthermore the location of ducts and equipment are also assessed.

  • Ventilation Systems: Investigate options to reduce occupant exposure to indoor pollutants by bringing in fresh air. Also investigate options to reduce interior moisture levels in bathrooms and kitchens

  • Moisture Load Control: Investigate options and appropriateness of dehumidification equipment to enhance indoor/outdoor living environment

  • Photovoltaic System: the location, type and size of the photovoltaic system is assessed to understand the amount of energy produced and how many years it takes to payback the system

  • Thermal Solar Systems: the location, type and size of the solar thermal system is assessed to understand the amount of energy produced and how many years it takes to payback the system. The type of cooling equipment the system could be attached to is also evaluated to determine any waste streams can be leveraged to increase energy efficiency

 

Durability Assessment

The main concept of our durability assessment is to promote durable buildings that require less maintenance and promote good indoor air quality through appropriate design, material selection and construction techniques

  • Drainage planes: All exterior cladding passes some rainwater so controlling rain is one of the most important challenges in the design and construction of your project to control mildew and mold especially in a hot humid climate

  • Exterior materials: materials are evaluated for susceptibility to ultraviolet damage, rot, corrosion of metal, passing of water through materials, etc.

  • Interstitial condensation: sections are reviewed to control the dew point in the wall or roof structure so that condensation doesn’t happen within the structure or insulation

  • Hurricane Mitigation: We review and discuss the fortified home recommendations because different types of structural systems differ in their susceptibility to windstorm damage

 

Energy Modeling

When thoroughly informed about the complex synergies between building design and energy use architects, designers, home owners and builders can make informed and cost effective decisions about energy saving features

  • Design tool: using the REM rate energy modeling software we create a simple spread sheet to assess the different options to increase energy efficiency

  • Manual J and D: we create room by room heat load calculations and simple one line duct layouts so that your HVAC subcontractor and or mechanical engineer can appropriately size the cooling equipment. Most subcontractors and Mechanical Engineers use rules of thumb and equipment is oversized and therefore inefficient most of the time

 

Testing and Verification

  • Blower door enclosure leakage test

Coordinate with contractor and conductblower door testing to locate points of air leakage.  Note, the contractor will be requested to construct temporary air barriers as necessary to seal off portions of the building for testing.

  • Duct leakage testing

Coordinate with contractor and conductduct blast testing to locate points of air leakage in the ducts and air handler connections. 

  • Ventilation/Exhaust Fan Testing

Coordinate with contractor and conductduct blast testing to locate points of air leakage and to determine if fans are working and amount of CFM they are actually pulling. 

  • Thermal imaging (if required)

Conduct infrared thermographic assessment the use infrared camera to evaluate thermal layer of building enclosure.  Primary review will be from the exterior only.  If issues are indicated, additional thermography from the interior will be included.