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Can Glass Houses Be Energy-Efficient?

Can Glass Houses Be Energy-Efficient?

Posted on 23. May, 2011 by .

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Actually the real question is whether an all-glass pavilion can still comply with the new version of California’s Title 24 energy code. Although Title 24 has been around since the 1970s, it is only now that designers are feeling the pinch. Given the increasing strictness of the energy code, what can an architect do if he (or she) wants to create designs with dramatic glass curtain walls?

The “glass house” shown on the cover image is, of course, Philip Johnson’s famous Modernist masterpiece, also called the Glass House. Even that house could, with the right high-performing window system, comply with Title 24 requirements – I tested it out. But, let’s talk about some more current designs for our case study.

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Windows and Home Energy Performance

Windows and Home Energy Performance

Posted on 26. Apr, 2011 by .

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Many architects have yet to realize how much a window’s energy performance can impact their projects, especially under the new Title 24 energy code. Ordinary glass is great at letting in daylight but it’s a terrible insulator. It also does little to block the sun’s heat in the summertime. Windows lose heat through the glass, and they can also leak air around the edges of the frame.

Here are a few analogies to understand the different ways that windows can lose both heating and cooling energy. If you wear a big holey sweater in the wind, it doesn’t keep you very warm. That’s air leakage. Now, imagine just wearing a single sheet of clear plastic on a winter day. It’s a better windbreaker than that holey sweater, but you’ll still feel pretty darn cold. That’s because a thin sheet of plastic, like a single sheet of glass, is a poor insulator. And remember what happens to your car parked in the summer sun? It gets 20 degrees hotter than the outside, or more – if you have black vinyl seats, you’ll scream when you sit on them in your summer shorts. That’s solar heat gain.

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California Energy Upgrade Incentives

California Energy Upgrade Incentives

Posted on 26. Apr, 2011 by .

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Recently, Green Compliance Plus was contacted by Jeffery Liang of Ecology Action, a nonprofit group engaged to promote information to the public about the rebates and incentives available through Energy Upgrade CA. Here’s the result of our conversation.

What is Energy Upgrade CA?

It’s a statewide incentive program for California homeowners that offers rebates for overall energy improvements. In the past, utilities like PG&E have offered rebates for single measures, like a furnace upgrade. However, this is a bit like going to the doctor and getting a cure without first getting an overall diagnosis. This program attempts to rectify this piecemeal approach by encouraging homeowners to start with a complete home energy audit in order to understand where the biggest shortfalls really are within their particular home.

The way it works is the homeowner selects a qualified contractor (see below), who performs the initial energy audit, physically installs the energy upgrades, and then submits the rebate paperwork to the utility company on behalf of the homeowner.

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Home Insulation and Title 24

Home Insulation and Title 24

Posted on 21. Feb, 2011 by .

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Everything you think you know about insulation is wrong. That’s in a nutshell what I got from talking with James Morshead of SDI Insulation, Inc. in Burlingame, CA.  SDI is a full-service green insulation contractor offering “sustainable” versions of several common insulation types, including blown-in, spray foam, and fiberglass batts. I wanted to know about high-performing insulation products that would fit into small building cavities, because that’s often something we have to recommend for Title 24 performance modeling. But it’s one thing to say that a project has to fit R38 worth of insulation into a 4-inch roof space, and it’s quite another to find an affordable product that’ll actually do it – and where using that product’s self-reported rating is also acceptable for demonstrating Title 24 compliance.

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New Ventilation Systems for Today’s Airtight Homes

New Ventilation Systems for Today’s Airtight Homes

Posted on 31. Jan, 2011 by .

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A few months ago, we interviewed Bronwyn Barry of Quantum Builders on the Passive House standard. When I called her again to ask about ventilation, she recommended Zehnder, a Swiss company, because their products are Passive House certified and if there’s anyone who knows about ventilation, it’s the Passive House folks. Passive Houses need state-of-the-art ventilation because they rely so heavily on an airtight building envelope, and their stringent energy budgets also mandate the most energy-efficient motors available.

I spoke with Barry Stephens of Zehnder America, the U.S. subsidiary. Zehnder has over 100 projects all over the U.S., including some larger residential complexes. Two-thirds of their projects are Passive House projects, but the company also works with other types of energy retrofits. You can see a great animation of their system here. Barry then referred me to his brother Charlie Stephens of the Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance, who’s an energy research expert.

We asked both of them some general questions about ventilation principles, along with specific questions for Barry about the Zehnder product line. Most of the discussions here reference the Passive House standard, because it’s so far ahead on ventilation. In fact, if you’re looking for a good ventilation consultant, finding someone with Passive House certification wouldn’t be a bad place to start.

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Building Science for Residential Architects

Building Science for Residential Architects

Posted on 18. Jan, 2011 by .

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We all know that every home in California’s going to be Net Zero by 2030, right? Actually, it’s every NEW home built after 2030 – the old homes can go on being inefficient, until the next time someone needs a building permit. At that point, serious attention may need to be paid to bringing the home up to date. And, increased enforcement now occurs at many different points throughout the project, making it harder to do swaps during construction.

The truth is, architects can’t rely on the builder anymore to specify and install systems and materials as an afterthought, because that’s far too late in the process; to make the right decisions, designers will have to start thinking in terms of building science. And, they’ll have to start paying closer attention to builder execution as well, because in many cases the builders will cut corners if left to their own devices – and this can lead to problems, regarding both regulatory compliance and the owners’ daily operational costs.

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Interview with a Green Homeowner

Interview with a Green Homeowner

Posted on 09. Jan, 2011 by .

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About a year ago, we published an article about an exceptional Title 24 project – an astonishing 50% over compliance – and now we present an interview with the homeowner who commissioned the design. The single-family home, designed by Klopf Architecture, is currently under construction by Matarozzi Pelsinger Builders (As an aside, we’ve done design interviews with both Klopf and Mat-Pel on our sister blog, The Architect’s Take.)

Many residential architects would like to design homes as energy-efficient as this one, but without client buy-in, it’s usually not possible to go beyond a certain point. Over and over, we have heard that client commitment to sustainable principles is THE key to building green! So, here we have a green homeowner and design client who’s willing to discuss – anonymously – why he’s doing as much as he is, and why it’s worth doing.

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New Solar Homes Partnership – Know the Process

New Solar Homes Partnership – Know the Process

Posted on 05. Jan, 2011 by .

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In the past year or so, we had a few Title 24 clients who were interested in rebates from the New Solar Homes Partnership, an initiative offered through public utilities in the State of California. Since writing our earlier post we have discovered just how complicated a process this is, even more so now with the new Title 24 HERS reporting requirements. It really pays to plan ahead.

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Mark English Earns Residential CEPE Credentials

Mark English Earns Residential CEPE Credentials

Posted on 21. Oct, 2010 by .

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We are pleased to announce that Mark English, AIA, principal of Mark English Architects, has earned credentials as a Certified Energy Plans Examiner. This program is administered by the California Association of Building Energy Consultants (CABEC) to provide an objective demonstration of a person’s technical expertise and application skills for the California Title 24 Energy Standards.

Why is this exciting, you ask? Well, you don’t need CEPE credentials to prepare Title 24 compliance reports, but some incentive programs such as the New Solar Homes Partnership (NSHP) from the California Solar Initiative require that the Title 24 report be prepared and signed by a CEPE in order to be considered eligible. To achieve this certification requires a class and a 2-hour exam, administered by CABEC.

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